Reinventing the wheel

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Writing in 2012 is nothing like it was in 2000. And it was different during other periods, too. Take 1910 to the post WWII days: it was nothing like it was in the 1960s. Writing provides dips and bumps in the landscape, forcing writers into different turns and bends.

What do I mean exactly? Well – writers have always written, and they have always either kept to, or broken, the conventions of the day. Conventions have not always been the same ones we observe now, because language evolves and morphs through use. Custom and usage twists custom and usage out of the present shape into the next unpredictable one. You notice this if you carefully observe the speech and patterns of newsreaders. And goodness me – you certainly notice it in novels.

Take Gone with the Wind. Take The Great Gatsby. Take The Forsythe Saga. Take The Thorn Birds. Take North and South. Take A Farewell to Arms. Take Charlotte Gray. The authors of these novels observed conventions and broke others established by authors before them. It keeps on happening: those accepting the baton from previous runners shift the running style – sometimes ever so slightly – until it’s obvious, if one places several novels in chronological order, that there is a definite swing, a transference of minute modification. Although they are both concerned with the angst wars inflict upon relationships, Gone with the Wind is nothing like Charlotte Gray.

The study of modern fiction leads us to observe there are no real rules set in stone, either for the way a story is devised, or its premise, or the language in which it is conveyed. There is acceptance of certain forms for loose periods, which are gradually dropped for others to take their place. But there’s no real pattern to it, although there is inevitable and notable dismay when ‘rules’ are broken, when acceptance of a looser form takes place, and when words simply disappear. If it weren’t this way, we’d still be writing like Chaucer and Dryden.

Geoffrey Chaucer - no wheels

We certainly are not, despite the protests of purists along the way. And now that publishing has exploded, and it seems it’s every author for themselves in the fracas, it might happen even faster. Language, conventions, choices in premise, genre boundaries, and observance of taboos … it’s a free for all to alter.

Many feel it’s reinvention of wheels that worked well enough, until they remember the history of literature and how different momentous events changed how it was inspired, devised and written. Wars, invasions, famines, mass migrations, book burnings, pogroms, and various ethnic conflicts have ensured the history of stories and their making is hectic and bloody. Few rules and conventions outlast the possibility, risk, and enjoyment of their contravention and omission.

The next time any author feels a small shudder of guilt as they omit the ‘hook’ to a novel, or use a prologue, or stop summarily at the climax without the by-your-leave of a denouement, or insert numerals into dialog, or (horror of horrors) use US spelling when they write in Australia or Canada or the UK, they can go ahead, and feel a touch experimental. They can feel the freedom of reinventing the fiction wheel, without fear that the public will chastise or dismiss.

Independent authors and small publishers realize these aspects of writing and its evolution faster than traditional publishing, simply because of their ability to produce and release faster. One wonders what shape the wheels will be in another four years. What do you think about the evolution of fiction: how it is written, in what manner, and its cycle of conventions?

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Rosanne Dingli by Jill Beaver

Rosanne Dingli has invented wheels: oval and square.  She is the author of According to Luke, Death in Malta and the newly-released Camera Obscura.  For more about Rosanne Dingli, visit her website, or her blog.



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7 thoughts on “Reinventing the wheel”

  1. I'm reading The Best American Short Stories of the Century, and it is a microcosm of this evolution. To your point about cycles, according to the foreword, the reason the Best American Short Stories anthologies came into being in 1915 is that Edward J. O'Brien saw "while other critics of the time dismissed American ficion for its lack of sophistication and technique, he detected stirrings of something altogether new…worth recognizing and encouraging on its own terms." Substitute "independent" for "American", and a hundred years later, the cycle begins again!

    1. "Stirrings of something altogether new" is what it's all about, Krista. I do agree. It's something we always have to deal with – and one of the exciting things about writing.

  2. Thanks for advocating freedom from formulaic structure, Rosanne. Now that I've decided to spend my reading hours supporting the work of Indie authors, I see old rules broken, all the time and I move right along with these books, giving the author the benefit of the doubt. Some of us were born wanting to color outside the lines.

    Someone suggested that the semicolon has lost its purpose, but I disagree. To each, their own. On the other hand, overuse of the semicolon can become a bad habit.

    I'm not sure what this sentence means, "There is acceptance of certain forms for loose periods, which are gradually dropped for others to take their place." Could you expound on that?

  3. I mean loose periods of time, Marcia – we accept conventions for some time, drop them, and the resulting form is taken up by others.

    I'm glad some people agree with my take on the fallacy of rigid rules in writing. Anything that doesn't change is dead, and the language of writing is certainly alive.

  4. I have noticed this as well. And the chAnges in writing go hand in hand with the changes in speech patterns, manners and customs in other aspects of life. When we were much more formal in our day to day interactions our writing reflected that formality. As society has become more casual that is also reflected in our writing – not just in dialogue but also in style and form. One example for me is that to begin a lot of sentences with 'and' or 'but' when I feel the sentence would be too long and the break makes the flow better. That would not have been tolerated 50 years ago. Now only the traditionalists bat an eyelash.

  5. I was reading a sedate Ngaio Marsh crime novel from the 70s recently and was letting the old-style language flow past me quite happily, until "…the waiter ejaculated with evident pleasure." After that every subsequent "ejaculation" had me giggling. Times and language use certainly do change!

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