Friday, April 24, 2009

Changes in Writing Styles

I’ve spoken a number of times in this blog about the changes that have taken place in Christian fiction in the last fifteen or twenty years. By listening and studying, paying attention and practicing what I’ve been learning, I am gaining steadily in my skills of recognizing and using these new styles. Another thing I’ve done to build my skills is to read primarily the kind of fiction I want to write and authors I know writing in the new style.

You see, not everyone has made changes. A few well established writers have such a following and have sold so many books that they haven’t needed to worry making changes. Why should they if people are reading their books as much as ever?

This brings up a question about whether these changes are necessary, even justified. Have they really made the reading better? Few deny that Christian fiction two or three decades ago was shallow and not highly thought of by people who knew quality writing. Those who advocate these style changes are convinced they strongly increase the quality of Christian fiction.

Again, what kind of changes are we talking about? We’re talking about helping one’s readers to experience the actions and emotions of a story rather than simply telling about them using strong nouns and verbs rather than “propping them up” with adjectives and adverbs, and giving readers credit for “getting it” the first time, not talking down to them through an omniscient narrator who explains things.

Though as I said I’ve been reading almost exclusively novels written by authors writing the newer styles, I broke my pattern this last week. I picked up a book by an ultra-successful author who has been writing for many years, who has sold dozens of books in multiple series (stories that follow the same characters, often generation after generation). I wanted to see what his writing style has been in more recent times.

I found the book written the way I used to write.

The first thing to be obvious was that he didn’t follow the current mandate not to jump from one character’s head to another’s within the same scene. That style change, called point of view, or POV, was one I resisted for a time. It took practice to master it (and maybe my Genesis contest entry will show that I still slip up). (I’ve learned it did indeed evolve during the past decade and didn’t start out as firmly entrenched as it now is.)

Questions have been raised about this POV business, such as whether readers who aren’t writers really notice, let alone care. I can’t answer that, but I know that now that I’ve become aware of the difference, I didn’t like going back to the old ways as I read this book. Perhaps the author has made changes in his writing more recently, but in 2003 he was still “head hopping” all over the place. It bothered me a lot, and I didn’t like having that omniscient narrator popping in all the time to tell me how things were instead of setting me up to discover them for myself.

So this weekend I’m back to continuing work on my novel (written so long ago) where I’m trying to show instead tell and take readers deeper into the hearts of my characters through the illusive thing called “deep POV.” Only time will tell whether it will be worth the effort.


Linda said...

Hmm. As a writer who has never earned one cent for her work, I'm hardly qualified to comment. But as a reader of fiction, I'd say be true to yourself and stay away from modern styles. I hardly ever read Christian fiction because, frankly, it's mostly lousy stuff. I held my nose through the Left Behind series in order to know what everyone was talking about. Stephen Lawhead and Frank Peretti both improved as they went along, but not to the point where I'd necessarily recommend either of them. The Love Comes Softly series was okay for what it was, not that that's saying a whole lot. The Mitford books I enjoyed a lot, but have to admit they don't come up to the standards of Miss Read's writing. Maybe I've missed something great - please let me know if I have - but I go back to people like J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Dorothy Sayers for models of good Christian fiction. Don't write what's popular; write what's good.

I am looking forward to your book, not because I know anything about it - this is my first visit to your site - but because I know enough about you to know it's bound to be interesting if it's true to your life experiences. Whatever style you decide to use.

Esther said...

Thanks for your comments, Linda. I agree with much of what you said. Neither Fred now I read the Left BehindI stuff because I guess we're not into speculative stuff. The fact that Christian was lousy--and some still is--is the reason so much effort has been put into improving it. There's a write up on the right side of my blog about my book. Only time will tell whether you think it is any improvement. I hope so :-D.