Sorry I didn’t post an article last week, but - as most of you probably know - I had knee replacement surgery and am still recovering. “Recovering,” for you youngsters who haven’t needed to do this yet, means ice packs four times a day to reduce swelling, and a physical therapist who puts me through torturous exercise routines.
But enough about the fun. In between, I sneak off to my computer room and hope to write something useful for my blog watchers.
David Farland’s always-enlightening “Daily Kick in the Pants” provided food for thought last week. Titled “Timeless Fiction,” he reminds us our University Literature courses advised us to “study the classics.” To be accurate, he says, “Learn from the best writers that have ever been. Learn everything they knew about writing and then bring their techniques to your own writing.”
Immediately after, however, Dave says this: “Yet, most of the authors of ‘timeless classics’ weren’t trying to write timeless classics. They were living in their own day, trying to write ‘timely’ fiction.” Those writers addressed personal or social problems, and probably never expected their work to be studied by future generations.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch, in her November 13 post called “Storytelling,” gives almost exactly the same advice. Don’t try to emulate the style of the classics: just tell a good story. In fact, Ms. Rusch warns about failure to do so, regardless of how beautiful the prose. She describes a novel she read about a secret, known to some characters, but not all, which was about to be revealed after being hidden for fifty years, a secret so awesome it would change all their lives.
KKR was on the edge of her seat now. How will they react? What would happen? The answer? Nothing. The characters went to bed (and not for sex). The End. The author had written the beginning of a story, but not a story. Were we supposed to guess? Or write our own book to supply a story ending? Rusch states that books like that are often called “literary,” whereas almost all romance, mystery, and science fiction will require a plot.
She doubts that those authors will ever be remembered in the future. Although their style may be outdated, we read books by Jane Austen, Edgar Allen Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne because of the stories they told.
An example from my own recent reading is about a famous mystery writer who chose to place a book in the 18th century and used the style of language from that day. If the time period and style could have made the book a classic, it would not have died as quickly as it did in spite of her name. What it lacked was a story that resonated with 21st century readers.
So, when you write, write for your own day. You don’t know what kind of literature will be popular 100 years from now, but human beings will always like a story that interests them, that makes them turn pages to read what happens next. Just do that and your work might be considered a classic in the future. And if not? At least you wrote the best you could and pleased current readers. Besides, you’ll never know anyway.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch