Evolution of Writing

Posted on 29 March 2016

First of all: NOPE, NOT DEAD!

I’ve just spent the last two years consumed in local theatre, a disease I am not entirely recovered from yet, but there it is. On the bright side, I have finished a redraft novel “Of Brass and Blood” that takes place 5 years after the events of Tijervyn, but over in Adervyn, and has nothing at all to do with Tijervyn plot wise, probably because the story was written before Tijervyn. So yeah, redraft done, and actually in the hands of beta readers now. Feeling really good about this one, going to seek traditional publishing.

But, that isn’t what I’m writing a blog post, because “State of the Blogs” are so… well… Livejournal. Let’s get some meat, and for that, I want to muse on the craft of writing through generations. I’ll try to not get pretentious, but no promises.

So I like to try and read older books and stories. As a writer, these seems like a must. After all, if we are still head over heals with authors long since dust in their graves, there is obviously something to be appreciated and learned from by these older works. Hell, it is more or less the entire point of “Literature” as a concept: writing that transcends simple entertainment and can last through the ages (and Pooh-pooh on anyone who says genre can’t do that).

Now, some of these novels I found myself thoroughly engrossed in: I am a big fan of Lovecraft and R.E. Howard for the “really old” stuff, and Bradbury is definitely of a generation before me, but several of his books are still really good. I enjoyed Frank Herbert, at least for what I’ve read (Dune 1-3), and I enjoyed Tolkien enough to actually drudge my way through the Silmarillion. Which actually brings me to my point.

I have enjoyed these novels, but I had to work at them. And not in the “they challenged my mind and views about society” way, but in the “ugh, this writing is thicker than molasses” way. Good writing and easy reading aren’t mutually exclusive, but I am a creature of my day and age. I admit that I find books more recently written easier to approach and read. And, there is a sort-of-adage that books from 30 years ago wouldn’t even come close to being “publishable” today.

But… would books of today be publishable 30 years ago? I have no idea. Is writing more like fashion, where things come in and out of vogue, and what we want to read stylistically is linked to trends of the day, or is it evolving, learning new techniques, refining itself by standing on the shoulders of past authors? Most probably ascribed to the former school of thought, asserting that the original readers of Lovecraft and Howard would find Sanderson, Martin, and Scalzi unapproachable. Then again, they’d likely be the same way with a smart phone.

I mention smart phones because I am thinking of Moore’s Law: that technology “doubles” every 18 months. What if writing technique followed some sort of growth scale as well? Writing is not happening in a vacuum, and writers today are not re-inventing the wheel. We learn language as children, and typically, we learn the craft and art of writing from reading, meaning we are learning the lessons of past writers, much like a computer engineer learns from the designs of the past. Nowadays, undergrad engineering students are expected to create in a semester system equivalents to things it took entire professional teams a year to make. And perhaps in writing, a new author is likewise expected to be picking up not so far off from where and older author left off.

Now, I’m not saying that this is all there is to it. Trends in language, enjoyment and acceptability of certain mechanics, and even social mores of what is an enjoyable read factor in, and a great story can “hold up” iffy writing, and great writing can flounder if there’s no substance to it. So, yeah, this is just a piece in a puzzle that makes me think.

And that is a really long way of saying that I’m trying to read A Wizard of Earthsea, and the first chapter poleaxed me with “telling, not showing.” I’ll try and get further in, but right now, it is only because I know what a giant in the field Le Guin is and how many people have yelled at me to read her books, particularly the Earthsea novels. I just can’t but think about how this less-than-200 page book probably would have made a pretty good 1000+ epic if it delved deeper into showing instead of telling. And if the author’s name and stature wasn’t attached, I kind of know that I’d just sit it back down and never come back.

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