Writing Is A Bad Habit: Our Hallowed Past a.k.a. Classics! Do You Read Them?

Writers read.

That sentiment and its many wordier variations form one of the guidelines most would espouse to be a truly great author.  I personally would agree.  There is much to be gained by being well-read, most specifically in the genre that you are writing in.  I would also argue that there is a strong case to be made, from time to time, to actively seek out and read various ‘classics’, despite their age or lack of relation to what you may be currently writing.

While I can sympathize with the argument that the ‘classics’ might be outdated, irrelevant to the ‘new’ ideas you are pursuing in your work.  I would counter that argument in several ways.  First, the most obvious, is that the literary classics form the historical record of our career.  Just as a study of history can add context and understanding to the modern course of nations and people, a study of classical literature can give a writer insights and context to modern writing and, most importantly, their own works.

Don’t forget the fact that the foundations, the tropes, the plot elements, and so many of the fundamental pieces of the writer’s craft come from the past.  The author’s craft is creating fabulous new stories out of well-worn building blocks.  That old saying, There’s no such thing as a new story., is essentially true.  We change how we tell our tales and certainly are boundlessly creative in the details, but the rest lies heavily on the foundation of the past.  To better understand and refine the creative elements of your own story, it pays to be well-versed in that foundational history.

Of course, there’s the purely selfish benefit that many of the classics are classics for a reason.  They have stood the test of time and made their influence on our craft because of their quality and resonance, making them as enjoyable to read now as when they were first put to paper (or tablet or hide or … you get the idea!).  There’s nothing better than to curl up with a proven book to read, right?

So don’t turn your nose up at something that is deemed a ‘classic’.  Yes, it might be out of touch or challenging on some level, but it likely has both lessons to teach about your craft and wonders to help entertain you.  Don’t be afraid to plumb those dusty depths!

As always, if you have something to add to the conversation, feel free to mention it in the comments below.  Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!

Writing Is A Bad Habit: Entertainment and Fiction, Siamese Twins?

My current Starving Review book is a long one and, while I intend to get a review up tomorrow, I can make no guarantees.  In the meantime, let me regale you with a little bit of thinking I had over the past week.

What is the purpose of fiction?  At its core, what is fiction ‘about’?  What is the common thread that all fiction should share, do you think?

I can only speak for my interpretation, but I would propose to you that the core purpose, beyond any and all other things, of fiction is to entertain.

That isn’t the *only* thing a work of fiction can do, naturally.  A good piece of fiction entertains, educates, enlightens, and many other words that start with ‘e’.  However, and consider this carefully, why would you read a work of fiction if it didn’t also entertain you?  If you aren’t also seeking entertainment, be it fun, thrills, comedy, mystery, drama, or a million other ways to find enjoyment, why are you picking up fiction?

Surely, if one wants pure education, spiritual enlightenment, or religious insight, wouldn’t that one be better served going straight to the factual or philosophical sources?  Yes, I am taking the stance that religious texts are not ‘fiction’.  They are very real for those of their faiths.  Yes, I know that often stories and small pieces of fiction are often included in many otherwise ‘non-fiction’ works.  However, those small fictional bits are not your draw.  You don’t read a math book for the intriguing word problems, right?

By that line of thought, then, why write a piece of fiction unless you fully embrace the need to entertain?  I have read pieces that overwhelm the actual fictional story with heavy-handed philosophy or political subtext or historical arguments, forgetting that crucial need to entertain first.  It’s really annoying as I have also read fantastic, fun volumes that, while fictional, also deliver deep, meaningful insights and themes ALONG WITH their entertainment.  It can be done!

If you ignore that need to entertain first, what most often results is the people you really want to reach with your message never get it.  They never get far enough in the book to absorb it.  They simply give it up, writing off your work as heavy-handed and overly preachy.  If you do remember to properly weave your themes along with an entertaining yarn, however, you can have the world eating out of your hand and learning a bit in the process.

Until next time, good luck and good writing!