A little while back I was sitting and pondering how great it would be to pump out a piece of work that could someday become a classic piece of literature. You know, something that people use to describe what it’s like when done right. We’ve heard about these authors since we sat in grade school reading aloud for the class: Twain, Hemingway, Asimov, Clarke, Fitzgerald, Wells. These writers will be part of the vernacular forever.
Well, as I sat daydreaming about becoming a grand master, I realized that I hadn’t read a piece of classic literature in a long time. How could I become one of them if I don’t know who and what they are? I’m not just talking about copying what they did, but understanding it and using it as a springboard. I mean, if you never reach out beyond what you already know, you won’t have the opportunity to grow. You see, it’s kind of like staying in second grade math forever; your mind is like a muscle, and if you don’t exercise it, it can’t get stronger.
So, with all this in mind, I went to Amazon and began looking around in their free classics section and chose ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’, by H.G. Wells. Now, I know that particular book is more psychological thriller and less science fiction, but it was a really good jumping off point. It wasn’t easy going from contemporary fiction to such a different genre, but after getting through the first chapter I found myself getting into the flow, and in the end, thoroughly enjoyed getting out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary. The way the story was told was very different from anything I’m accustomed to reading.
After that I took a walk on the wild side and grabbed ‘King Solomon’s Mines’, by Sir H. Rider Haggard. I have to admit, I had no idea what this book was about other than the fact that the main character was a safari hunter named Allan Quatermain; and, I thought he had a supernatural power of immortality, due to some of the more modern portrayals of his character. I was pleasantly surprised with the content and writing; it’s straight forward and contains strong writing. Conversely, I was disappointed when I got to the end and found that Quatermain wasn’t a superhero at all. Oh well, so much for believing what I see in the movies.
In the end, I was absolutely thrilled with the experience of going back in time and reading what inspired a great deal of what is being written today. It was a pretty awesome thing, seeing firsthand how it all started, with authors who weren’t afraid to stretch their minds, and their credibility. I learned a lot about how to grab the reader’s attention, environment building, and laying out a plot. It might seem that these works are basic because they were written so long ago, but that’s not the case. They are actually solid pieces of writing that can be used to learn good habits and structure. So, although I don’t think I can live off a diet consisting solely of century old literature (I admit that I love modern action as much as anyone), I have every intention of making it a regular part of a varied diet. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll actually learn enough to write something. And, if I’m really lucky, it’ll be something worthy of sitting on a shelf along with one of the masters.