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Storytelling styles through the ages

Ozoneocean at 12:00AM, Sept. 29, 2017

I was watching the 2015 series of Poldark the other day and I noticed something strange;
None of the characters have the moral grey areas and twists that we expect of characters in modern stories, where they behave one way but it turns out they were thinking the opposite all along, they don't have the mercurial changes of allegiances and moral ambiguity we're used to in this day and age and I found it perplexing. The style was very old fashioned, not like something from 2015 at all.

Then I realised that the series is based on novels from the 1940s when the popular style of writing was quite different. It's also a bit of a pastiche on 19th and 18th century romantic adventure stories, not to mention being influenced by the 1970s version of the TV series.

That got me thinking; stories from different eras are often written in very different ways which can be jarring initially, till you get used to it and forget about the differences. But it's quite interesting to think about the way that changes how characters are portrayed, the story pacing, the predictability of the characters, the sorts of things that influence and concern them etc.

Stories from the 1920s are often a lot more genteel. Violence and injustice is portrayed in a very black and white manner, even among fellow villains. There's a strong undercurrent of honour in the stories. The only people to violate all honour are the true villains and they can't be redeemed.

The 1930s had a little more grey, but often with a lot of themes of racial superiority, nationalism, and pessimism (reflecting the moods of the time), not just in terms of theme but in how characters were portrayed. In stories from the early 20th century a pervading theme is white men, usually upper-class, being the smart ones, the natural leaders who others defer to. I'm not saying that was deliberate or they were wrong for writing that way, it's just how people thought.

In stories from the 1800s there's often an important moral lesson to them. The path of development of a character is a lesson to the reader of what not to do or the right way to be, and I imagine that comes from the strong tradition of Protestant Christian sermonising at the time, which naturally bled over into popular literature- NOT that they were all deliberately trying to teach you through parables or that they were overly Christian or even Christian at all, it's just a style that was all the rage.

To get back to the Poldark example: this is a modern TV series, acted, edited and directed in a modern way, but clearly shows its origins as 1940s literature, which it can't fully escape or modernise because then it wouldn't be true to the story and that creates a very interesting hybrid.
It opens up new choices: As a writer you can play with the different styles that were popular in different eras to create new and interesting stories. You don't just have to stick to what's popular now.

What are some styles of writing from different eras that you can think of?

Poldark 2015 -
Poldark, by Winston Graham -



Tantz_Aerine at 11:21AM, Sept. 29, 2017

Edgar Allan Poe's writings have an insane amount of description, and a bit of pomp and circumstance that nowdays would be penalized for 'detracting from the plot'. There is in my opinion a general trend of catering to an ever shortening audience attention span, which you can see in how movie opens change over time, in the first chapters (hell, the first page even) of books and in the progressive lack of complexity of narrative text.

Ozoneocean at 7:34AM, Sept. 29, 2017

That's why I love the movie. :)

Ozoneocean at 7:33AM, Sept. 29, 2017

I think that Clive Cusler book was a deliberately retro genre novel. He was writing it in the style of a 1930s pulp adventure story, set in the modern day.

KAM at 6:37AM, Sept. 29, 2017

Starting in the 1970s? comic writers started bringing gray into the stories and making good guys bad and bad guys good. On another website some people commented (joked?) that Marvel Comics best current heroes are Doctor Doom, Magneto & Galactus, while their worst villains are Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic and Captain America. 0_o

KAM at 6:32AM, Sept. 29, 2017

Not just the '40s. I was reading the Clive Cussler novel Sahara, years ago and realized the characters fell into three categories: White hat wearing good guys; blacker than black hat villains; and innocent bystanders/victims. No grey allowed.

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