Saturday, December 27, 2014

Potboiler Giants

This last year I've been reading a lot of my favorite books from the 1970s, stories that impressed me mightily back then. Most of them were big fat potboilers, books my father brought home as soon as they came out in paperback. Among the authors: Leon Uris, James Clavell, Mario Puzo, Jack Higgins, and Michael Crichton. I was curious to see how those novels held up and I'm chagrined to say that most of them did. My favorite now was the same as it was back then, The Eiger Sanction by Trevanian.

Today it's hard enough to write a book on a computer and it's astounding if not incomprehensible to consider that those writers pounded out their manuscripts on a typewriter. No cut-and-paste (unless you used scissor and tape), no spellcheck, no online thesaurus, no Internet for research, no multiple copies of your original unless you made photocopies at fifteen cents a page. Just sit your ass down behind the Smith Corona (or IBM Selectric if you had the moola), feed a sheet of paper, and get to work. Keep the white out handy.

I couldn't help but engage my critical eye when reading these books and something else jumped out at me. That was the disregard for many of the craft rules that we modern writers get beat into us. Rules such as to avoid long expositions and backstory, adverbs, and wandering POV. That got me thinking that back then resources for writers weren't as plentiful or varied as they are today, things like critique groups, writers' workshops, writer Meetups, NaNoWriMo. Creative writing MFA programs were miniscule. But what worked for these authors was their compelling storytelling. Do we write any better today? I don't think so.

1 comment:

Rick Blechta said...

Hey, Mario! Great post. I also love to go back occasionally and read books that I loved years back. Thanks for reminding me to do it!