Everything changes over time.
Sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad, sometimes neither of these extremes but just how things are in the middle of the fence.
Lately, I’m sure everyone has been feeling that the middle of the fence is made of barbed wire. Mother Nature certainly got revved up in her laboratory, cooking up a new way to whittle us down to size, and was scarily successful with the concoction, too. The entire world brought to its knees in basically 4 months going on 5. She’s efficient, isn’t she?
Considering she’s done this before, and will probably do it again in the future, Mother Nature has learned to roll with the punches…well, that’s what I’m going to call all the vaccines and shots, etc., that mankind has fought back with and really curbed some diseases into near extinction.
Rather than bitch (though I’m sure what with cabin fever, we’re all doing a bit of that), perhaps we need to take a leaf from Mother Nature’s book. Oh, not in creating things that can kill us off, but in changing and adapting and finding new ways to do things.
Or perhaps just being aware that it isn’t only the type of storylines that readers take a liking to, it’s other elements as well that we need to take into consideration when sitting down at ye olde keyboard.
I’ve been doing this a long time – 40 years of banging out stories but only 30 of them as a traditionally published novelist. It’s the thing I decided I wanted to be back in 7th grade. Boy, was that a long time ago!
Have to confess that I love my characters. Good thing I didn’t give birth to any physical offspring because they might have had to take a back seat to the guys and gals of my imagining.
But styles of prose have changed as well as the niches readers like best today, and they’ll change again in the future. One example of this is head hopping.
Yes, you’ve all reeled back in horror – or should have.
It is so not 21st century to write this way. But we all did it 30 and 40 years ago. Heck, some authors who made their name back in the Eighties are still doing it and their sales don’t indicate that readers dislike it. But then, it could be that the same folks who read them back in the Eighties are the ones still buying their books, right?
Another example is trying to emulate a style that was perfect for people at the time, and the stories themselves are classics, considered timeless, but they move too slowly for the 21st century audience. Yes, I’m talking about you Jane Austin – honey, you ramble and take too long to get to the action. But then your audience didn’t have TV or movies or videos of any kind. The pace of life was slower, so people liked the rambling style.
You can’t emulate that part of Miss Austin’s prose in the 21st century. Heck, you couldn’t in the 20th either.
And why am I picking on Jane Austin (and the Brontës, for that matter)?
Because it has always surprised me when in a fiction writing class I ask “who is the favorite author you’d like to emulate?” and the answer a student gives is, “Jane Austin” or “Edgar Allan Poe” or…well, at least Will Shakespeare doesn’t get mentioned.
Why is this a bad answer? Market, that’s why.
The style of writing demanded by current-day readers, be they editors, agents or folks with money or library cards in hand, keeps changing.
Even when writing stuff in high school (which got passed around and at class reunions that’s what people I have no idea who they are; tell me they remember about me), I knew market was important. So, though I knew nothing about being a spy, because James Bond, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Secret Agent Man, The Avengers (not Tony Stark and the guys but John Stead and Emma Peel), were at the movies and on the tube (it still was a “tube” back then), I wrote a spy story. I’ve no idea what it was about. It was nowhere near novel-length, and I tossed it in the trash decades ago, but I wrote a spy story because that’s what the marketplace was all about.
In 2018 I decided that my backlist was in dire need of being brought up to 21st century snuff – even if it was just giving characters cell phones, flat screens, and the Internet. But when I began rereading things, what do you think jumped out at me the most?
Those damn head-hopping scenes.
They drove me bonkers to read now and were really hell to fix. The first thing was deciding which character should take the scene. When it had been ping pong matching between them, so much was given that I had to figure out how to rework in or take an axe to.
Rewriting the titles published in the early 1990s really showed me how much I’d grown prose-wise in the intervening years. How much smoother my later stuff read because it didn’t give the reader whiplash turning first from one character to another.
When you can fix – hopefully save – a story you love yet pluck it from one decade and drop it down in another, that’s progress. That’s growing within your profession.
There were things that I decided couldn’t be fixed though.
In Nikrova’s Passion, the hero is a Scotland Yard detective. I’d written and rewritten it through many rejection slips in the 1980s. Because that is the pre-Internet era…heck, it’s pretty much the pre-home PC or Apple era…I wrote to Scotland Yard when I couldn’t find information at the library. Not even the university library which had a heck of a lot more books than all the public libraries combined. I asked specific questions and their public affairs department answered all of them. But they did more. They sent me an entire packet of information about what was involved in joining the Metropolitan Police Department, the training, the required time on the beat, what it took to become a detective, and far more than I had previously found about them. All of that got worked into the book.
But after 9/11 and cell phones and who knows what else, the Met has changed. Heck, they gave up the building they were in since then, looking for smaller quarters because they were putting staff on the streets not behind desks. Today emergency calls get routed to cell phones. I’ve no idea how paperwork gets done now. Anyway, too much had changed and no longer matched the needs of Nikrova anymore. So, while I removed the head hopping and polished things up to my current expectations, I froze the story in 1989 when it first played out.
I did the same with Queen’s Cache because I had characters in the Middle East that needed to jump on planes headed to the US to follow the hero from the archaeological dig he’d been part of. That can’t be done today…hasn’t been possible for nearly two decades now. So, same deal. Polished the prose, killed the head hopping and froze the story in 1990, when it originally played out.
When life hands you lemons, you make lemon crème brûlée. Well, you do if you like to cook. I don’t. But the idea stands. When something is wrong you find a way to not just fix it, but to make it better.
That’s what sets a professional fiction writer…heck, any kind of professional writer…apart from the rest.
In other words, think about the current market, what readers want in the style of prose as well as storyline and genre mixes. Oh, and word count! Word is, short is the new long when it comes to novels. Trouble is I still like reading long novels. Well, relatively long ones. But I’ve begun writing short stories and novellas with the occasional 85,000 to 90,000-word tale tossed in (which is a reduction from the 100,000+ I tend to read).
If you get handed those lemons, don’t settle for lemonade. Do the upgrade.
Oh, and by the way, should you be interested in writing mystery with paranormal characters, it just so happens that SCENE OF THE PARANORMAL CRIME is my next workshop here at Savvy in May. Hope to see you in the virtual classroom!
Otherworld evil is loose in the real world. Bram Farrell, Private Investigator, must track it down and destroy it before it destroys him.
Bram Farrell has starred in twenty bestselling novels by writer—and witch—Calista Amberson. Her fans love the tall, dark, and handsome PI who vanquishes supernatural bad guys using his magical powers. So, when Calista uses her magic to pull Bram from his fictional world into real-world, modern-day Detroit, she rocks both worlds.
Every supernatural being on Earth felt his arrival in this dimension. They don’t trust Calie’s intentions and Bram doesn’t either. When the supernatural community hands him the job of discovering who killed the beings in the real world that match those he killed in each volume of The Raven Tales, he takes on the task. It’s a job he’s done in twenty books—he’s up to the familiar challenge.
Bram’s investigation turns up a lot of suspicious characters grouchy bar-owning trolls, a thirsty vampire godfather, a couple of murderous x-cage fighters, a suspicious minister¬¬—and the Devil himself. Things are getting dicey: Bram could use some help with this job—but whom can he trust?
Fans of Jim Butcher will fall hard for Bram and Raven’s Moon.