Thursday, August 7, 2014

Writing 101: What Makes Classic Books So Good

You'll notice that there's no question mark at the end of the post's title. It's because I already know why the classics are classics. And unless you know it, too, your book may not be regarded as a classic 50 years from now. 

Why I Don't Like 'Wuthering Heights'

Look, I've got nothing against any of the Bronte sisters. I, too, am touched by their tragic story. But I've made it very clear -- sometimes through my characters -- that I don't particularly care for "Wuthering Heights" as a story. I find it impossible to believe and the plot drags along. The point is, this book is a classic. And like many other classics, it has a few key elements in place that have made it so popular. Even though I didn't like it, many people do. So what elements make it so great?

  • Mechanics: By and large, all your classic literature is written with proper writing mechanics. That means grammar and punctuation. The except to this is dialogue, but we'll get to that later. Classic literature is often classic because it gives us a look at how language has changed. Books that are going to serve as the example have to be, at the very least, well-written. 
  • Slice of Life: Some of the best and most enduring classic literature is written in the present day. Jane Austen, for example, is considered great because her material was so relevant to her own lifetime. Period pieces definitely have their place, and I love a charade, but a shocking number of so-called classics were written in the author's present day. 
  • Dialogue: When it comes to writing a book, dialogue is the exception to every rule. This is where you're allowed to make your grammar mistakes and put your ability to spell accents to good use. The best-loved classic novels almost always have memorable, true-to-life dialogue. I've used this piece of advice a lot, and I'll never stop: write the way people talk. Read your dialogue out loud. Make it sound the way you'd say it. 

Think about the elements that make classic books so good, and try to use the same elements in the books you create. Who knows? Maybe a century from now, people will talk about your books on Goodreads and look for ways to emulate your style.

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