Writer Beware: The Horizons of Writing Craft, by Kristen C. Strocchia

Since language and culture are living, breathing and actively changing, the literature they produce—and therefore our craft as writers—change with them.  What’s trending now, is not what trended a hundred years ago or what will be trending a hundred years from now. Vague?

Consider one of my first book loves, Anne of Green Gables. After reading many contemporary YA and MG novels, I attempted to introduce my daughter to Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic, one of the few series that I read during middle and high school. The complexity of sentence structure and vocabulary struck me within the first page. I still love Anne, but it got me thinking about how literature has and is changing.

anne of green gables

What has changed?

  1. Word count for age range.Numbers have decreased—particularly for picture books whose absolute max word count dropped from 1,000 to about 700 (and preferably much less) in the last six years since I started pursuing publishing.
  2. Page spacing.I’d always been taught to type one-space between words and two-spaces after periods. However, in recent years, my critique partners have all mentioned that this is no longer the practice. One-space uniformity throughout. And not only that, but novels seem to have increased their page spacing. This is, no doubt, helpful to readers’ eyes and subconscious reading stamina. It would be an interesting study to create a visual timeline of first pages by publication dates—starting with Anne of Green Gables, or something else in her time period, and ending with today—just to see how time has opened up white space on the novel page.
  3. Commas.I remember being drilled on comma usage in middle school, making sure to place one after each word in a series. By the time I hit college, my professors were telling me that commas before the last word in the series (the one before and) were no longer necessary.
  4. Vocabulary.Shakespeare and the King’s English aside, vocabulary has changed more dramatically than anything else, in my opinion. And, as a language teacher, it’s easy to see why. Culture + geography and resources + time changes language. And within this formula, the elements themselves—culture, geography, resources, and time—change. It’s like a river sculpting a canyon. As each element changes and/or acts on another element, part of the canyon wall erodes, forming something beautiful and new in its place. New slang. New meaningful gestures. New academic jargon. New technological advances and, with them, societal changes. New cultures interacting and creating new interlanguages. New political climates, and educational and media trends responding to it all.

No doubt there are many other changes not summarized here.

What is changing presently and will change in the future?

Predicting isn’t easy. It’s hard to say where Common Core or the current elections will shift trends in writing craft. But it’s important to be aware that trends do shift. Language and culture do change. So how do we as writers prepare for the unknown? Orienting your compass before you navigate the seas is advisable.

  1. Read.And stalk your middle schoolers’ [or whoever is in your circle of influence] desktops for what they’re reading.
  2. Do your homework on word count guidelines.But mostly tell your story as strong as possible in just the number of words necessary.
  3. Listen to real life dialogs between real people.The middle schoolers [or whoever you’re stalking from suggestion number 1] provide an excellent sample of living, changing language. Guaranteed.
  4. Set the trend.Literature has changed life, politics and history before. Write what you believe in, and be a force for good in the world. Readers, fellow writers’ craft and life may follow.


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4 Responses to Writer Beware: The Horizons of Writing Craft, by Kristen C. Strocchia

  1. Tina Holt says:

    Interesting! Great post, Kristen!

  2. Connie Stradling Morby says:

    I know what you mean. I tried to read an old book that belonged to my mother. It seems to be one of a series she read as an adolescent. It would be considered unreadable by today’s standards. The sentences and paragraphs were longer and more complex. It was hard to get into; there was no hook to speak of. It shows how much patience readers had in the past since there was no competition from TV, Internet, video games, etc. You made some excellent points!

  3. Like Connie I also picked up a book I remember loving the first time I read it, Watership Down. I found myself skimming over descriptions that I once would have loved reading, but now found a bit tedious and/or repetitive. I kept trying to find where the action started again…

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