Oh that is a time to rejoice and be glad. It means more even than the first shave. That suit! Those cuffs on the trousers! No more knickerbockers! "But when I become a man!--" Note how he sticks out his chest and thrusts his hands in his pockets, the admired of all beholders, the observed of all observers, the cynosure of every eye.
(Montgomery Ward & Co. advertisement from The Fra, May 1914, published by the Roycrofters.)
* * * * *
I love old ads, especially the ones before the wide reach of electricity. They unfold so slowly, deliberately. They revel in language and literary structure, very different than the 12-year-old education level targeted by advertisers today.
Can you imagine the story of Bobby and his first pair of pants being used for something like a Macy's ad in this month's New Yorker?
So what's changed?
Writing reflects how we think, how we perceive, and our communication expectations are very different today. We are hit with images and color and speed. Information and emotion spins directly into our brains.
Radio, television, and films have altered the way we think.
As writers, we can't underestimate how much these modes of communication affect our approach to storytelling. Why is show, not tell such a mantra? Because media forms like film have made the membrane between reality and fantasy very thin. Now, with virtual reality experiences adding motion and touch and even scent to the experience, it's getting even thinner.
Showing draws in the events of your story tighter, like you're hovering close enough to touch. Showing is like looking through clear glass. If you don't bump your nose on the pane, you forget it's even there.
But each time you drop a filter between the reader and the action, the experience loses some vibrancy and immediacy. What kinds of filters am I talking about? Narrating. Summarizing plot, emotions, and motivations. Packaged exposition. All of these "filters" distort the fictional reality.
Does that mean you can never use a literary filter? No, they can be important and effective tools. However, they should be carefully and purposefully chosen for effect. They should not become automatic. They should not become the rule rather than the exception.
(Pssst! Bobby! You do look bitchin' in those pants, my man.)