What made F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing unique?
Two factors. One is that, unlike today’s literary writers, he didn’t craft every sentence to be sparkling, a la John Updike. Much of his work consists of simple declarative sentences intended to advance the narrative, hook the reader, and set up the beautiful passages which stand out in our memories afterward. To use a baseball analogy, Scott Fitzgerald didn’t throw a fastball on every pitch.
Second, because as a youth he read a great deal of literary “pop,” pure unpretentious genre stuff, Fitzgerald was able to meld a pop sensibility with literary craft. This is notable about The Great Gatsby, which contains elements of romance and mystery which could’ve come out of a low-brow detective story. Fitzgerald understood the magic of pop lit, of how to create atmosphere and plot. Gatsby is one of the best-plotted works of fiction ever created.
Instead of writers today trying to duplicate Fitzgerald’s ability, we see instead a polarization of styles of writing. On one hand, purely commercial fiction with no depth of thought, and scant intelligence—no sense of intentionally creating significant fiction or crafting art. On the other extreme are workshopped literary writers who scorn narrative ability, whose focus is not on the reader, but who drop instead into egoistic lands of overwrought sentences about worlds existing inside their heads. What the two poles have in common is a retreat from the world.
Blend the pop and the literary like Fitzgerald did and you’ll resurrect the literary art.
To understand Scott Fitzgerald’s genius, read one of his Basil and Josephine popular stories, “The Captured Shadow.” Because he wasn’t intentionally creating “Literature,” he was freer with this kind of story to entertain himself. His natural ability flows freely. He ends up saying more about art, the mystery and magic of the creation of art—art’s ineffable qualities—than do other writers’ entire novels. Scott Fitzgerald had a pure naive wonder about the world and was able to convey this in his work.