There was a fantastic adaptation of one of Agatha Christie’s best novels on TV over the festive period: “And then there were none” (which has been reissued with several titles, the original having had the n- word). I immediately sat down to re-read the original, and was struck for the first time that Christie’s writing would be torn apart by modern day writers. Too much telling. Adverbs tacked onto so many speech tags. Too many speech tags. And yet it is easy to read, zips along, and despite having so many characters, the reader does not get lost or confused.
About a month before I rediscovered Dorothy L Sayers, thanks to a discarded copy of Busman’s honeymoon picked up whilst on holiday, and so was now in a position to compare these two greats of the Golden Age of Crime Fiction. I personally find Sayers’ writing far more in tune with today’s standards. Her characters are wonderful, and as a reader I was so involved with them, the whodunnit became incidental. However she also breaks today’s rules by her overuse of dialect, yet I found it entertaining and for me it brought the characters alive.
So maybe all that can be said is that rules are there to be broken, especially if you are aware of the rules in the first place, and know why they exist, and why you are breaking them.
And in fifty years time, who knows what the rules will be? Readers of the future may well look back at current writing and criticise our lack of adverbs and our heavy emphasis on showing.