Friday, November 16, 2007

My problem with modern novels, part 1

My recent post about theme and a few other comments here and here have gotten me to thinking lately about modern novels and one of their big downfalls.

I believe a problem with many modern novels is the lack of a strong theme or a theme that is hidden so well you have to buy a telescope to find it.

Most of my reading habits jump around. I read some older material, classical literature then non-fiction then pulp fiction then modern fiction. I hate to sound like one of those old foggies who always says "things were better in the old days," but for the most part I have to say that's true when it comes to fiction.

I've read a decent amount of modern novels in the last few years. One big element I see in nearly all of them is the element of mystery. Mystery is fine. It draws you in and can keep the interest level high. But I seem to notice a lot of mystery without a lot of character development and not a strong overall theme.

Unless you consider a theme to be something as simple as "oh, we figured out the big mystery" or "oh, we survived that big deadly thing and now we're stronger for it." Those can be themes (though simplistic for my own tastes), and there's nothing wrong with a good romp of action and adventure with some mystery thrown in.

But, the problem is this ... that's about ALL I'm seeing in modern fiction. There's a mystery set up in early chapters, then very quickly you get to know the main protagonist and his or her sidekick, then they have to fight through a bunch of stuff to get to the end where they finally unfold whatever the big secret is.

Again, there's nothing wrong with that kind of fiction. It's enjoyable, it sells, but for the love of God, can someone come up with a new plot? Can someone come up something that has a little more depth to it than that?

And I don't mean to pick on the mystery genre, or any other singular genre. I'm seeing this across the board in all genres.

Don't get me wrong. I like a good mystery from time to time, but all I'm seeing in modern novels ... from Harry Potter to horror fiction to lots of fantasy fiction ... is mystery after mystery with not a whole lot of context.

Maybe I need to read more modern stuff. Or maybe I'm right and the publishing industry has sold out to Hollywood.

More later ...


Howard von Darkmoor said...

But doesn't mystery keep the reader hooked? Keep him/her intrigued, concerned about the outcome? Interested in the story? Isn't being mysterious what it's all about??!?!

Ty said...

There's always an element of the unknown, a level of mystery, to nearly any novel, but here I'm talking about something different. I'm talking about stock mystery tropes. I've read way to many newer/modern novels in the last few years that are set up like a mystery novel.

Again, I don't have a problem with that in and of itself. I like a good mystery from time to time, I'm just tired of what I see as an easy way out for writers. All the situations are the same, many of the charcters are the same and the plot is basically the same. Only the details, names and places, are different.

More than anything, I'm tired of what I think of as "A+B" writing, formulaic writing in which the author really doesn't have to do much work. He or she is just plugging in different names for a plot that's been done a thousand times already.

Give me something different. I realize there's "nothing new under the sun" and "it's all been done," but amazingly I keep discovering older novels that seem to offer me something new.

For example, we all know I recently read "Dune." In "Dune," due to certain story elements I won't divulge here, there's next to no mystery (though there's a little). You pretty much know what's going to happen throughout the book, you at least know what is likely to happen, but there are still huge surprises.

Basically, I'm seeing way too much fantasy and horror and sci-fi fiction that is set up as a mystery. There's a cop or a wizard or somebody who is just taking the place of a private eye, then somebody gets killed or an artifact is stolen or something mysterious happens in chapter one. A bunch of running around and some fighting happens in the middle, then the cop or wizard or somebody solves everything in the next-to-last chapter.

I'm seeing way too much of this. It's not original anymore.

Howard von Darkmoor said...

You know, I wondered if you wouldn't catch my tongue-in-cheekiness here :)

I did enjoy your elaborate reply, though, and believe much truth can be found in it.