Who Is Mistral Dawn?

Mistral Dawn is a thirty-something gal who has lived on both coasts of the US but somehow never in the middle. She currently resides in the Southeast US with her kitty cats (please spay or neuter! :-)) where she works as a hospital drudge and attends graduate school. Taken By The Huntsman is her first effort at writing fiction and if it is well received she has ideas for several more novels and short-stories in this series. Please feel free to visit her on FaceBook or drop her a line at mistralkdawn@gmail.com

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

What Makes A #Classic?

Hey Everyone!! :-)

I have some thoughts I'd like to share with you today, and for once they aren't about the upcoming election. Hopefully, this will a nice break for everyone. ;-)  No, today, I'd like to talk about reading and writing, or rather about how the former influences the latter.

Recently, I started reading back through some of the classics. I've reread some of the original Grimms Brothers fairy tales, Dante Alighieri's The Inferno, and next I'm going to reread Milton's Paradise Lost.  Why am I on this classics kick? Well, several reasons.

First, classics don't become classics without a reason. For a story to withstand the test of time, it has to speak to something fundamental in human nature.  What that appeal is depends on the story, but there has to be something that people can connect with over and over again throughout the centuries, or the story would have faded into obscurity.  And that's helpful to writers on several levels.

Just like any other skill, writing can benefit from studying what those who have come before you did right and avoiding what they did wrong. If a work has become a classic, chances are there is more that is right with it than wrong, but nothing is perfect. There's a lot to learn about the craft of writing by looking at what those who were successful have done well and doing your best to adapt those techniques to your own work. And it helps to sharpen your ability to critically evaluate your own writing if you can look at something that's outstanding and still find a couple of things that might have benefited from some tweaking.  It never hurts to sit at the feet of a master and watch them work...and then try to improve on their efforts.

Then there's also the fact that you can get ideas from classic stories. No, I'm not talking about plagiarism. I would never advocate or condone stealing another person's work and passing it off as your own. I'm talking about general themes.  Every romance novel that uses the theme of two people facing enormous obstacles that have to be overcome before they can be together is not just a plagiarized version of Romeo and Juliet.  The overarching theme might be shared, but the stories can be quite different.

As I said, if a work has become a classic, there has to be something about it that transcends the time and place where it was written.  Human nature doesn't change and somethings will always appeal to an essential part of our makeup. Things that are universal to the human experience.  Identifying those themes and adapting them to your own story might help make your writing be more appealing to a wider audience.  At least, I hope it might do that for my writing. ;-)

I actually did notice aspects of both the Grimm fairy tales and The Inferno that I suspect more modern authors of popular fiction have either used or stumbled upon on their own due to the ubiquitous nature of the themes. Again, I'm not suggesting that these authors plagiarized, not in any way, just that their work shares some similarity in the broader ideas with older works. Which makes sense, since even classics take many of their themes from even older works of fiction.

"Fairy Tales" are fairy tales because many of them stem from stories about fairies. Stories about fairies are based on several mythologies from multiple societies and religions that, probably, originated as attempts to explain natural phenomena.  After all, very little about storytelling is truly new. Ideas are reshaped, reformed, and recycled from generation to generation. Stories incorporate pieces of history, older stories, imagination, current events, etc, and it all gets reshuffled into something that's "new" and exciting, but is almost always just a new version of an older theme with some new twists and details.

Reading classic stories can be eye opening in that it highlights both how society has changed and how people haven't changed at all.  It's interesting as well as educational, and often a lot of fun as well.  Something else to keep in mind is that many classics can be read for free. A lot of older works are now part of the public domain, which means you can download the text and it isn't piracy. It also means that oftentimes digital copies can be obtained from sites like Amazon Kindle store free of charge, and it's completely legal and ethical to read these copies. If you prefer your books in hard copy, many of them can be found at most public libraries. And, since by definition a classic is a work that has been around for a while, they tend to have shorter waiting lists than more current works of fiction.

So, I hope I've made the case for going back through those classics your high school English teachers forced you to wade through. Only, this time, give them a chance and think about why they might have become classics. What about them makes them appeal to people hundreds of years after they were written?  If you can answer that question, your books might be the next classics.

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