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What is "old-fashioned" writing?

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So what exactly does "old-fashioned writing" mean in regards to picture books?

I had a conference critique of a PB this past weekend and that was one of the feedback notes given. The editor found my story idea interesting/unique, said the MS had a good structure, and was the appropriate length - not too long. But she thought the writing was old-fashioned. I'm trying to revise, but struggling a bit with that. If I had to compare - I'd say that the style I currently have is similar to the one in A Visitor for Bear. Is that old-fashioned?  Any thoughts?
#1 - November 14, 2013, 09:37 AM
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Liz
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The only thing I can think of is to look at books similar to yours in style published in 2013 and get a feel for the writing.

If that doesn't help perhaps you could ask for clarification.
#2 - November 14, 2013, 11:14 AM
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Hi, Carla,

I really wouldn't worry too much about one editor's dislike of "old-fashioned" writing if it works for you within the framework of the story. The example you mentioned has a British tone, using phrases such as "a spot of tea," and "quite," and ''commanded." These words fit fine with these characters (a huge bear living in a house and a tiny mouse).

I guess if you are writing a story with that sort of language but it doesn't fit your characters, then you should change it. For example, if your main character is a six-year-old boy who lives in today's USA, his word usage probably wouldn't be much like Bear's. It's up to you to decide. Personally, I like the old-fashioned tone in general. :-)
#3 - November 14, 2013, 12:23 PM
Sheila Welch,  author/illustrator. Don't Call Me Marda, Waiting to Forget, Something in the Air, The Shadowed Unicorn, Little Prince Know-It-All

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Sheila is right. I think it really is about matching the voice and tone to the characters and story itself. I recently critiqued a manuscript that had a very stilted voice  - it felt "old fashioned" - and what it boiled down to was ordinary language and overly-lengthy sentences structures. The text didn't sing.

I know this may seem abstract, but voice can be difficult to nail down. I like Liz's idea of comparing some older PB texts with several popular PBs today. Maybe even type out a few of today's award-winning or most popular PBs. See what you notice. Use the "text to table" feature in Word to compare your sentence structures. And then finally, look at your word choices and see if you've used your language and literary devices in the best possible manner.

Good luck with your revisions!
Jean
#4 - November 14, 2013, 12:39 PM
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That's so funny because I had someone say that about one of my PBs a couple of years ago and I just had a look at it. It has a kind of posh English voice to it - I used words like piffle and poppycock, for example. So maybe that's it. It is old-fashioned but obviously if a character's voice or the story theme fits that kind of style it makes sense. Otherwise, it might be wise to try and change it.
#5 - November 14, 2013, 01:30 PM

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I may be way out of line here, so ignore me if I am.

One of the things that can make a PB sound old-fashioned is if the author explains things that the illustrations can or do show. Years ago, the author wrote the story and the illustration was sort of a bystander. Now the text and illustrations work together. For instance, if the MC is wearing a red dress, it would be old-fashioned to mention the red dress because the illustration shows it - unless, of course, there is a really good reason to mention it.

Anyway, I know this is pretty basic, but I thought I"d mention it.

Good luck. I know my current first chapter has been critiqued by three agent/editors. Two liked it, one didn't. The one who didn't reviewed the chapter as if it were a thriller (she used the word), when the ms is actually a cozy mystery - big, big difference. She obviously missed the point, so maybe that's what happened to you.

Laurel
#6 - November 14, 2013, 02:46 PM

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It doesn't have an English tone or use words like piffle, etc, so I don't think that's what's giving it an old-fashioned vibe. I like the idea of typing out some 2013 books. Maybe that will help me narrow it down. I'm thinking the sentence structure may be a part of why its reading the way it is. That might give me a way to objectively compare and then if I found a trend, maybe try revising that way. I like it!
#7 - November 14, 2013, 02:48 PM
Samson's Tale (Story Pie Press)
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Owen and the Dragon (Soto Publishing - 2010)
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Re: text and illustration. The editor and I chatted about that during my review - I asked because that's always been a struggle for me - I wanted to see what her opinion was on how to convey a vision as an author for a PB when so much relies on illustration instead of text. She said that she thought my balance was fine.
#8 - November 14, 2013, 02:51 PM
Samson's Tale (Story Pie Press)
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Owen and the Dragon (Soto Publishing - 2010)
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Carla- as a teacher, I've found PBs have changed drastically in the last few years. They definitely have a different tone and feel to them than ones pubbed say even 5 years ago. So typing them out and seeing how it looks on the page might help you out. I'd get my hands on anything published in 2013.
#9 - November 14, 2013, 04:36 PM
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Carla--I always worry about that. Someone on this board once said my posts were "old-fashioned" and I don't think she meant that in a good way. She was right. In my case, I tend to be a little wordy and I've developed a habit of not using contractions.

Today editors want really streamlined, condensed text, few if any adjectives, lots of energetic language and active verbs.
#10 - November 14, 2013, 05:08 PM
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Maybe I'm naive, but is adhering to a general rule of minimal text and primary reliance on illustration in picture books of today any different than following trends in writing?

On these same boards it is said to not be a follower of current trends (i.e. don't automatically write a vampire book or dystopian story just because everyone else does), since we cannot see nor predict the future trends.

Who is to say that publishers will someday grow weary of picture books that make the text secondary instead of equal to the illustrations? Who can say whether the power of language will soon have a resurgence or - sadly - disappear altogether?

I'm of the belief that if the picture book story requires more of the so-called "old-fashioned writing", perhaps it is crucial for the mood and the literary quality of that specific tale.

Just my opinion.
#11 - November 14, 2013, 05:41 PM

I believe A Visitor for Bear is old-fashioned writing, and in turn, the illustrations have an old-fashioned feel to it. That's not a criticism of the book. I enjoyed reading it.

Perhaps that type of voice fits A Visitor for Bear, and maybe the story you wrote calls for a different tone. Obviously I don't know if that's the case. I'm simply throwing it out there as a possibility.
#12 - November 14, 2013, 07:16 PM

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Ellen, somebody critiqued the style of your POSTS???  :aah
#13 - November 15, 2013, 05:42 AM
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Mara, I was thinking that too.

I heard one of my friends say that an editor critiqued her work and thought it was "old fashioned.," but it was MG. That phrase keeps popping up. Maybe too much innocence? Maybe the relationship between the characters portrays values of yore? (Yore - old fashioned word inserted for the fun of it).  :moose

I also thinking that most PBs have a faster pace and a bit of an edge now. That's been my style of writing and six years ago, it didn't garner much interest. I pulled one out and sold it just recently and am thinking of revisiting some of the others. I've seen some newer picture books with a quieter and lyrical tone, but as mentioned earlier, the text was on the sparse side so the illustrations carried a good portion of the story.
#14 - November 15, 2013, 06:32 AM
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Hey, I'm old fashioned ... I think the language itself can create an atmosphere. I remember the first story that was ever critiqued was called "Dickensonian." Perhaps this is why I like historical fiction :)

Betsy, that's so funny that someone said your posts were old fashioned. I like them :)
Vijaya
#15 - November 15, 2013, 07:09 AM
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That must be what I like about you, Vijaya. (Well, one of the things.)   ::-)

Yep, she critiqued the style of my posts. Kind of took a dislike to me in general. But we patched it up and she apologized.

Anything "old" is taboo. If you've got grandmothers in your book, they better all be riding motorcycles and playing in a rock band.




#16 - November 15, 2013, 08:16 AM
« Last Edit: November 15, 2013, 11:23 AM by Betsy »
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I don't think publishers "make the text secondary instead of equal to the illustrations" at all - fewer words does not mean they have any less importance. Often quite the opposite!

Old-fashioned style in novels usually means lots of description too (along with longer sentences, which I think someone mentioned already). And I think that while WE may enjoy descriptive writing, children and teenagers today have faster paced lives than we did at their age. I don't want to discuss whether that's a good or a bad thing, it's simply how it is right now. That means that when they read, they expect things to move at a faster pace too. And let's not forget about the parents. So many parents say they haven't got time to read, so if they do manage to squeeze in one book will they choose the one that has 50 words on each page or the one with 10? I usually read my kids five books each night but if they're tired and I am too, I'll pick the books with fewer words! These are the people buying picture books.
#17 - November 16, 2013, 04:45 PM

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