PDA

View Full Version : Reading Classics = Negative Impact?



Sane_Man
12-12-2011, 08:57 PM
I've read a few times that while reading classic literature can be helpful in some aspects it can also harm your writing when writing for a contemporary audience.

It seems to make sense, especially in terms of dated dialogue, lengthy descriptions, and archaic prose.

Would you agree?

Do you read a lot of classic literature? Do you feel it has a negative influence in some way? Or perhaps it has a positive one?

And just to clarify when I say "classics" I generally mean anything pre-twentieth century. But for the most part people will probably think nineteenth century writing - and that's fine.

Bufty
12-12-2011, 09:00 PM
Did it harm yours?

scarletpeaches
12-12-2011, 09:03 PM
I can understand people fearing a negative impact -- after all, authors such as Dickens relied heavily on coincidence, something we're warned against.

Sentences tended to ramble as opposed to today's more clipped prose. Telling-not-showing was okay.

I think one needs to keep in mind that books written way back then don't help you to write in the style of now, but all the same, I read them for fun. I certainly don't try to imitate Ye Olde Authors of Yesteryeare, though, because...well, let's just say stylistically, they make me tear my hair out.

There's a lot to be learned from Austen's subtlety or Dickens' characterisation, for instance.

tmesis
12-12-2011, 09:03 PM
This is a very bizarre question. My answer is no, I don't change my writing style to match the last book I read. Although I do tend to talk in rhyme for several hours after reading Dr Seuss.

Jamesaritchie
12-12-2011, 09:04 PM
I believe reading the classics is the best and smartest ting any writer can possibly do. If there's any negative impact at all, I've never seen it.

I suspect someone came up with that as an excuse not to read the classics.

CrastersBabies
12-12-2011, 09:06 PM
I think the notion is odd.

I mean, if someone wants to emulate Henry James, go for it, but the chances of getting published are next to nothing.

I see students try to mimic writers in my class. The last guy had an obvious hard-on for Ayn Rand. Very painful. Almost as anti-awesome as the chick who insisted on writing like Tolkien.

I guess my conclusion is that if you let the classics dictate your voice, you're probably going to struggle. If you learn what to take from the classics, then it's all good. Take Henry James again (sorry, Henry). He does a lot of what would be considered unacceptable in today's market: overly-convenient plots, intrusion of authorial voice, long bouts of dialogue and exposition.

But, he had a distinct voice and some moves that people can learn from.

AutumnWrite
12-12-2011, 09:08 PM
I suspect someone came up with that as an excuse not to read the classics.

I agree.

Just because you read something, doesn't mean you will or could write like that.

sassandgroove
12-12-2011, 09:09 PM
I think reading is always good. I do notice style more than I used to but I don't see that as a detriment.

tmesis
12-12-2011, 09:15 PM
I mean, if someone wants to emulate Henry James, go for it, but the chances of getting published are next to nothing.


It's already been done: Alan Hollinghurst already tackled Henry James and won the Booker Prize for his efforts.

But generally, yes to everything you just said. :)

cara
12-12-2011, 09:26 PM
I think it's fine so long as you don't copy the style. You can use similar ideas, but not the style, because it was less heavily edited and some haven't aged well.

PorterStarrByrd
12-12-2011, 09:28 PM
`I recommend them ...

Reading glasses have done wonders for me.

gothicangel
12-12-2011, 09:30 PM
Definitely read them, find out why they are classics.

Or do like me, and read the real classics: the Latin and Greek ones. ;)

scarletpeaches
12-12-2011, 09:35 PM
Definitely read them, find out why they are classics.

Or do like me, and read the real classics: the Latin and Greek ones. ;)Already have. ;)

dangerousbill
12-12-2011, 09:48 PM
I've read a few times that while reading classic literature can be helpful in some aspects it can also harm your writing when writing for a contemporary audience.


I've noticed that after reading stories written in the 19th Century, I tend to use more complex constructions and extended descriptions, which have fallen out of fashion in today's literature. Generally, I fix that during editing.

dangerousbill
12-12-2011, 09:50 PM
Or do like me, and read the real classics: the Latin and Greek ones. ;)

Or the real real classics, in the original Sanskrit, Aramaic and Linear B.

Flicka
12-12-2011, 09:59 PM
This is a very bizarre question. My answer is no, I don't change my writing style to match the last book I read.

This. Otherwise reading any book would change my way of writing and I'd have to stick to reading just one author or my style would change over the course of the book.

I'd say, read everything you can get your hands on, but write with care.

IceCreamEmpress
12-12-2011, 10:01 PM
I think that "writing like whoever you're reading right now" is a phase a lot of people go through. It's also a phase it's really important to work through and get past.

The wrong way to get through it, in my opinion, is to stop reading things you find compelling, whatever they might be. The right way to get through it, in my opinion, is to work on self-editing and developing your own "voice".

Archerbird
12-12-2011, 10:05 PM
Speaking as someone who don't speak English, reading English classics has improved one's language. I think...

Seriously though, I don't think reading classics will hurt you in any way, unless that's all you read.

robjvargas
12-12-2011, 10:06 PM
Hmm... does a wrench manufactured in 1960 turn a nut or a bolt any less than it did then? These classics endure for a reason. We don't have to copy their style to learn the lessons they can teach us as writers.

How many times has Romeo and Juliet been rewritten for modern times? I could go up and down the list of classics, but the horse would be dead long before I ever got really going.

In the end, it depends on what you want to learn from them (if you're reading as a writer seeking to learn, that is).

Don't you just love how often the answer is, "it depends"?

Archerbird
12-12-2011, 10:10 PM
Don't you just love how often the answer is, "it depends"?

That depends on what it depends on.

CrastersBabies
12-12-2011, 10:11 PM
It's already been done: Alan Hollinghurst already tackled Henry James and won the Booker Prize for his efforts.

But generally, yes to everything you just said. :)

Really? I can see the stodgy old tenure track baby-boomers lining up to vote on that.

I know I can avoid Alan Hollinghurst for life now, though. So, thanks for the warning. :)

heza
12-12-2011, 10:12 PM
I think that "writing like whoever you're reading right now" is a phase a lot of people go through. It's also a phase it's really important to work through and get past.



I'm actually in that phase. I tend to pick up writing styles like I pick up accents. Most of the time it doesn't hurt me, but just now, I'm writing MG. So I've put off reading a particular book I've been wanting to read until I get a solid voice established in my current WIP and feel like it's stable.

CrastersBabies
12-12-2011, 10:14 PM
Or the real real classics, in the original Sanskrit, Aramaic and Linear B.

Okay, you win the "I'm more eccentric and neat" contest. :)

I can only read Latin and I certainly don't do it for fun or in my spare time. I like my brain cells.

:D

Jamesaritchie
12-12-2011, 10:34 PM
I'm not sure there's much point in reading any book you hate, but teh word "classics" takes in a lot of territory. Classics come in all shapes and sizes, all manner of style and voice. Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Herman Melville, H. G. Wells, who, thanks to Warehouse 13, we now know was a woman, Jack London, on and on and on. Different styles, different voices, different everything. Not to mention all the classics in your chosen genre, which are a must read, unless you want to keep reinventing the wheel.

The trick is to read them by the bushel. Just reading two or three to say you've read some classics probably won't work very well. But read enough of them, and you won't copy any individual writer.

I do think classic writers remain whose style would still work today, with very little alteration. Maybe with none. And where alteration is necessary, I think just being who you are, a modern day writer exposed to modern day language, will take care of it. And classic writing with a modern touch can make for excellent writing.

Much of the writing in classic novels is beautiful, but it's the writer's take on story, character, the times, society, etc., that makes them wonderful for me.

cameron_chapman
12-12-2011, 10:42 PM
I've found that my fiction voice doesn't really change much based on what I'm reading. I worry more about watching anime when I'm writing due to the horrendous dialogue. Charming when it's anime, not so much when it's anything else.

But an interesting side effect of reading the classics (or anything with a really distinct voice) is that my non-fiction writing, the stuff I do for my day job, does pick up the style of whatever I'm reading. It made for some very interesting web design articles when I was reading Pride & Prejudice...

I can use it to consciously change my writing style a bit, though. For example, when I'm writing steampunk, I'll read things that were written around 1900. I then actively use some of those conventions to improve the feel of the piece I'm writing. But I only pick and choose things that will still fit within a contemporary piece (and I find it very useful for writing dialogue). Again: conscious choice, not just letting it influence my style.

Alessandra Kelley
12-12-2011, 10:47 PM
Let me put it this way.

Do you think I should avoid looking at Leonardo's paintings because they could harm my painting for a contemporary audience?

Yeah. Me neither.

I too suspect someone of making excuses to avoid reading the classics.

scarletpeaches
12-12-2011, 10:50 PM
I don't see any excuses. If someone doesn't want to read the classics, fine, don't read them.

There's no law that says you have to work your way through the entire Dickens canon before you stand a chance of publication. I've never had someone say to me, "We can't offer you a contract because you haven't read the complete works of Jane Austen."

Whatever I read, I read because I damn well feel like it, and this philosophy has never stopped me from having my own works published.

Shadow_Ferret
12-12-2011, 10:54 PM
I understand the question and I've asked it myself. The OP isn't asking because they fear they'll mimic the author's style, they are wondering if, by reading outmoded writing styles, there is a danger of picking up techniques that are now long out of vogue. Would a writer of contemporary fiction be better serve reading his contemporaries?

IceCreamEmpress
12-12-2011, 10:56 PM
Would a writer of contemporary fiction be better serve reading his contemporaries?

I think people should be familiar with the key books in their genre/subgenre from all eras.

scarletpeaches
12-12-2011, 10:56 PM
Damn it, Fuzzface, why do you have to keep saying stuff I agree with? :tongue

blacbird
12-12-2011, 11:00 PM
I believe reading the classics is the best and smartest ting any writer can possibly do.

As do Ray Bradbury and John Irving, famously.

caw

Dr.Gonzo
12-12-2011, 11:12 PM
I understand the question and I've asked it myself. The OP isn't asking because they fear they'll mimic the author's style, they are wondering if, by reading outmoded writing styles, there is a danger of picking up techniques that are now long out of vogue. Would a writer of contemporary fiction be better serve reading his contemporaries?

Yeah, that's what I got from the post.

I'd suggest reading the classics, knowing that some elements will be outdated, and reading contemporary works. See what they have in common--qualities that don't age.

Flicka
12-12-2011, 11:33 PM
We all love to debate if there are rules to writing and the only one we ever seem to agree on is "don't bore". I think the best way of learning that is reading bad, boring books and wonderful, engaging books. In fact, the wider you read, the better I think you get at nailing what works for both you and others. Also, reading books that differ in style, theme and genre will likely help you find your own voice as you learn all the ways you could write, but choose not to.

Unless you read nothing but very old books, you'll still know what modern looks like. Having the knowledge of older styles gives you the freedom to use inspiration from that too, just like a modern fashion designer can play with inspiration from the 20s or Marie Antoinette and still be contemporary.

If you don't bore, no one will care if you learned it from Dan Brown or Dickens!

Polenth
12-12-2011, 11:34 PM
I understand the question and I've asked it myself. The OP isn't asking because they fear they'll mimic the author's style, they are wondering if, by reading outmoded writing styles, there is a danger of picking up techniques that are now long out of vogue. Would a writer of contemporary fiction be better serve reading his contemporaries?

If someone only reads the classics, they're going to be out of touch with modern work. But reading classics doesn't stop someone from reading modern work too. It's not as though anyone has to choose one or the other.

Jake.C
12-12-2011, 11:49 PM
There was a period where I almost unconsciously assumed the writing style of any book I read and really liked. I went through a Nabokov phase, a Woolf phase, an Atwood phase, and a few other authors that are more obscure. Looking back over the things I wrote whilst under the influence of those authors, the stuff clearly isn't anywhere near as good as I thought it was at the time. (I remember being (deluded) convinced that I'd produced something the corresponding author could have written). But, on the other hand, that phase of trying out lots of different styles of voice is what helped me craft one of my own.

In my experience, if you're likely to behave as a sponge and suck up any writing habits from what you're reading, you're probably still at the stage where you haven't a distinct voice of your own, and therefore being influenced in that way might not be such a bad thing. I don't know how I would have learned how I wanted to/could write if I hadn't gone through those stages, trying everything on to see what worked. Obviously, my voice still isn't completely out of the dressing room, but I'm making significant progress. I see much more cohesion between the things I'm writing now that between the things I was writing them.

I would think this applies to sub-conscious absorption, also. Sooner or later I think most writers learn how to discern between their voice and the voice of author's they've been reading. All the little habits you could pick up from the classics are probably worth picking up, even the outdated ones, because that way is perhaps the best for learning exactly why they are outdated and how to avoid them (if you should want to).

Susan Littlefield
12-13-2011, 12:34 AM
I've read a few times that while reading classic literature can be helpful in some aspects it can also harm your writing when writing for a contemporary audience.

It seems to make sense, especially in terms of dated dialogue, lengthy descriptions, and archaic prose.

Would you agree?

Nope. How can it? Now, we can harm our writing by trying to write like the classics, as classic literature would not sell today with the lengthy descriptions, purple prose, and overuse of adverbs.


Do you read a lot of classic literature? Do you feel it has a negative influence in some way? Or perhaps it has a positive one?

I read a lot of everything, including classics. I personally love the description and how I am transported back in time. Reading classics is the only way I can really see what a certain time was like.

Susan Littlefield
12-13-2011, 12:37 AM
I love Jack London. He had such an ability to write a good story, and every time I am pulled in.

Mclesh
12-13-2011, 12:45 AM
This is an interesting question. Reading classic works, IMO, helps us to become more rounded in our knowledge and gives us insight into writing that has been able to withstand the passage of time. I've read quite a few classic works I've loved and a few I haven't been able to get through -- Lord Jim being the latest. (Sigh.)

I definitely don't feel the impact on my writing style, which is short and concise as opposed to the more flowery. I very much appreciate Dickens but would/could never write like him.

I could be wrong, but I would think having a broad exposure to literature would help the individual writer just as a modern artist benefits from having a classical art education.

BenPanced
12-13-2011, 12:51 AM
Definitely read them, find out why they are classics.

Or do like me, and read the real classics: the Latin and Greek ones. ;)


Already have. ;)
Yeah, but in the original Klingon?

I'd have to agree that "reading classics = negative impact" is a lame excuse somebody came up with so they wouldn't have to read "an old book". I've seen people use the excuse "but it's in black and white!" so they wouldn't have to watch movies made before 1970. While I have read many classics, I've let more contemporary books influence my writing because that's the audience I'm writing for. Besides, I really don't read books to study the authors' technique that often. If I were writing something such as a parody of Dickens or Austen, yeah, I'd read study them much more closely to emulate/copy their writing styles.

W.L. Marks
12-13-2011, 12:57 AM
The thing about classics is that most of them have endured because they speak to something deeply human within all of us. Mankind hasn't changed all that much in the past several hundred years. Read the classics that appeal to you. The chances of you picking up obscure vocabulary or syntax are almost nonexistent...after all, you don't hear it spoken around you every day, do you?

And worrying about picking up an "unmodern" writing style is sort of pointless. The only thing about "the rules" that hasn't changed in the past few hundred years is that they are made to be broken anyway.

virtue_summer
12-13-2011, 01:03 AM
And worrying about picking up an "unmodern" writing style is sort of pointless. The only thing about "the rules" that hasn't changed in the past few hundred years is that they are made to be broken anyway.
And what is an "unmodern" writing style, anyway? Ray Bradbury and Stephen King are both modern, particularly compared to people like Dickens and Austen, and yet they have completely different styles. I think the common advice to just read widely applies here.

scarletpeaches
12-13-2011, 01:03 AM
Yeah, but in the original Klingon?Okay, you got me there, Beep.

Ken
12-13-2011, 01:23 AM
... classics actually did negatively impact me when I first started writing. My writing was stilted and stiff as a result. I actually stopped reading classics as a cure and focused on YA fiction instead. The cure worked along with other measures.

I've gone back to read classics, again, as my voice is pretty much set. I still don't overdo it though as there's always that danger I might regress. That probably sounds foolish, but if you saw how stiff and formal my writing used to be you'd understand. It still is a bit stuffy.

Don't get me wrong. Classics are great. The authors who composed them were masters. The novels are essential reading in my view.

Donna Brown
12-13-2011, 01:51 AM
How can reading the classics possibly cause any harm as a writer or any other way. I find the question rather odd.

CChampeau
12-13-2011, 02:06 AM
Some have said it did 'harm' their writing; but so could any other type of book. If a book 'harms' your writing it's not the book's fault. It's just you.
Every writer grows and matures with time.

Sane_Man
12-13-2011, 03:10 AM
This is a very bizarre question. My answer is no, I don't change my writing style to match the last book I read. Although I do tend to talk in rhyme for several hours after reading Dr Seuss.

I didn't ask that.

My question was whether you think reading a lot of classic literature can sub-consciously effect the way people write for contemporary audiences, or if you feel it happens to you.

People are often advised to read a lot in the genre in which they want to write. My guess why is beause they'll be pick up how that genre and writing style works.

So, maybe people find that they pick up unwanted bad habits sub-consciously when reading in a different genre or era.

Sane_Man
12-13-2011, 03:18 AM
Let me put it this way.

Do you think I should avoid looking at Leonardo's paintings because they could harm my painting for a contemporary audience?

Yeah. Me neither.

I too suspect someone of making excuses to avoid reading the classics.

Well you'd suspect wrong. I don't know where I've given the impression that I have anything against the classics.

This was a question that popped into my head and I decided to ask it. I didn't say it was based on my own personal feelings. Maybe I should have made that perfectly clear.

I happen to enjoy a lot of 19th century literature.

Dickens, Hardy, the Brontes and George Eliot to name but a few.

mscelina
12-13-2011, 03:43 AM
No writer is harmed by reading anything. There are things to be learned from reading the back of cereal boxes.

The thing of it is--we're talking about CLASSICS: books that are so amazing or were so popular that they survived for decades, or centuries, or millennia. What harm can come from reading the longest lived books in existence?

So no- I think ALL writers should read the classics...AND current popular books...AND the bestselling authors in one's genre because there's something to be learned from all of those titles, regardless of your ultimate goals. *shrug* You wouldn't go to be treated by a physician who'd only studied quack medical methods and hadn't touched anatomy or biology or chemistry. You go to be treated by a doctor and, if you do your research first, the best doctor available for your specific problem. Same thing for writers. Sure: you can read all the brain candy you want, but it won't give you the advantages that reading Bronte or Dickens or Faulkner will.

The Lonely One
12-13-2011, 05:27 AM
Maybe if you ONLY read/mimicked classics it would be hard to succeed as a contemporary author. But that's just poor preparation. Every time you submit a story you're supposed to expose yourself to the writing in the journal to see if you're a fit. I assume you research the kinds of books agents have published before you query them. Shouldn't you want to know what your sales are going up against?

Now, as long as you aren't destroying your career by existing in a vacuum, there's no issue with reading classics without emulating them. In fact, there is usually something timeless in a classic piece of literature that one might take away. Usually not the dated writing style, though.

Silver-Midnight
12-13-2011, 05:46 AM
I've read a few times that while reading classic literature can be helpful in some aspects it can also harm your writing when writing for a contemporary audience.

It seems to make sense, especially in terms of dated dialogue, lengthy descriptions, and archaic prose.

Would you agree?

Do you read a lot of classic literature? Do you feel it has a negative influence in some way? Or perhaps it has a positive one?

And just to clarify when I say "classics" I generally mean anything pre-twentieth century. But for the most part people will probably think nineteenth century writing - and that's fine.

Well, me, I'm still going through that "write like the last book you read that you liked" phase. However, mine is twentieth century, but I imagine people who read before that period have the same problem I do as well. So, currently, my answer is yes. However, I think a lot of it can deal with the fact that I'm not a highly experienced writer. I'm still "trying to find my voice" and so I've entered that phase where you emulate what you like.

But yes, to get back to your question, I did emulate some classic literature writers, at least I felt like I did. I don't know about now. My writing does feels a lot more contemporary, but I still feel like I pick up from that period. However, that's just my experience.

Edit: I would think though if your voice is strong enough it wouldn't matter what you read. Besides, from what I hear, sometimes change, even in style, is for the better.

CChampeau
12-13-2011, 06:11 AM
I know the value of the classics have obviously been acknowledged here, but I find it funny no one mentions the general decline in quality that literature has suffered in recent years.

Yes, there was a lot of crap published back then too. Yes, many inventive leaps forward have refreshed literature since the early twentieth century. But the standard of quality, in general, has just plummeted.

I like the old writing style. I write in 'formal' way, I've been told, but that's what I like. Excessively informal writing, such as Stephen King's, just irritates me.

I prefer old literature and I prefer writing in a style that resembles older works more than newer ones.

And I don't give a #$^#$*! if someone else thinks it's "archaic".

kuwisdelu
12-13-2011, 06:54 AM
We should all write as formally as Shakespeare and Chaucer.

Oh wait...

Domino Derval
12-13-2011, 07:59 AM
I'm not sure I'd use King as a barometer of modern formal prose.

The Lonely One
12-13-2011, 08:01 AM
I know the value of the classics have obviously been acknowledged here, but I find it funny no one mentions the general decline in quality that literature has suffered in recent years.

Yes, there was a lot of crap published back then too. Yes, many inventive leaps forward have refreshed literature since the early twentieth century. But the standard of quality, in general, has just plummeted.

I like the old writing style. I write in 'formal' way, I've been told, but that's what I like. Excessively informal writing, such as Stephen King's, just irritates me.

I prefer old literature and I prefer writing in a style that resembles older works more than newer ones.

And I don't give a #$^#$*! if someone else thinks it's "archaic".

Data to support this claim? There is a lot to admire about classics, as you say. But a general decline in the quality of literature in recent years? What have you been reading that you think represents this decline (aside from King, who isn't a barometer of anything except his self)?

EDIT: This sounds snarkier than I intended. I should qualify, I think you don't have to like contemporary literature. I just feel uneasy about the assertion I've bolded above.

Domino Derval
12-13-2011, 08:18 AM
Champeau, maybe you'd have a higher opinion of modern writing if you read more literary fiction? Tartt, Franzen, Chabon, Egan, maybe some Glen David Gold.

That doesn't mean you have to like them. Edith Wharton and Thomas Hardy are recognized as classic authors, and they can both bite my ass.

CChampeau
12-13-2011, 08:53 AM
I use Stephen King as an example because he is so widely read. I could have used 'Harry Potter'.
I just find a dearth of quality modern literature. Myriad reasons why, limited vocabulary and depth among them. I confess 'Eragon' (I met the author) and 'In the Forests of the Night' make me mad because they're sensations simply due to the youth of the authors.
We just live in more commercial times. Accordingly, more commercial books with lower standards are increasingly produced.
I will admit, though, that because of my general avoidance of modern literature (I do enjoy a lot of modern books! I was a young teen when Harry Potter came out and it was a fun read) I must have missed out on quite a few brilliant works - which I don't know about. Its just that the Barbara Kingsolver, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and others I was forced to read in high school turned me off to recent lit. I did love Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man though, and J.G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun. Just not as much as a lot of older stuff.

Moby Dick. Frankenstein. Brothers Karamazov. Etc. Read these on my own, without school, and they expanded my mind.

Medievalist
12-13-2011, 08:53 AM
I've read a few times that while reading classic literature can be helpful in some aspects it can also harm your writing when writing for a contemporary audience.

It seems to make sense, especially in terms of dated dialogue, lengthy descriptions, and archaic prose.

Would you agree?

No; I think it's beyond stupid.

Medievalist
12-13-2011, 08:55 AM
I know the value of the classics have obviously been acknowledged here, but I find it funny no one mentions the general decline in quality that literature has suffered in recent years..

Yeah, Plato bitched about pretty much the same thing. And so did Sidney, and Spenser, and Coleridge and . . .

Yawn.

Medievalist
12-13-2011, 08:58 AM
Moby Dick. Frankenstein. Brothers Karamazov. Etc. Read these on my own, without school, and they expanded my mind.

Dude, that's not even approaching old.

Medievalist
12-13-2011, 08:59 AM
We should all write as formally as Shakespeare and Chaucer.

Ye knowe ek, that in forme of speche is chaunge
Withinne a thousand yere, and wordes tho
That hadden pris, now wonder nyce and straunge
Us thinketh hem, and yit they spake hem so.
-- Chaucer Troilus and Criseyde Book II ll. 22-25--

CChampeau
12-13-2011, 09:05 AM
Dude, that's not even approaching old.

Were you born before Frankenstein was published? If so, you're almost certainly senile by now.

I'm talking about modern as in last 50 years or so. Definitions vary, but....seriously?

VictoriaWrites
12-13-2011, 09:07 AM
I didn't ask that.

My question was whether you think reading a lot of classic literature can sub-consciously effect the way people write for contemporary audiences, or if you feel it happens to you.

People are often advised to read a lot in the genre in which they want to write. My guess why is beause they'll be pick up how that genre and writing style works.

So, maybe people find that they pick up unwanted bad habits sub-consciously when reading in a different genre or era.

I don't think it's because of that. Let's pretend you write fantasy. If you don't read all the fantasy you can, you might get a bright shiny idea about a peasant boy who is secretly a prince and who saves the world, or a princess who rebels against her family and runs away from an arranged marriage, or any number of plots that have been done. It's not to say that a good writer can't make what's old new again, but someone who doesn't know the genre might think their idea is new and original when it's been done nearly to death. (Literary authors are often accused of this when their books crossover into SF/F.)

Medievalist
12-13-2011, 09:18 AM
Were you born before Frankenstein was published? If so, you're almost certainly senile by now.

I'm talking about modern as in last 50 years or so. Definitions vary, but....seriously?

Yeah, you're confused.

Frankenstein is plumb in the middle of the Romantic era.

Followed by the Victorian era (Early 19th Century to Americanists).

To be blunt, when I see the argument that you're hinting around, I generally discover that the persons attempting to make the argument haven't read nearly as much or as widely as they think they have.

Modern ends c. 1950s, give or take a decade.

After that it's PoMo then Contemporary followed by Post Colonial.

kuwisdelu
12-13-2011, 09:24 AM
I use Stephen King as an example because he is so widely read. I could have used 'Harry Potter'.
I just find a dearth of quality modern literature. Myriad reasons why, limited vocabulary and depth among them. I confess 'Eragon' (I met the author) and 'In the Forests of the Night' make me mad because they're sensations simply due to the youth of the authors.
We just live in more commercial times. Accordingly, more commercial books with lower standards are increasingly produced.
I will admit, though, that because of my general avoidance of modern literature (I do enjoy a lot of modern books! I was a young teen when Harry Potter came out and it was a fun read) I must have missed out on quite a few brilliant works - which I don't know about. Its just that the Barbara Kingsolver, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and others I was forced to read in high school turned me off to recent lit. I did love Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man though, and J.G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun. Just not as much as a lot of older stuff.

You really ought to study literary history a bit if you think this comparison even remotely makes sense.


Ye knowe ek, that in forme of speche is chaunge
Withinne a thousand yere, and wordes tho
That hadden pris, now wonder nyce and straunge
Us thinketh hem, and yit they spake hem so.
-- Chaucer Troilus and Criseyde Book II ll. 22-25--

When I typed that, I was hoping you'd give me a bit of a bawdier example.

Though I commend you for giving an appropriate passage so quickly.

I can't really judge the formality of Middle English, so I'm curious on his style and diction here.

kuwisdelu
12-13-2011, 09:25 AM
Modern ends c. 1950s, give or take a decade.

Cut them a little slack Lisa; I don't think most people think of Modernism when they speak of "modern" literature like some of us might. (God knows a little familiarity with Postmodernism would help in the "Post-PC" debates on my tech fora...)

(Though I question your placement of Contemporary unless I've missed something.)

Medievalist
12-13-2011, 09:29 AM
This was a question that popped into my head and I decided to ask it. I didn't say it was based on my own personal feelings. Maybe I should have made that perfectly clear.

The truth of the matter is, that the more widely you read, the more you understand. And by widely, I mean not only the canons of English and American literature, but I mean reading everything—kids books, magazines, newspapers, comics, all sorts of genre fiction, books written in languages other than English.

The more you read, the more you understand.

Plus, reading and thinking about texts and words and languages physically changes your brain. (No, really; it does.)

Take someone like Stephen King; he's generally considered the poster child of genre fiction but if you really read his stuff—starting even with Dead Zone or better, Pet Sematary or Bag of Bones King is adept at literary allusions and nods at those who went before.

I can tell you from having read these three King novels that King is very familiar with Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter, The House of Seven Gables, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, among others.

Knowing these books thoroughly lets me see things I wouldn't otherwise see; they make King's books richer.

Medievalist
12-13-2011, 09:32 AM
Cut them a little slack Lisa; I don't think most people think of Modernism when they speak of "modern" literature like some of us might. (God knows a little familiarity with Postmodernism would help in the "Post-PC" debates on my tech fora...)

(Though I question your placement of Contemporary unless I've missed something.)

It's not mine; it's W. W. Norton's. It's from the promo lit for the about-to-be-published Norton Anthology Of English Lit; it's pretty similar to the eras used in the 8th edition of the Norton Anthology of American Lit that came out this past November.

Me, I think post 1832 is Contemporary ;)

Medievalist
12-13-2011, 09:34 AM
I can't really judge the formality of Middle English, so I'm curious on his style and diction here.

Just that fact that he switched from writing in French to writing in English at all was huge. It made it informal, to some extent, by linguistic class systems.

That said, Chaucer is more formal in his "dream visions," for instance, than in most of the Canterbury Tales.

amergina
12-13-2011, 09:35 AM
I just find a dearth of quality modern literature. Myriad reasons why, limited vocabulary and depth among them. I confess 'Eragon' (I met the author) and 'In the Forests of the Night' make me mad because they're sensations simply due to the youth of the authors.
We just live in more commercial times. Accordingly, more commercial books with lower standards are increasingly produced.
I will admit, though, that because of my general avoidance of modern literature (I do enjoy a lot of modern books! I was a young teen when Harry Potter came out and it was a fun read) I must have missed out on quite a few brilliant works - which I don't know about. Its just that the Barbara Kingsolver, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and others I was forced to read in high school turned me off to recent lit. I did love Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man though, and J.G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun. Just not as much as a lot of older stuff.

Moby Dick. Frankenstein. Brothers Karamazov. Etc. Read these on my own, without school, and they expanded my mind.

If you were a young teen when Harry Potter came out, then you're really not old enough or well-read enough in current literature to make a determination on its quality, lack thereof, or declining standard.

Incidentally, I'm not old enough or well-read enough to make that determination, either. I'm 40.

Plus, I've read some beautifully crafted fiction that has been written in the last five years. *shrug*

CChampeau
12-13-2011, 09:40 AM
I'm not an English professor. Lay off. I'm entitled to an opinion.

Domino Derval
12-13-2011, 09:44 AM
Harry Potter is not the modern equivalent to Moby Dick. If you want to compare Moby Dick to a modern work, you should compare it to the kind of book that wins literary awards today.

But that doesn't quite work, since Moby Dick was under-appreciated in its own time. It was a poor seller and a critical flop. So I guess you'll want to compare it to whatever underground, unsuccessful books there are today that will be regarded as masterpieces a hundred years from now. Strangely, I wasn't able to find such a contemporary book yet.

Seriously? Harry Potter, Eragon, and the collective works of Stephen King? You do know that there were mass market books that moved copies and were "fun" without redefining literature in the past, right? Pulps. Dime Novels. Penny Dreadfuls. Tijuana Bibles.

And To Kill a Mockingbird? First, to someone in my generation, it's hardly recent. Second, even if it isn't your cup of tea, I'm trying to imagine under what rubric it doesn't live up to the works of the Victorian or Romantic eras and I'm coming up blank.

Medievalist
12-13-2011, 09:45 AM
I'm not an English professor. Lay off. I'm entitled to an opinion.

You didn't express an opinion; you made some rather vague unsupported assertions about the quality of current fiction—much of which is written by your fellow members on AW, some of whom are frolicking in this very thread.

You are vastly underestimating your audience and peers on AW.

kuwisdelu
12-13-2011, 09:46 AM
It's not mine; it's W. W. Norton's. It's from the promo lit for the about-to-be-published Norton Anthology Of English Lit; it's pretty similar to the eras used in the 8th edition of the Norton Anthology of American Lit that came out this past November.

Me, I think post 1832 is Contemporary ;)

If that sticks, it's going to make things even more confusing. Modernism already causes enough confusion when talking casually. I just consider anything "relatively current in comparison to the work or writer in question" to be contemporary. I.e., in agreement with "Chaucer's contemporaries," "Byron's contemporaries," "my contemporaries," etc.

Domino Derval
12-13-2011, 09:54 AM
If that sticks, it's going to make things even more confusing. Modernism already causes enough confusion when talking casually. I just consider anything "relatively current in comparison to the work or writer in question" to be contemporary. I.e., in agreement with "Chaucer's contemporaries," "Byron's contemporaries," "my contemporaries," etc.

I dunno bout that, people take advantage of the term "relatively" like it was a wealthy naive spinster woman.

CChampeau
12-13-2011, 09:59 AM
You didn't express an opinion; you made some rather vague unsupported assertions about the quality of current fiction—much of which is written by your fellow members on AW, some of whom are frolicking in this very thread.

You are vastly underestimating your audience and peers on AW.

By now my ignorance should be apparent. I didn't "underestimate" anyone. I've only spoken my thoughts. For my first few posts on the forum, you do seem the pedantic lot. I'm out.

The Lonely One
12-13-2011, 09:59 AM
You didn't express an opinion; you made some rather vague unsupported assertions about the quality of current fiction—much of which is written by your fellow members on AW, some of whom are frolicking in this very thread.

You are vastly underestimating your audience and peers on AW.

Yeah that was kind of what made me cringe about the comment.

Most of us posting here are contemporary authors. I don't mind criticism, and not everyone has to read me (I'm appreciative if anyone reads me). But I get itchy with the wide-stroke brushes.

kuwisdelu
12-13-2011, 10:01 AM
I dunno bout that, people take advantage of the term "relatively" like it was a wealthy naive spinster woman.

Well, yes, but when I say Byron's contemporaries, most people generally know that Shelley would count. When I say "contemporary" or "my contemporaries," I think of writers on AW.

And when there's a "Contemporary" section in a bookstore... I'm already frustrated enough about the whole love story/romance/Romance confusion. I like Romance novels. I don't much care for romance. Bah!

Now "contemporary" too?

Sorry.

/rant

The Lonely One
12-13-2011, 10:02 AM
Well, yes, but when I say Byron's contemporaries, most people generally know that Shelley would count. When I say "contemporary" or "my contemporaries," I think of writers on AW.

And when there's a "Contemporary" section in a bookstore... I'm already frustrated enough about the whole love story/romance/Romance confusion. I like Romance novels. I don't much care for romance. Bah!

Now "contemporary" too?

Sorry.

/rant

A bit confused about the bookstore section. Isn't every current author contemporary?

kuwisdelu
12-13-2011, 10:04 AM
A bit confused about the bookstore section. Isn't every current author contemporary?

Yes, I would say so, but even we have Mainstream/Contemporary/Literary, so it can also be used for "stuff that's recent, it's any straight-up genre, and isn't quite literary or necessarily highly commercial."

MacAllister
12-13-2011, 10:05 AM
By now my ignorance should be apparent.
Yep. It is.


I didn't "underestimate" anyone. I've only spoken my thoughts.
Oh c'mon. 'Fess up. You thought you'd sound all erudite and knowledgeable and oh-so-sophisticated...but you misjudged your audience, and realized in short order that you were in WAY over your head. It happens. The way to deal with the situation is with a little humor and graceful good sportsmanship, though -- not by being sulky and ill-humored about it.


For my first few posts on the forum, you do seem the pedantic lot.

This, from someone who posted (apparently unironically) "I just find a dearth of quality modern literature. Myriad reasons why, limited vocabulary and depth among them." You're calling the other people in the conversation pedantic? Really?


I'm out.
Promises, promises.

jmindigo
12-13-2011, 10:06 AM
I'll admit up front that I haven't read as many classics as I would like. I don't feel like my writing has suffered from the lack, but then I can't really tell can I?

However I have noticed that among writers I've known who read mostly classics their writing does tend to be more 'old fashioned'. That's fine. But what I find worse then that is that they tend to be disconnected from current tropes and trends. They try to write for a modern audience without knowing what a modern audience expects. I advocate a balanced book diet. :D

Regarding quality of modern books - the classics have lasted decades, centuries! Comparing the average quality of the current bestsellers list to the classics is kind of like comparing the average quality of all horses to the Triple Crown winners.

Medievalist
12-13-2011, 10:11 AM
By now my ignorance should be apparent. I didn't "underestimate" anyone. I've only spoken my thoughts. For my first few posts on the forum, you do seem the pedantic lot. I'm out.

Pauvre petit!

Yeah, it's not like it's the first time someone stepped into something sticky on the boards, and it won't be the last.

One of the primary responsibilities of all writers is to know our audience.

You didn't.

So spend some time lurking, and less time writing for effect.

Domino Derval
12-13-2011, 10:12 AM
By now my ignorance should be apparent. I didn't "underestimate" anyone. I've only spoken my thoughts. For my first few posts on the forum, you do seem the pedantic lot. I'm out.

Dude, if you're still around, part of posting opinions on a forum is getting reactions to your opinions.

And pointing out that Moby Dick is not a previous but superior counterpart to Eragon isn't pedantry.


Well, yes, but when I say Byron's contemporaries, most people generally know that Shelley would count. When I say "contemporary" or "my contemporaries," I think of writers on AW.

And when there's a "Contemporary" section in a bookstore... I'm already frustrated enough about the whole love story/romance/Romance confusion. I like Romance novels. I don't much care for romance. Bah!

Now "contemporary" too?

Sorry.

/rant


See, whereas I wouldn't consider Byron and Shelley "contemporaries" in all but the most technical terms. They lived at roughly the same time, but Byron's longer lifespan on both ends meant he was alive to be influenced by, and produce, many literary and poetic pieces that Shelley just wasn't present for. Their output could truly be seen as being from two different eras.


























Just kidding :p

kuwisdelu
12-13-2011, 10:18 AM
Just kidding :p

You little...

The Lonely One
12-13-2011, 11:29 AM
Classics are great, to read, to learn from. But must we always live in the wake of some idealistic golden age? I don't share Eliot's enthusiasm for the author's undying lineage to "the greats." Sure, they're important. Sure, they paved the way. Sure, they're still good. Doesn't mean I want to write like them.


I'm out.

It's odd in this day and age you can't insult an entire generation of writers unchecked. I would have left also.

shaldna
12-13-2011, 02:50 PM
I've read a few times that while reading classic literature can be helpful in some aspects it can also harm your writing when writing for a contemporary audience.

It seems to make sense, especially in terms of dated dialogue, lengthy descriptions, and archaic prose.

Would you agree?

Hell no.

Reading anything at all will help you. It's not just about reading what works, but it's about reading something and seeing why it DOESN'T work.

Classic or contemporary, it doesn't matter. You can still read and judge and learn. There are some wonderful classics out there, but equally there is some tosh. But the same can be said for now.

Sometimes reading is about learning what you like and what you don't, as much as it is about learning what is good and what is selling.



Do you read a lot of classic literature? Do you feel it has a negative influence in some way? Or perhaps it has a positive one?

Yes, I do. And see above for why I think reading in general is a good thing. I would certainly never say reading a book, any book at all, was a negative influence on my writing.




I mean, if someone wants to emulate Henry James, go for it, but the chances of getting published are next to nothing.

I'm assuming you have facts and statistics to back that up?




I see students try to mimic writers in my class. The last guy had an obvious hard-on for Ayn Rand. Very painful. Almost as anti-awesome as the chick who insisted on writing like Tolkien.

Every single writer goes through this phase as they try to find their own voice. As writers we are inspired by the books we love, and the writers we love. Obviously when we start to write we start to write what we know and what we like, subconsciously mimicking another writer until we find out own voice.



I guess my conclusion is that if you let the classics dictate your voice, you're probably going to struggle.

No more than any other starting out writer. See my point above.



Definitely read them, find out why they are classics.

This.




I'd say, read everything you can get your hands on, but write with care.

I just wanted to repeat this sentiment.





I can only read Latin and I certainly don't do it for fun or in my spare time. I like my brain cells.

:D

I read Latin for fun. *shrugs*



I know the value of the classics have obviously been acknowledged here, but I find it funny no one mentions the general decline in quality that literature has suffered in recent years.

Such as?

People have been saying that the quality of literature is decling since people started writing.

There are still amazing and wonderful books coming out every day. Books that touch people and change lives and stay with you forever.

Yes, there is also a lot of shite and fluff, but no more now than there was 50 years ago, or 500 years ago.


But the standard of quality, in general, has just plummeted.

And of course you have read every single book ever published and so are uniquely qualified to state that fact.



I just find a dearth of quality modern literature.

You are obviously reading the wrong books. Look harder.



Were you born before Frankenstein was published? If so, you're almost certainly senile by now.

She was talking in terms of literature. Frankenstein is incredibly modern compared to, for example, The Odyssey.



I'm not an English professor. Lay off. I'm entitled to an opinion.

Yes, you are. We all are. But you were stating your assertations as a 'fact' and not as an opinion.


For my first few posts on the forum, you do seem the pedantic lot. I'm out.

I'm sorry you feel that way, but when you are going to state something as fact without being able to back it up, or you are unable to engage in conversation and debate with others who have a different opinion, then you can't really blame everyone else.

gothicangel
12-13-2011, 03:45 PM
I think Homer can give any modern thriller writer a run for their money. :D

*Love Plautius and Aristophanes too for the comedy.

gothicangel
12-13-2011, 03:48 PM
Or the real real classics, in the original Sanskrit, Aramaic and Linear B.

Show-off. :tongue

Phaeal
12-13-2011, 06:40 PM
Anyone who's not reading Sumerian steampunk on the original clay tablets is a piker, anyhow.

Jamesaritchie
12-13-2011, 07:30 PM
I'm not sure the quality of literature has declined, except in how many books are now being published. As Sturgeon said, ninety percent of everything is crud. Ninety percent of what was published in the last three hundred years was crud, and ninety percent of what's being published now is crud, at least when compared to the top ten percent.

But the crud published back then is long out of print, while the crud published now is all around us, still on the shelves.

With the number of books being published in our time, that ninety percent means thousands and thousands of books that come and go and come and go, all meaningless.

But I suspect the same percentage of future classics are being written today as in any age.

bearilou
12-13-2011, 07:36 PM
By now my ignorance should be apparent. I didn't "underestimate" anyone. I've only spoken my thoughts. For my first few posts on the forum, you do seem the pedantic lot. I'm out.

This sort of thread flounce works in most fandoms on livejournal but falls kind of flat on a writers forum.

You're talking to writers and readers. A wide variety of writers and a wide variety of readers. All sorts of educational backgrounds are represented here.

One thing is in common, we're writers and readers. We depend on the written word to get our point across and to understand someone else.

To claim that you're misunderstood because we're pedantic about the words you choose when engaging in conversation on a writers forum...just strikes me as really really funny.

Richard White
12-13-2011, 08:53 PM
Classics - Well, for my first semester in grad school, I just finished reading Mrs. Craddock (Maugham), Madame Bovary (Flaubert), The House of Mirth (Wharton), and Anna Karenina (Tolstoy).

What did I learn from them?

(What is following are my impressions/opinions of the books - all toe stepping is apologized for in advance. ;) )

1) Incredibly depressing books with mostly unlikeable characters.
2) Russian authors overwrite everything
3) It's only a happy ending if your spouse dies before the end of the book.
4) Adultery has consequences
5) Flaubert had golden word syndrome (Seriously, he refused to allow anyone to edit his work.)
6) Tolstoy was paid by the word
7) Mrs. Craddock was really Maugham's first autobiography (not Of Human Bondage - although OHB was more blatently based on his life)

8) Even with my grousing, they were still good books and each of them has something I can take and incorporate in my writing. Not necessarily stylistically - although some of the decriptive phrasing and word choices can definitely be reviewed to get some ideas - but the fact that they were able to weave these intracate stories and make me care enough about the characters to develop a dislike for them (the characters themselves, not a dislike for the books) means they told their story well.

And in the end, telling a story well is what matters.

LindaJeanne
12-13-2011, 09:18 PM
I've read a few times that while reading classic literature can be helpful in some aspects it can also harm your writing when writing for a contemporary audience.

It seems to make sense, especially in terms of dated dialogue, lengthy descriptions, and archaic prose.

Would you agree?

Do you read a lot of classic literature? Do you feel it has a negative influence in some way? Or perhaps it has a positive one?

This implies that before reading any book, I should first evaluate it to see if it's written in a voice I would want to emulate. And then refuse to read it if the voice is too distant from how I would like to write.

That... doesn't seem very productive to me.


Anyone who's not reading Sumerian steampunk on the original clay tablets is a piker, anyhow.
:D

Richard White
12-13-2011, 09:49 PM
Anyone who's not reading Sumerian steampunk on the original clay tablets is a piker, anyhow.

As long as it's not sparkling vampires in the original Mayan, you should be good. *grin*

The Lonely One
12-13-2011, 09:50 PM
I do believe there is a large amount of unchecked (meaning unthoughtful writing by unpracticed writers, poorly edited or not edited at all) getting flushed into the marketplace via self-e-book-publishing/the internet.That said, I think the classics argument in this thread automatically sets up a false better/worse, parent/child dichotomy. They're the "classics" and the "greats."

Those are words literary scholars assigned to the writers they found to have value, the ones that either got exposure through popularity or have some historical significance (wrote during a war, for instance, as Isaac Rosenberg did, or summarized a movement such as Woolf did for modernism) or an aesthetic one. Yet I'm sure there are as many unexamined great writings from any period as there are from this one, even if there were more publishing checks and balances in the past.

I don't think "the greats" are more worthy of being read than contemporary literature on that basis alone. What makes it even more absurd is that one day 2011 will no longer be contemporary, and we will certainly have greats, which scholars will conveniently identify for us.

I think we should read widely, of our own era and eras past, without all the academic preconceptions about what we might never live up to and what is trash to be walked upon.

<------too cynical for having just woken up? ;)

Sane_Man
12-13-2011, 09:59 PM
This implies that before reading any book, I should first evaluate it to see if it's written in a voice I would want to emulate. And then refuse to read it if the voice is too distant from how I would like to write.

That... doesn't seem very productive to me.



If that's the conclusion you've come to then great. I like when people interpret things in different ways, if makes things more interesting.

A lot of people seem to be drawing completely different conclusions to the ones I thought they would based on my question.



I understand the question and I've asked it myself. The OP isn't asking because they fear they'll mimic the author's style, they are wondering if, by reading outmoded writing styles, there is a danger of picking up techniques that are now long out of vogue. Would a writer of contemporary fiction be better serve reading his contemporaries?

Hallelujah! That's exactly what I meant when I wrote this thread.

With all due respect, I think some people here are reading to much into it, and are trying to second guess why I would believe such a thing.

I said it a few posts back. I don't necessarily believe it. I just want to know what your opinions on the question are.

IceCreamEmpress
12-13-2011, 10:13 PM
I'm not an English professor. Lay off. I'm entitled to an opinion.

And we're entitled to opinions about your opinion.

My opinion about your opinion is that it's facile and betrays a lack of understanding about how literary canons work, and/or a lack of broad reading in contemporary literature on your part.

amergina
12-13-2011, 10:42 PM
By now my ignorance should be apparent. I didn't "underestimate" anyone. I've only spoken my thoughts. For my first few posts on the forum, you do seem the pedantic lot. I'm out.

Welcome to the wonderful world of owning your words!

Phaeal
12-13-2011, 11:01 PM
(Psst, everybody. There's a much more persistent troll over in the "Is 21 too young to publish a novel?" thread.)

:D

scarletpeaches
12-13-2011, 11:03 PM
Honestly. Trollbashing is like playing a site-wide game of Whack-a-Mole these days.

The Lonely One
12-13-2011, 11:08 PM
Hallelujah! That's exactly what I meant when I wrote this thread.

With all due respect, I think some people here are reading to much into it, and are trying to second guess why I would believe such a thing.

I said it a few posts back. I don't necessarily believe it. I just want to know what your opinions on the question are.


Well, at this point it seems we're more responding to each other and the troll (hehe) who has now vacated the thread. But in regards to this, it's possible, I suppose, to pick up outdated techniques. But reading both modern and classic lit sort of nullifies that IMO. Meaning you can pick up the differences between the two and recognize which is outdated.

LindaJeanne
12-14-2011, 12:44 AM
If that's the conclusion you've come to then great. I like when people interpret things in different ways, if makes things more interesting.

A lot of people seem to be drawing completely different conclusions to the ones I thought they would based on my question.

Hallelujah! That's exactly what I meant when I wrote this thread.

With all due respect, I think some people here are reading to much into it, and are trying to second guess why I would believe such a thing.
I still fundamentally reject the premise of "Don't read X, because you might pick up bad habits (such as Y and/or Z) from them".

I think that "Don't read ONLY X" useful advice regardless of the value of X.



I said it a few posts back. I don't necessarily believe it. I just want to know what your opinions on the question are.
And yet you snark at me when I do give my opinion.:Shrug:

bettielee
12-14-2011, 01:00 AM
My opinon?

READ ALL THE CLASSICS!

Sane_Man
12-14-2011, 01:12 AM
I still fundamentally reject the premise of "Don't read X, because you might pick up bad habits (such as Y and/or Z) from them".

I think that "Don't read ONLY X" useful advice regardless of the value of X.


And yet you snark at me when I do give my opinion.:Shrug:

I didn't snark at you though. I'm genuinely sorry if you felt I did. I always make an effort to be nice.

Dave Hardy
12-14-2011, 01:35 AM
Way upstream there was a bit of discussion of reading the "real" classics, the Roman & Greek ones. You could add the Sanskrit & Old Norse as well.

These should be on a fantasy writer's must-read list. Someone also mentioned not re-inventing the wheel. I tend to go in the opposite direction and look at Odysseus, Beowulf, Rama, Gilgamesh, & other traditional heroes as inspiration for modern heroic fantasy. You don't have to filter it through Joseph Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces, but just to get a concept of the sword-swinging badass through the ages.

Thing is, even here you are back to the question of language. Unless you read Old English or Homeric Greek or whatever, you've got a translator in the mix. I do find the 19th c taste for mock-archaism to be rather grating. I like language, but it's easy to overdo the "yea verily." Seamus Heaney's version of Beowulf, for all its stylistic eccentricities, goes down a lot better with me than some supposedly classic versions.

I like the rather spare Herman Palsson translations from the Icelandic. I get itchy trying to read some outdated, clunky translation filled with "would fain" and "attend thy bower" all over the place.

Alessandra Kelley
12-14-2011, 02:39 AM
Well you'd suspect wrong. I don't know where I've given the impression that I have anything against the classics.

This was a question that popped into my head and I decided to ask it. I didn't say it was based on my own personal feelings. Maybe I should have made that perfectly clear.

I happen to enjoy a lot of 19th century literature.

Dickens, Hardy, the Brontes and George Eliot to name but a few.

I'm sorry for my snarky tone. I did not mean that you were making excuses to avoid the classics, but that possibly the source you heard the idea from may have been.

I had the impression from your initial post that you were concerned and curious, certainly not that you didn't wish to read the classics.

My sincere apologies for the miscommunication.

Alessandra Kelley
12-14-2011, 02:47 AM
Way upstream there was a bit of discussion of reading the "real" classics, the Roman & Greek ones. You could add the Sanskrit & Old Norse as well.

These should be on a fantasy writer's must-read list. Someone also mentioned not re-inventing the wheel. I tend to go in the opposite direction and look at Odysseus, Beowulf, Rama, Gilgamesh, & other traditional heroes as inspiration for modern heroic fantasy. You don't have to filter it through Joseph Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces, but just to get a concept of the sword-swinging badass through the ages.

There's a thread to nominate the top 100 must-read fsf books here. (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=224161). Go nominate some, everybody! Or vote on what's already there so far.

Alessandra Kelley
12-14-2011, 04:32 AM
Yeah, you're confused.

Frankenstein is plumb in the middle of the Romantic era.

Followed by the Victorian era (Early 19th Century to Americanists).

...

Modern ends c. 1950s, give or take a decade.

After that it's PoMo then Contemporary followed by Post Colonial.

Somehow I missed Post Colonial.

I suppose the problem is artists want people to know their work is Right-Now-Bleeding-Edge-Up-to-Date, so they use ill-advised words like "Modern" to describe them, which begin to sound a little silly when they refer to works twenty, or fifty, or a hundred years old.

Dave Hardy
12-14-2011, 05:11 AM
There's a thread to nominate the top 100 must-read fsf books here. (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=224161). Go nominate some, everybody! Or vote on what's already there so far.

How many times can you vote?

Alessandra Kelley
12-14-2011, 05:59 AM
How many times can you vote?

As I understand it (pthom set it up), you can nominate / vote for (a nomination is also a vote) as many books as you like, but only once per book. I assume after the year of the post is up, they'll tally whoever voted, taking care to only count once per person per book.

I recently assembled a list (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=6772787&postcount=66) of all the books recommended so far, although not how many votes each had gotten. There have been some more votes since.

Medievalist
12-14-2011, 06:40 AM
Well, at this point it seems we're more responding to each other and the troll (hehe) who has now vacated the thread.

There's a difference between clueless and entitled and arrogant—which many people are when they arrive because they don't realize how very large and diverse AW folk are—and a troll; I'm not seeing troll here.

Medievalist
12-14-2011, 06:50 AM
Thing is, even here you are back to the question of language. Unless you read Old English or Homeric Greek or whatever, you've got a translator in the mix.

You can learn enough Old English to read Beowulf in ten weeks or less.

You can learn Old Norse well enough to read the sagas in about the same time; less if you already know Old English.

The Lonely One
12-14-2011, 06:53 AM
There's a difference between clueless and entitled and arrogant—which many people are when they arrive because they don't realize how very large and diverse AW folk are—and a troll; I'm not seeing troll here.

Fair enough. Perhaps a misuse of the term. Still, not a good idea to speak to a new unknown community, of which you are trying to be a part, by construing some rather bold and unsupported (and insulting) opinions as facts.

Domino Derval
12-14-2011, 06:57 AM
I still fundamentally reject the premise of "Don't read X, because you might pick up bad habits (such as Y and/or Z) from them".

I think that "Don't read ONLY X" useful advice regardless of the value of X.



I find that everyone seems to worry about picking up bad habits from crap they hate, or from things they struggle to read, or from things they're required to read... but being influenced by the stuff you LIKE in a bad way is much more likely and dangerous.

Hiroko
12-14-2011, 07:02 AM
I love classic literature. So far I don't find that it's had a bad effect on my work, and as far as I'm concerned, reading older, cherished works can be educational.
Obviously books from past eras operated differently, but so long as you don't let all of the specifics guide your writing, I'm guessing your story won't come out archaic.

Dave Hardy
12-14-2011, 07:29 PM
You can learn enough Old English to read Beowulf in ten weeks or less.

You can learn Old Norse well enough to read the sagas in about the same time; less if you already know Old English.

I gave OE (the language, not the malt liquor) a go. But I never could quite settle down to really absorb it on my own without an instructor (the malt liquor I absorb just fine, until I don't). I started a class in ON many, many years ago, but had to drop due to overcommitments. Sigh...

Wulfila's Gothic I can do OK in. I'll occasionally pull out Bennett's Introduction to Gothic and browse around. I fear I've near totally forgotten my Latin & Greek from disuse.

Kado
12-14-2011, 07:40 PM
Whilst I'm not wild about classics in general (barring my favourites) I do read them for the purposes of self-discipline. I find that modern writing, especially in my genre, YA, consists of brisk, snappy sentences - easily read. Nothing wrong with that of course.

But after a while of reading brisk snappy sentences, whenever I do come across a classic I find I've built up an intolerance to the longer, more complex sentences. I get impatient with the sheer density of them and want to skip chunks. I force myself to slow down, follow the punctuation and adapt my reading pace. Once I've settled into the pattern, I'm fine. It's good to vary what we read so I don't see what harm classics do.

Sane_Man
12-17-2011, 02:27 AM
I'm sorry for my snarky tone. I did not mean that you were making excuses to avoid the classics, but that possibly the source you heard the idea from may have been.

I had the impression from your initial post that you were concerned and curious, certainly not that you didn't wish to read the classics.

My sincere apologies for the miscommunication.

That's quite alright. These sorts of misunderstandings happen on forums. No harm done.

I appreciate and accept your apology :)

Monkey
12-17-2011, 07:22 AM
I think reading the classic could only hurt an author if the author purposefully decided to mimic techniques that have now gone out of date.

I have a dear friend like this. He says the classics never go out of style. Even if certain techniques used in the classics aren't in vogue now, they do work, and work well enough to make a book last for the next hundred years.

My critiques are often met with a rebuttal telling me what very famous book/author used the very same technique I'm calling him out for.

I don't think being well-read has hurt him. What has hurt him, IMO, is his insistence that because the classics are the best, and what he loves to read, they are what he should emulate...but he emulates the execution rather than the storytelling.

scarletpeaches
12-17-2011, 05:57 PM
...but he emulates the execution rather than the storytelling.Quoted for sheer winniousness.

(That's a real word.)

EddyJ
12-18-2011, 12:56 AM
Read great books. 18th century, 19th, 20th--or something published this year or last. Do you want to write well, then read well.

Ken
06-14-2015, 01:24 PM
Interesting question. Perhaps some necromancy will be allowed ;-)

Kylabelle
06-14-2015, 02:30 PM
Nope. This is the current thread on the topic of reading the classics: http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?307450-Classics-quot-everyone-has-read-quot-but-you-haven-t

Feel free to link to this thread for reference, if there is something here you want to comment on, but one thread on reading the classics is enough.