Changing the Writer's World
The world is changing drastically. No big surprise there. So if your business, whatever it is, is not changing, there's a good chance you'll fail. We have new consumers, new producers, new challenges.
Let me bring this back to the writing world. The other night I was reading a classic, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. If you've never read it before, it's a lovely classic tale of four girls in their every day life, published in the late 1800s. It is long, flowery, and full of extras. It's not the longest compared to books of its time, but it's one of my favorites. Writers were paid by the page then, and novels tended to be verbose and redundant. Sometimes it took three to four pages just to describe a house. And don't get me started on fantasy and science fiction. There are rules I will never understand in those genres. Although these novels are longer in general, they were even more so in the past.
So why is this? Why are writing styles constantly changing?
Well this is not a complicated answer, but it's long...and wordy, like Alcott's novel. This age of technology that we live in, we are building an insta-community.
-Food and meals that are ready in minutes, nay even seconds
-Processes to make food are faster
-Communication has skyrocketed. Instead of writing letters, talking on the phone, and visiting in person, we have let screens divide us and allowed them to dictate how we interact.
-Transportation is faster, more efficient
Readers who are used to having instant gratification in almost every faucet of their lives.
I could go on, but you get the point. What does this have to do with writers and readers of books? A few months ago, I submitted my book to a reputable publisher and editor. According to their standards, I didn't make the mark, and looking back, they were probably right to reject my book. Does that mean my book wasn't good? No. My book has already exceeded my expectations for why I wrote it. Does that mean it's perfect? No.
But there are diverse readers for a reason. One thing I have reflected since then is how much my writing is changing to adapt to writing fads. Some authors write directly to market to sell. They follow trends. Right now, writing books that push a political agenda are very popular and being submitted every day.
It's smart if you're in it to make money right now. But is that sustainable? I can't help but wonder if those that follow writing trends might one day lose their writing style and get tired to adapting to the never ending changes.
Readers have changed too. Instead of enjoying a nice book on a rainy afternoon, they're glued to their screens. Most books have traveled over to screens, but with that move, more competition comes. Notifications, messages, and even phone calls if you choose to read on your phone. The quiet, sacred reading time readers once had are being overrun with life's distractions. Reading a book takes time.
So writers have adapted.
1. Structure of Writing
Instead of wordy descriptions, some writers have limited or cut out description all together, making it choppy and stylish in some ways. Readers like white space. Shorter paragraphs, more concise writing. No more beating around the bush. Get to the action. Instead of taking four-six chapters to get the reader into the world of a story, you launch an inciting incident to peak your reader's attention. And you must now-a-days because most readers will stop flipping after the first page or two if they are not hooked. Instant gratification.
Stephanie Meyer's example in New Moon, the second book in her Twilight Saga. Instead of showing the passage of time through wordy chapters of doing nothing, Meyer chose a new way. When the main character, Bella, was dumped by her vampire boyfriend, instead of explaining how she was coping, Meyer chose to show passage of time through one word to represent four different chapters.
And then a paragraph-long-of-a-chapter to show Bella waking up from her dramatic, boyfriendless fog. Readers were experiencing a change in structure for the first time...and it worked. I am not a huge fan of Myer, but I am a ginormous fan of this technique to show time passing.
2. Communication and Action
Dialogue and action instead of storytelling is controlling the reader's attention. Dialogue moves the plot forward, keeps the reader interested, and has a purpose. No more useless mentions of the weather or the newest visitors in town. Only in a regency novel would that be normal.
Saying certain expression become outdated before they even hit the printers. I once wrote "wazzup" in one of my interaction between two teenage characters. A beta read wrote back with a stunning answer. "No, just no!" And she was right. I said "wuzzup" when I was ten...in the 90s. Keeping up with the dialogue of the day can be tricky. Actions are pretty consistent. There are only certain ways to show looked...but the philosophy of show rather than tell has taken action to a whole new level. Using actions in a past tense to show the action happening right then, and more than anything, authors want their readers feel that they are right there, experiencing what the author is writing.
3. Connecting emotionally with your readers.
This has been my favorite and trickiest lesson to learn. Imagine what your readers connect to...hours scrolling down screens, moving from screen to screen in some cases, working jobs where they are overworked and underpaid, worrying about issues that our predecessors couldn't even imagine. Why do you think writers typically write a decade in the past or the future? No one is satisfied with now. Some writers want to connect to their past, to go back to the simple life and some want to zoom past the modern years, straight to an age of exploration and discovery. How can we cover the wants and needs of all of our readers when so many are dissatisfied with the here and now? No answers here, just wanderings.
Should writers adapt to writing trends when they seem fleeting, outdated within a couple of years? Mentions of technology are especially outdated within a few years. How do we keep up with that? How do we predict what our readers will want from year to year?
We can't, but we can try. We will lose ourselves if we try too hard to follow the trends of writing. Who's to say you won't start your own trend? My answer is to write. Write and edit and ask for advice and go back to the drawing board and write it again. And in the end, you have to make the hard decision of what you're okay with.
If I had been accepted by that desirable publishing company, things might have changed in sales, or they might not have. But at that time in my life, I was not ready or wanting to bend to the trends of the writing community. I was satisfied in my efforts, ecstatic even. However, months later after publish day, I would scrap the whole thing and start over. I have grown and evolved into a better writer. I have attended conferences, learned techniques, adopted some of the writing trends, and caught mistakes. An author's life evolves as they learn about writing. Does that mean my book shouldn't have been published? No. I could keep that editing that book for a lifetime. Letting go and accepting where you are is an important part of publishing too.
Adapt or don't. But don't be surprised if we don't keep up with our insta-readers, we will find our books un-cracked and impeccably clean.