By Susan Knight
I subscribe to the adage that good writers are avid readers. I have been an avid reader since first grade when I got my very first library card.
I admit, until I entered the novel writer’s world, I didn’t know Point of View from a hole in the ground—or notice clichés either, for that matter. I just read books.
After years of experimenting with genres, my taste in literature became “comfy;” I read what I liked. I always kept a dictionary by my side, from a young age, because reading books taught me to love the English language and I gravitated toward those novels that fed that love. I incorporated all newly learned words into my vocabulary immediately.
I now belong to two book clubs. Joining them got me out of my reading comfort zone. Even so, there are still genres I like and some I don’t.
My very favorite is historical fiction. I guess it’s because I love history and know I’m learning something with every page. Another adage, “history repeats itself,” comes to life in patterns of repeating that happen in all generations of time. Individuals in novels believe they are living in the worst time, or portray the best time. Reading about history helps me develop my own standards of pragmatism.
I am now reading “Gone With the Wind” again, after letting it sit in a place of honor on my book shelves for twenty-some years since my last reading. When I read it the first time, convalescing from an aggressive flu, I was not yet a published writer. I just enjoyed the words on the page, the descriptions, the love stories, the historical and political arguments.
Reading it now, and knowing some of the nuances of writing, I realize it is written in omniscient point of view. I haven’t noticed many newer novels in that point of view in quite a while. I don’t know if publishers are even looking for that point of view anymore. I find it very interesting and am enjoying ever page.
The first sentence, “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm…” begins the delightful descriptions of Scarlett. After watching Vivien Leigh capture her so perfectly in the movie, I never thought of Scarlett O’Hara as not being beautiful, did you?
The mention that Scarlett’s “thick black brows slanted upward” leaves no need to mention the color of her hair, while “pale green eyes” and “magnolia white skin” added to “carefully guarded bonnet” paint a picture of the proper Southern plantation young woman.
In the first paragraph, the visualization of her is almost complete.
|Twelve yards of billowing, |
The second paragraph describes the twelve yards of billowing green flowered muslin over the hoops in her dress, her green morocco slippers, and her seventeen-inch waist, but we also learn the costume belies her true self, which was “poorly concealed.”
The Tarlteton twins get no less description as the pages turn, and her beloved Tara materializes in perfect brush strokes, such as “dogwood trees that were solid masses of white blossoms against the background of new green.” Now we know the time of year.
Several other plantation neighbors, her father, mother, horses, and enjoyment of antebellum Georgia are all in the first half-dozen pages. There is no action. There is hardly any dialogue. Just beautiful words and description.
Margaret Mitchell, an Atlanta journalist, began writing and researching the tome while recuperating from a broken ankle. (Hmmm…reality for me, too.) It took her three years to write it.
I wonder how this book’s manuscript would be received now. Somehow, I can hear the editor’s declaring, “Info dump,” pertaining to those first six pages, or even the whole first chaper, or, when seeing the manuscript was comprised of over one thousand pages, exclaiming, “Cut it in half, then cut it in half again! It’s too long!”
Would editors and publishers really yawn when not finding action or dialogue on the first page? Would it pass that first page test today?
I understand why publishers don’t want to take chances on these types of novels. Authors have to be proven these days. Publishing is too expensive. And most people, used to fast food drive-ins and touch screens that give information in an instant, don’t have patience to lose themselves in a novel written by a wordsmith who takes you on a canoe ride slowly, lazily down the stream. They want to ride on a power boat that whips the water and wind in their faces.
Am I so enamored of the classics that I fail to understand the modern way of writing—action, dialogue, more action, lots more dialogue?
There is very little conversation in “Gone With the Wind.” The omniscient narrator tells me what everyone is thinking, feeling and doing. I rather like it. I can be in debonair Rhett Butler’s mind when he prides himself about setting off Scarlett’s anger. I am touched by the unassuming Melanie, without guile, who only sees the good in others. I can read impetuous Scarlett’s thoughts when she flirts with suitors, is worried about Tara and hunger, or how she really feels about her children. And, frankly, my dear, I’d like to punch Ashley Wilkes in the nose.
It makes me wonder, where do I fit in, the lover of historical novels like this one? How does it affect the way I write? Who are the classic writers of today and will they ever be published?
I would love your comments, please. I hope I am wrong.
|Melanie Hamilton Wilkes|
|"Ashley. Oh, Ashley."|
List of the some classics: http://www.cincinnatilibrary.org/booklists/?id=classics