I count the book The Scarlet Pimpernel in my top five favorites, and yet most people have never even heard the title. Why? It’s one of those forgotten classics, and for the most part, today’s reader won’t touch a book like it. Not because it’s filled with old language, because it isn’t, but because of the old style of writing that is found in most classics.
Writing, like anything, evolves over time. Classics tend to spend the first half of book building characters and elaborate back stories and then the middle picks up with the action and plot.
But today’s reader doesn’t want to be drawn into long sweeping prose, they want action. If the book doesn’t grab them on page one then it’ll be closed and the television turned on. That doesn’t mean a book has to start with a people ducking for cover in the midst of a bomb raid. It means that the first page should already have the reader asking questions: Why is the character doing that? What is the character hiding from? So afraid of? What is their motivation?
If a spark of interest isn’t lit in the first paragraph then the writer has lost the chance to tell their story.
Now, don’t get me wrong, my list of ‘stranded on an island’ books round out four of the top five with classics. I don’t count a year well spent without re-reading Pride and Prejudice. So I’m not slamming the classics, in fact, I’m giving one away today.
Writing has changed. What are your opinions on it? Do you believe we’ve lost something in our move away from the lyrical prose of the classics? Do you prefer new fiction to something from 100 years ago? Why or why not?
Agent Rachelle Gardener wrote and excellent post on her blog about this topic just a few days ago. It’s worth reading.
I’m still in love with the classics, I just won’t be writing like them and trying to submit it anytime soon. Today I’m offering a copy of The Scarlet Pimpernel or The Blue Castle to someone who leaves a comment before midnight. Both make it onto my island list. Please leave in your comment which book you would rather receive (and also make sure the comment has something to do with the post, not just “I want a free book!”). The book give-away is only open to residents of the lower 48 at this point (sorry to my Dutch and Australian readers).