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Thursday, February 24, 2011

If You Want to be a Better Writer...

If you want to be a better writer, study ancient and classical literature! It's my firm belief that all the best stories have already been told, and successful writers of the modern age will beg, borrow, and steal from the great classics that have gone before them. Okay, that sounds worse than I intended it to. Let me elaborate. I'm not talking about plagiarism, of course, but I am talking about the usage of themes, techniques, and even plot elements that are timeless and effective. I'm currently teaching Herodotus to my eighth grade students and leading them through the actual text of The Histories. Even though this is my sixth read-through of this work in four years, it still compells me every bit as much as it did when I first read it, and I would say even more so. I told my eighth graders today in class that many authors have borrowed elements from The Histories for their own books, and it just got me thinking about this topic. For example, nobody will ever be able to convince me that Shakespeare did not get the idea for the witches' prophecy in Macbeth from the oracle to Croesus in book I.55 of The Histories. Or how about that Ring of Power in The Lord of the Rings? Also Herodotus. Structure of the city of Minas Tirith in the same work? Check out the layout of Ecbatana as described in... The Histories. I obviously studied the Oracle at Delphi for book 2 of my series (as referenced in many ancient texts). Those are obviously some specific plot points, but imitating the great classics of the Western tradition is much more than that. The works of Lewis, Tolkien, and Rowling all brilliantly follow ancient and classical structural patterns. For example, if you want (as these authors of the modern age have done) to write a book that follows the Hero's Journey structure, what better instructor can you find than Homer's Odyssey? And really, the list of works that I could cite goes on and on. Although I would say that I am far from being an expert of ancient and classical literature, I do know that my little bit of study has gone a long ways toward making me a better writer. Perhaps you should consider picking up an old book too!

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