Just for grins and giggles, pick up an old book from at least 100 years ago. Make sure it’s not one of the classics that everybody knows. Just get an old book that popular reading back then. Ideally, get a real book. If you can’t find a paper book, there are lots of others on-line. The Gutenburg Project has a lot of them as their copyrights are long expired.
If you were able to find a physical book, the first thing you’ll notice is that there are a good number available for just a few dollars. One would think that something that old would cost more. However, collectors are picky, so there are lots books that have little resale value.
One of the things that sticks out is how slowly the books move. Often a writer will gone on for pages and pages doing almost nothing but description. That does not fit well with modern sensibilities. One must remember that it was the age before television. People were not constantly bombarded with visual action. Instead of screens they had their imagination. I’m not saying it was better then, just that it was different.
It was also common to make Biblical references. If a household had any books at all, one would be a Bible. Writers scattered things from the Bible in their books as a form of short hand. Since it was a common cultural touchstone, it worked. Right now if you compare the suffering of your character to that of Job, a lot of people will wonder what the heck you are talking about. The writers of old could make reference to an obscure character or situation in an Old Testament minor book and everyone knew what was going on.
Writing styles evolve over time. Most people don’t notice it on a day to day basis, but it’s an ongoing process. It’s good to study the old masters, but don’t copy them too closely. Be aware that the reader’s sensibility changes over time.
-Raymond M. Coulombe