Monday, May 07, 2007

Grandma Wore a Girdle...

Woman with a Black Hat,
Winslow Homer,
watercolor, 1880.

...and garters. Or corsets and chemises.

I assume. I never looked up her skirts.

Every now and then when a point of style or technique is discussed we inevitably find some closet Goth listing Joyce or Hemingway in opposition to the prevailing mode practised by the rest of us sans-culottes.

A sort of they-did-it-so-it-must-be-right whalebone justification for flouncing and flouting the current style of undersilkies.

Ironically, they hold to this theory buckle and thong.

On the topic of dialogue tags recently, a writer pointed out that Heller in Catch-22 used a variety of speech-verbs and seldom used a simple said.

So. What.

He'd be severely edited for that today. Really.

Even more insidious is the observation that a multi-published guru like King or Wolfe or Roberts violates some basic principle of current advice - the idea seems to be that if s/he does it, anyone can be excused for the same.

Well, no.

We're not at the same lingerie counter, or even on the same floor.

Let's remove the flannel underwear/combination argument from discussion.

Mothballs reek.


Anonymous said...

Are you saying that the bigger the author, the more s/h can create or get away with? just curious.

Anonymous said...

Or, is it that the publishers want to mold us into what they think is proper for the time.

Erik Ivan James said...

I recall trying to remove a gal's girdle in the back seat of a car once. All I got that night, was sweaty.

Your point here today is good advice. Few of us have earned the right to fondle the fluff.

Bernita said...

Steve, what may be excused in a writer with a track record of sales will not be excused in a newcomer.
They may be published in spite of stylistic faults.Publication is not a blanket approval of every single thing they do.

Publishers invest a tremendous amount of money in a writer. They want a return, naturally. They are going to pick writers based on what they believe sells, both in subject and style.

Writers have to learn to update their girdle-removing technique, Erik.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. Your comments are always.

Jaye Wells said...

Somehow I got a picture of King writing in his underpants. Talk about horror.

The rebel in me really hates that "you're not them" mentality. But I understand it.

John Elder Robison said...

In editing my first book, my editor was very careful to correct errors while keeping the words "as I'd say them."

The result of editing, in my case, is that my book reads more smoothly, but still "sounds like me."

I never felt that my publisher (Crown) wanted to mold me into something else.

With respect to the suggestion, "the bigger the author, the more he can get away with," I offer this:

The bigger the book, the more the publishers can justify investing in edit and rewrite work. Remember, it costs them money, too. A book from a big author is likely to sell, and it's safe for them either way - let something slide, or fix it.

With a new author, unless the book is very big, they are likely to simply decline the manuscript if it needs extensive editing to be "passable."

And the bar for "passable" gets higher the more they invest. Hence, a book bought for a $5,000 advance must be clean enough to be publishable with only a review from an assistant and copy edit, where a book bought for $2,000,000 will get a careful edit by the executive editor, review by the publisher, go-over by an assistant, a careful read by legal, a read by a fact checker, a copy edit, and then back again to the executive editor.

Bernita said...

Fact is, Jaye, we can't use the styles of the past to justify our reluctance to edit ourselves according to current tastes.

Indeed, John. Proper editing for whatever technical excessives do not imply a desire to destroy a writer's voice.

Thank you for stopping by and adding your experience and insight.

December Quinn said...

...and that's one (among many) reasons I hated Catch-22.

bunnygirl said...

Great post, Bernita! Fashions come and go, in writing just as in clothing styles.

If you're a big enough name, people will cut you some slack. But the market is less forgiving of the rest of us, and the market has only a tangential interest in writing as "pure" art.

One should save the literary corsets and leisure suits for after one has achieved literary fame.

Rick said...

If you can wear a corset and still find an agent who will find an editor to buy it, more power to you. Each year a few kinky first novels sell, and often make a stir. A lot more non-kinky first novels sell, however, so unless your story requires kinky that is probably not the way to go.

Sam said...

LOL!! Love the analogy!

Bernita said...

I didn't "hate" it, December. Hot a kick out of Major Major Major and the dead man in Yossarian's tent but ultimately it wasn't to my taste.

Thank you, Bunny!
Not sure we should wear them even then!

Of course there are exceptions, Rick. They usually prove the rule, however.
Interesting you should equate old-fashioned with "kinky"...hmmm.

BTW, you people should check out John. His book has been paired with Pat's "Lottery."
We may have - not one winner - but two, here.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Sam.
The point and/or question is raised whether some of the 'great" writers would have managed to be published today, with their leisurely beginnings, and certain technical artificialities.
I've always wondered what was in the slush piles of the appropriate periods - if some of the stuff chucked then, would be given a fair read today.

Charles Gramlich said...

Good point that we lesser known writers can't get away with the things King or Koontz do. Some people might claim that's unfair, but it's also just true.

Robyn said...

I have a tendency to head-hop. But then again, I read head-hopping with no problem. Nora Roberts head-hops all the dang time; but I realize that she could poop on paper and it would sell. I have to watch the hopping if I hope to sell.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Charles.
People should stop fussing over what the best-selling writers do "wrong" and consider what they do right.

IF you indeed head-hop, Robyn.
Have seen amateur critics claim head-hopping, redundancy and a host of other ills ( such as asserting that "between you and me" is bad grammar!)where they did not exist.

ORION said...

I always think this is an interesting argument. Would authors who were published 50-100 years ago be published now?
Maybe no.
Maybe yes.
Camus (although French -- OK from Algeria for you sticklers) wrote quite short novels.
Graham Greene can be quite wordy.
Everyone hated Voltaire's Candide when it came out.
They had to write by hand or use typewriters at the very least. I think you had to have even MORE perseverance -- and that may be part of the issue.
It is easier now (with computers) for anyone to write a novel ergo (I LOVE that word!) we have more people doing so.
There are more to choose from and so the ante is raised?
An interesting angle anyway.

Bernita said...

Of course, such speculation is entirely moot, Pat.
More than volume, tastes have changed.
We do not have the context of the failed MSS which did not conform to the appropriate dictates of the day.
I do wonder sometimes if a modern stylist lurked in the reject pile.

-Princess Shin- said...

I'm reading Catch 22 now.. Shall go and notice it! =)

Bernita said...

Been years since I read it, Princess. Probably have my college copy somewhere on the shelves.
Then, I was ready for plot and theme, not technique.

raine said...

We're not at the same lingerie counter, or even on the same floor.

And some of us are having trouble even locating the elevators.

Great post, lol.

Bernita said...

Raine, there are elevators?

spyscribbler said...

See, I think Nora can break all the rules if she darn well pleases, not just because of her sales, but because her readers know what to expect. There's a trust there, that she's going to deliver a good story.

I don't care if she takes five chapters to ease into it, or if she breaks this or that rule. I know I'm going to get a good story, so I'm going to buy it.

A new author gets the one page scan, if the browser makes it past the title, cover, and blurb. There's no trust to build on.

Bernita said...

Mind you, Natasha, I will trust a publisher on occasion, such as Tor, to provide a good fantasy.

writtenwyrdd said...

I really don't have a problem with stuff like tags that use poor grammar like phrases or clauses that describe action. But I've been hammered so often for that habit that I cannot right now think of an example!

Writing styles change. I suppose we don't have to like it, just comply, if we wish to be published. Although I do wonder if a literary market might allow for avant garde treatments (or retro; whatever you want to call it) simply because they felt the writing was great enough.

I learned all my 'bad' habits from reading Virginia Wolfe.

Bernita said...

Think avant or retro may have a chance in literary fiction, Written.
Not very likely in genre.