International Writers Magazine: Literary Issues:
Dr Marwan Asmar
the 1990s I began reading what somebody tried to derogatory term
as pulp fiction. I then specifically read such to improve my style
of writing and editing. Of course, and sadly, I dont do that
anymore, the 1990s was a very stimulating intellectual period, reading
novels which I would never have expected to read and enjoy.
In between rewriting
articles and editing newspaper stories which seemed to have dragged
on all day and week, I would find myself time to open and read a book
that I already started. I would read in bed, on the couch, kitchen table,
and sometimes in the bathroom. I took these reading episodes as work-related
and a source of enjoyment. I found these books very quickly got you
into the jest of the story, the action and the technique.
As a newspaper editor, I needed to be able to be trained to look at
the text, and edit not only for content but for clarity, succinctness
and to make it interesting for the readers.
And so I quickly found out to my pleasant surprise that reading pulp,
especially from the late 20th century onwards, allowed you to do that
because its written in an easy style, one that gets you very quickly
involved from the first page, even first word, sentence, and paragraph.
Indeed, I came to believe, and quickly got to be under the impression
that story writings become very much like journalism, having all the
attributes of excitement, trepidations, flamboyancy and any other adjectives
you can think of. To compare and contrast: When I was young I used to
read many novels to Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, George Elliot and
the likes, and although I might now be receiving a lot of flak from
readers I didnt find these as exciting as the novels of today.
And this actually may lie in the style. In earlier writings, novels
have tended to be couched in a language that would make it hard for
the reader to understand, to stay alert, or follow what was being said.
In earlier times, there was an implicit mantle judgment that was involved
both in the writing of prose and in the reading of it. On the whole
this is no longer the case today with modern fiction.
Although cynics and critics say todays writers, novelists and
story-tellers are pandering to film, television and theater, and need
to get out the story-line and message out to readers and audiences as
quickly as possible, they overlook the fact that language itself has
developed, its style is constantly changing, has new emphasis of clarity,
approach, methodology, succinctness, brevity and easiness in prose.
Although of course writing is still influenced by paradigms of approaches
not all of which maybe easy and clear, the stream, although I sometimes
wonder, is towards slickness, easy style, grabbing the consciousness
of the readers that has become influenced by the global communications
system, the new pace of life, the way we interact with each other, but
they, and in no way, lessen the quality of writing and mantle and literary
productions as it is suggested by some no doubt puritan writers.
The writings and novels of today are clearly different from the past.
Although novels like Victor Hugos Hunchback of Notre Dame,
Virginia Woolfs Mrs Dalloway, or Jamess Joyces
The Dubliners remain unquestionable classics, they are hard to
read and fathom.
Literary patterns, train of thoughts, fixed orders, or logical steps
simple ideas are couched together of concocted stream of consciousness
that is at times hard to decipher or to follow and of which is seen
as literature and literary prose.
Such writings may have appeared in the past as justified as obscure
linguistic and literary styles for a different breed of readers, the
highbrows and intellectuals of past societies, because of the lack of
a mass literary market. But they are no longer today because of the
universal access to mass education.
But even for the highbrow a logical literary consciousness is required
and asked for by readers in this day and age where the thinking span
is dictated by modern life, and readers dont have the luxury to
dwell upon literary meaning, concepts, ideas, thought process as was
the case in the past. Above all, reading should be for pleasure, and
not a torturous exercise embedded in code words or Morse codes for the
pedantic or the pedagogical of a prevailing view to take whatever you
want out of the text and leave the rest in obscurity as somebody once
influenced in a political culture that tends to frown on outright
freedom of thought and expression, some people may feel more comfortable
with the code words and fishing-in-the-bag attitude of writing.
But clearly writing and hence reading as well shouldnt be
seen from a cryptic perspective. It should be clear, logical, concise
and precise, and written for reasonableness, for enjoyment, for
development, transparency, to add to thought and not for the obscuring
of it, not only to satisfy a whim but a way of life and intellect
and if it is used as a means for modern communication and media
so be it.
Modern fiction is
the most outward manifestation of this save for the new featurish form
of journalism that developed from the 1970s onwards. The new technique
became as follows: Writers and novelists write stories and ideas for
television and the silver screen. But this leads to another set of questions
if this is the basis of the modern novel, and if it is fair to be called
pulp fiction and indeed what is pulp fiction.
Some of the fiction that is being written today is very complex in plot,
character and story ideas based on real developments and events of what
was happening in the world. Such includes Ken Follets Lie Down
with the Lions and On The Wings of Eagles, Colin Falconers
Dangerous, Stephen Kings Thinner, the various collections
by John Grisham, David Lodges Nice Work and Thomas Thompsons
These books, which span over a 30 to 40 year period, are representatives
of many others that were being written in what may be called a cogent,
succinct, easy style to read for the purpose of being made into films,
either for the cinema or for television. And many of them were.
The other point is that tremendous amount of research was made before
writing began and were made into books. Most glaring was Follets
Lie Down with the Lions, the writers literary contribution
to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the interplay of super-power
rivalry at the end of cold war in the early 1980s and built around a
love story between Russian and American spies amongst Afghan villages.
Follet had consulted many books as shown in the bibliography written
at the end of his novel which shows that he wanted to know everything
about the Soviet entry into Afghanistan and the subsequent development
before talking about the characters, the plot, and the relationship
Other books have been equally interesting. Take Thomas Thompsons
Celebrity. While it centers around Hollywood preferred trivia,
the novel has insight on different aspects of life, and the journalistic
line that follows through one character is very revealing for its originality
as the author takes you to different scenes of how news material is
made, story collection, story writing, about telling it how it is and
The author realistically takes you into the news room, serving as a
very valuable book of those interested into going into journalism despite
the unfortunate name of the novel since like Follet, Thomson served
for many years as one of the editors for the long-running American Life
In addition, the novel was written using similar stylistic writing techniques
that bordered on the adoption of narrative and prose designed not only
to keep the reader going, but flipping the pages as quickly as possible,
getting into tune with what was happening on the ground. The novel as
well as other writings were subsequently being made into films, sometimes
successful and sometimes not, but the almost inevitable reactions that
was being made and heard was that "it wasnt as good as the
book," or the "book was much better."
That actually takes us back to the previously stated issue that even
though most of these may have been written with the silver-screen in
mind, their written quality continued to be much better than when they
were being adapted into screen plays. Indeed some films turn out to
be real flops.
Attitudes were being heard, even today, is that "the soul of the
idea in the book was being ripped apart", or the "film is
vacuous" or "some books are just not meant to be adapted into
All this means that the written word continues to reign supreme, and
that the late 20th century, and now 21st century novels rely on basic
words, semantics, verbal construction and ideas which you cant
possibly turn into moving images or moving pictures. This might be also
because novel writing and film-making require different techniques which
they obviously do, and whilst a story written as a novel can very well
find itself being made into production, this doesnt necessarily
work all the time.
Despite the "easiness" of story and novel, it has to go into
another phase of screen play writing for television in which different
artistic and technical process are involved to do with characters,
dialogue, scene settings and transition from different camera takes.
This is why transition from the text to animated images becomes especially
hard, and sometimes does not work or is not appreciated by the audiences
Does that mean these two mediumsnovels and filmsare meant
for different receivers? The answer, and as implied in the above, "yes"
and "no" taking into account the literary and technical implications
that are required, but it does suggest writing for publications as a
novel, and for readers to appreciate still has its own locai, schools,
methodology and approach.
And this means as well todays novels are part of centuries-old
development that may have started with Geoffrey Chaucer, moving on to
Shakespeare, Milton, Henry Fielding, Henry James, and D.H. Lawrence
and ending with what might be termed negatively as pulp fiction.
© Marwan Asmar July 2008
The author is the Responsible Chief Editor of
Jo Magazine, an English monthly based in Amman. From 1993 till 2003,
he served as the Managing Editor of The English language weekly, The
Star. Marwan Asmar calls himself an "ambidextrous writer"
divulging into anything that tries to provide a buzz from politics,
economics, culture or society. He received his Phd from the University
of Leeds in 1990 with his dissertation on "The State and Politics
of Labor Migration on Kuwait". Today he works as a media consultant
Dr Marwan Asmar
The resemblance is eerie. He is the same and the same and the same.
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