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Friday, March 29, 2013

Why Traditional Themes Work

There's a lot to be said for tradition. If something is a tradition, it means it has been around for a long time, and if it has been around for a long time, there is probably a good reason. In literature, the Great Books are (simply put) books that deal with Great Themes - themes such as good vs. evil, power, sacrifice, redemption, life and death, love, and many others. Themes such as these speak to the human condition, and authors ought to seek to imitate the Great Books if they want their work to speak across the ages. I frown on authors who tailor their books to the ever-changing tide of cultural opinion. You might find success for a moment, but when that tide changes, your books will be washed away with it, as irrelevant in the next moment as they were relevant in the moment before. If you write to please pop culture, or with only your immediate generation in mind, you will never find lasting success. And I'm not talking about Kleos, that greatest of ancient Greek virtues that makes the hero (or the writer, in this case) "immortal." I'm not talking about your reputation at all, I'm talking about themes and messages that transcend you, as the author, and speak directly to the heart of mankind. Ask yourself this - if someone were to pick up my books in 100 years, would they read something that still speaks to them? If the answer is no, then you have not written something worth reading.

But let's face it, books have to sell, right? Publishing is a business, and you must write books that appeal to your generation. Absolutely! Of course you do! But that is what is on the surface. It's the candy-coating, if you will. But what should be at the heart of your books, beneath the surface, are stories filled with traditional themes that grab the hearts of the readers and make them come back over and over again. In this scenario, you cannot lose.

Avoid, avoid, avoid the pop culture trap. Avoid promoting the current fad, the current political agenda, the current soapbox topic... anything that will be here today and gone tomorrow. Avoid it! There are Greater things to be said. If I am granted the ability to look back on my body of work at the end of my life to evaluate what I am leaving behind me, I want to see that I have written stories that are true, that are beautiful, that are good - stories that are lasting.

And NOW for a little teaser! Speaking of authors who have written lasting works, if you're familiar with my books, you know that I pair each one with a C. S. Lewis quotation, and that quotation so far has always been about Darcy. In book 5, The Scroll, I've chosen one that speaks to Darcy, but is about another character, and I bet my biggest fans will be able to guess who! Here it is:

"What can you ever really know of other people's souls—of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands." C. S. Lewis

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