Monday, July 08, 2013

Change in Writing Styles



If you pick up a crime fiction novel from the first half or so of the last century. chances are the story will be told in a pretty straight forward way. I am thinking of almost any writer from that period. But today's crime fiction novel is likely to be closer to so-called literary fiction with lots of prose that would have been edited out in earlier days. I am reading THE SHINING GIRLS and am amazed by how much "style" there is compared to say something by Holding, Millar, Armstrong or even male writers of a half-century ago. I am not sure how I feel about this. Certainly the aerials impress, but perhaps it leads to a murkier plot sometimes.

When did this change happen and do you prefer your crime fiction straight up or with some fancy embellishments?

10 comments:

John said...

I like a crime novel to have a plot first and foremost. Secondly, I am in it for the characters and setting. Third, I like unusual background detail. But I am not a fan of writing that draws attention to itself in any kind of contemporary novel. Strangely, I do not feel this way about short stories. I'm more willing to give in to "literary writing" in short form than I will in a long novel. Stories can be experimental and I admire them for that. Experimental novels I tend to get bored with. Seems to get in the way of the story most of the time.

I think the writers you mention have great style. It's just not all that noticable which I think is the hallmark of good and perhaps all great writing. Ostentatious displays of vocabulary and metaphoric wizardry in abundance will often lead me to shut a book forever rather than continue to the final page.

Anonymous said...

Style over substance is not a good tradeoff for me either. If "style" (emphasized) is what you're going for, do not write a mystery novel.

And stay off my (non-existent) lawn!


Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

It's not so much the style of modern mysteries, it's the interminable padding. Once a mystery hits over 300 pages, you know there will be lots of extra characters and backstory that have nothing to do with the plot.

Deb

Richard R. said...

I agree with John and Jeff and Deb. Almost always I'll take the "old style" plotting, character work and setting over books that seem to strive for literate style over good storytelling.

Dan_Luft said...

I think the change was a near-direct result of Stephen King. Either he was the cause of it or he was the publishing industry's poster boy for it.

When I worked in a used book store in the 80s I could feel the difference in my hands as I shelved paperbacks. Carrie was on the long side for an early 70s genre novel but it is one of King's shortest books. LeCarre, Michael Crichton, and others followed the same trend. Robert Parker kept his books about the same length but the print got bigger

Todd Mason said...

Harold Robbins and his contemporaries were writing longer and longer books even before King started, and Robbins (and Sheldon and...) was more akin to crime fiction, some of it was crime fiction by any measure.

As to when self-consciously arty technique began in crime fiction, well, hello the likes of Raymond Chandler, and furthered by Ross Macdonald and others in the 1950s and '60s...who were writing contemporary mimetic fiction as well (such as Graham Greene, or Herbert Gold) or who simply wanted to flesh out their characters and motivations beyond the most obvious and clunky. (Not every lean cf writer was Hammett nor that eventual duo of "Packer" and Highsmith.)

Padded bookery, however, certainly didn't begin with King's endless rambling, nor even Thomas Wolfe's.

Todd Mason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Todd Mason said...

I like embellishment when it adds to the work...said the stone fan of Avram Davidson, who could write lean prose when he wanted to, but loved rococo embellishment when the mood struck him and it struck him often. Meanwhile, Kate Wilhelm can write a long cf novel, give the characters resonance and not lose the plotline.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - Such an interesting question (as ever!). It's hard to put one's finger on exactly when that change occurred, but it's definitely there. I think today's crime fiction is a lot more character-driven than a lot of it used to be, and that has been a part of this overall change.

Charles Gramlich said...

I like good writing, but I like it to have a point. It needs to be tied around the events of the story, not good writing just for good writing sake.