Writing styles change over time. A platitude, I know; but what isn’t a platitude (it’s merely boring to many people) are the particular ways that the culture changes readers’ expectations, which in turn changes how one must write.
What am I on about? Well, I realized recently that there are at least three things you can’t do anymore: misquotation, mixed metaphors and malapropisms.
I know this because I gave a friend one of my short stories to read over. One of my characters mixes metaphors (though not Yogi Berra like), misquotes poetic verse and so forth. My “beta reader,” being a bit of a poet himself, corrects all the “mistakes” I supposedly made—and so politely to boot! He even seemed embarrassed, telling me about my “errors” like a kindly teacher addressing a pupil.
Now, before you suggest it was bad technique on my part, or ignorance on his, I’ll tell you that the genre of the piece was an old-fashioned one, and that the writers who used it did this sort of thing all the time; it was par for the course. And he’s no slouch when it comes to literature—he teaches it. Yet he automatically assumed that these must have been mistakes.
That’s when it dawned on me. The shedding of editors from traditional publishing houses and the rise of indie publishing has changed reader’s expectations. They no longer default to the assumption that the “mistake” was the character’s, and that it might say something about the character, they now simply assume it must have been the writer’s. So when the indie tries to do something original (or old fashioned in this case), he’s assumed to be incompetent. This may not bode well.
Anyway, I’ve been trying to think of other techniques that won’t work anymore, though not just because of the present situation; I mean things that won’t work in contemporary times in general for a blog I’m planning. I’ve come up short so far because I’m trying too hard. But surely some of you have some ideas.
(By the way, if you’re thinking of saying I should have had another character point out the character’s linguistic gymnastics, let me pre-emptively respond by saying I could have, but it would have spoiled discovery.)