Melissa Proffitt Melissa at
Tue Aug 7 00:28:39 EDT 2001

On Wed, 1 Aug 2001 16:26:27 +0100 (BST), shelly at wrote:

>Nat wrote:
>>It must be difficult for a modern author to not just put on the
>>brakes ... but to actually adopt as modus operandi the more
>>deliberate pacing of Austen and Dickens, especially in dialogue and
>>interior monologue.
>I?m not sure Austen & Dickens are actually slower. In Austen the events themselves may seem fairly trivial to us - a walk round the garden in Mansfield Park, or a walk round the room in P&P - but I don?t know that the speed at wch they happen is particularly slow. The dialogue is perhaps more measured than modern conversations, but that probably depends to whom you talk (being a stammerer and also not someone who can think quickly in conversation, I tend to cultivate a Johnsonian style of conversation).

Pacing doesn't relate to events and how quickly or slowly they occur, but to
prose style and the presentation of those events.  It arises from the
proportion of description to dialogue, I think, as well as sentence
complexity, and the quality of the interior monologue.  There's a distinct
difference between Jane Austen's actual writing and that of her--I can't say
imitators, but the people today who are either completing her unfinished
work or writing sequels to her books.  I think it's very easy to tell which
is which.  (Here's a fun challenge that my mother-in-law gave me: Find a
copy of _Sanditon_, which is an Austen novel fragment that was completed by
another writer whose name I've forgotten (but it doesn't matter because she
maintains anonymity in the publication) and try to figure out where the
modern writer comes in.  Then look up the original and see how close you
are.  I guess I'm not as good as I thought, because I didn't tumble to the
switch until about a hundred pages too late.)

Anyway, I agree with Nat about the difference between modern authors and
19th century ones.  There are exceptions, but a lot of modern fiction,
particularly popular/mainstream and genre fiction, moves more quickly than
it used to, even compared to fifty years ago.  There's more dialogue,
shorter descriptive passages, and more action overall.  I also know that
aspiring writers are frequently given advice that will steer them toward the
faster-paced ideal, because supposedly readers aren't patient enough for a
lot of long exposition, even if every word of it advances the plot.

Melissa Proffitt
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