Monday, April 25, 2011

Writing a Classic

Writing is hard, solitary work. It's painful and emotional and yes, sometimes it's like giving birth without painkillers or lamaze classes.

Nothing's worse than struggling to find the exact right words or phrases, the right combination of syllables, the perfect sensory description of a mood or a setting, and for whatever reason, it just isn't happening.

But it's also tons of fun.

When all the forces come together and the storyline's flowing, hours can go by in seconds.

And the rush of capturing that moment--that emotion, that interaction between two individuals, that meaning or realization. It's very cool.

If it weren't, we wouldn't be doing it.

When I started, I just wanted to write anything.

I was learning how to put it all together, to pace it right, to incorporate just enough description without wearing out my reader, and learning to wait just long enough to allow what just happened to sink in before moving to the next thing...

Then somewhere along the way I started thinking about writers like Shakespeare and Dickens and Kafka. And books like Little Women and Jane Eyre and Pride & Prejudice. Even Gone With the Wind.

How do these books continue to touch readers centuries after they're written? What makes them classics?

Is it the storyline? The way they're written? The themes? The timing of when the book's published?

I don't know.

Maybe there's no answer. Not every book that becomes a classic is the best-written or the most polished, or fits into what everyone's saying your writing should look like.

But readers cherish them. They laugh, cry, write in the margins, give them to their children, complain when the movies are made...

It's bugging me. I want to make one of those. But how?

Do classics just happen? Is there a common trait? Is it something I can learn or study? Or is it just serendipity? What do you guys think?

* * *

In the meantime, Dr. Lydia K (link) and I are having our first "Laughter is the Best Medicine" blogfest on May 16!

Here's how it works. Sign up with Mr. Linky below, then on May 16, do the following:
  • Post your favorite writer joke.
  • If you don't have a writer joke (are there any?), post your favorite job-related joke.
  • And if you don't have one of those (either writer- or work-related joke), post your favorite joke (or funny story).
See? We're making it super-easy, and we hope it will brighten everyone's day. Maybe help those of you recover from your A-Z challenge.

And help us spread the fun! Grab the graphic, post it on your blog, and link it back here (or to Lydia). Your prize is a better heart--because of the laughter. (Get it?)



In the meantime, have a great week reader-friends! Til Thursday~ <3

43 comments:

Ellie said...

Thought-provoking questions! What makes a classic a classic? One thing I do know is that books like Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre seem to be loved across all ages, which must mean they contain universal themes we can all relate to - such as love, security, pride. Somehow we need to capture those same universally popular themes in our books!

Ellie Garratt

Laura Pauling said...

Definitely universal themes. And they need to be timeless as in not too trendy with gadgets from the time period. I think that books that are a bit more literary end up becoming classics - more than commercial.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Good question. I haven't read many classics (other than Jane Austen and a few others), so I can't answer this. Universal theme sounds good to me. Oh, and having a cute actor play a role in the movie adaptation doesn't hurt either. :D

DEZMOND said...

classics are sometimes the result of quality, but more often the result of serendipity, because we've read and seen many classics which do not have much literary quality.
Jane Austen's books, for example, are at the level of today's cheep and superficial pulp romances but English literature still considers her a classic writer.
It's all the mix of luck and choosing the right moment to present what you got to the audience.

Old Kitty said...

I remember at uni reading Sol Plaatje (a very early African fighter against European Colonialism) and what fired him on were the words in Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice", especially the "Hath not Jew eyes?" soliloquay. So yes, I would say what makes works of Shakespeare etc so timelessly relevant are universal themes and philosophies behind the stories.

Take care
x

aspiring_x said...

i really don't know. the comments are very interesting. i bet a lot comes down to subjectivity and current cultural zeitgeist and timing and marketing... tons of factors.

janesadek said...

Some classics I adore, but others make me wonder why anyone would have chosen them for classics. For instance, Jude the Obscure and Portrait of a Young Man made one of my Brit Lit classes more painful than dentistry.

But you also wonder why some authors get left behind. I did a term paper on Chalotte Mary Yonge, sort of forgotten Victorian Danielle Steele - better known in her own time than Jane Austen. I loved her work from several angles and went on to read whatever of hers I could get my hands on.

In the future, will Sandra Brown be a footnote and some lesser known name be our Jane Austen?

Holly Ruggiero said...

It's something I've been looking at myself. I've gone back over books that I can't put down to figure out there secrets as well as the book that I did put down to figure out just where they lost my interest. It seems so illusive.

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

I want to write a classic too! How cool would it me to write a book that other people write notes to themselves in the margins?? *sigh* That would be the best compliment I can imagine!

Angela Felsted said...

The thing about writing a classic is that you have only so much control. There's no such thing as an instant classic. You need to wait years and years to see if the book has staying power.

Angie said...

All I can say is yes! I so hear you. How do they do that? I'm thinking timeless themes and great emotional impact are a big part of it. But how to make that happen? Let me know when you find out! ;)

Justine Dell said...

Now you've done it. You've gone and made me have to think! Shame! LoL.

I'm not really sure (but this is an excellent question!)

Since I think writing is so subjective, I don't think it's the writing (or style, even). Maybe it's the themes. Yeah. I'm sticking with that one. Teehee.

~JD

Monica B.W. said...

Oh it's so funny! I've been wondering the same thing... what makes a book classic?

Anyway, I'm glad I've found your blog! :D Looks AWESOME!
*waves*
And LOL about our writing bloopers! Thx for sharing yours ;)

Summer Ross said...

What a great question- What makes them classics- my opinion is that they have done something no other book has done before them.

Love the blogfest idea- I'm signed up and have this posted on my blogfest page!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Leigh .. I think I'll come through and enjoy the read .. sounds like some light fun will be had.

Cheers and enjoy the Laughter .. and seems like it will brighten everyone's day .. Hilary

Lydia K said...

I signed up, the Linky is working!!!

I'd love to write a classic someday. Someday...
:)

RosieC said...

I just signed up to. It sounds fun, but I don't know if I can come up with anything. We'll see.

I'm with Dez. I think it's mostly serendipity. It's not even about a classic being popular when it's released since many of them aren't "discovered" or classified as classics until much later (I'm thinking Jane Austen, mostly). If you figure it out, let me know, because, really, who DOESN'T want to write a classic? :)

Clarissa Draper said...

I don't think anything written in the next few years will become a classic until a few years have gone by. That is except Harry Potter.

Hart Johnson said...

I think MOST classics that come about today are ground breakers in some way or other--they do something no one has done before (write something in a really fresh way)--or ELSE they capture a moment in time better than other works. I would LOVE to write one, but have my doubts that that is my path. I think I can make myself a success as a writer, but I think that level of story-telling must sort of be a fluke when it comes along because so much depends on timing.

And the blogfest sounds fun!

Matthew MacNish said...

I think classics become so well loved because the authors who write them are so damn cool.

That's why my books will be classics.

N. R. Williams said...

I think people write what is meaningful to them. If it becomes a classic that's just icing on the cake.
Nancy
N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium.

walk2write said...

Maybe classics follow current trends but then transcend them to a higher plane of thought. Some depiction of social and/or environmental injustice never hurts. And of course, it's always nice to have literary critics pounce on them and try to deconstruct them for the ordinary folk.

Still, there must be a bit of magic in them that resonates with readers.

Can't wait to read your classic...

M Pax said...

Many of them, I think, [I've read a lot of the classics] did something not done before. The authors all definitely have a strong voice.

I enjoyed most of them. Some not at all [House of Seven Gables -- don't know why, I read the Scarlet Letter w/o trouble -- but House, I could not get past chapter 1].

Dawn Kurtagich said...

Yeah I think about that too. Also when they say "bound to become a classic". It's definitely universal themes, touchingly told. :D

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Might have to do that blogfest!! And no idea what makes a classic.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I have no idea what made those particular books into "classics" - but the ones that "stuck" with me and leave me weeping...those are the ones that someone touch some deep piece of humanity inside me. In order to do that, somehow those readers reached that point inside themselves, and then transmitted it to the page.

Writers are thinkers, first and foremost.

Lynda R Young said...

Classics I think are a result of popularity in their time (or soon after their time). I think many wouldn't become classics if they were written today.

LTM said...

@Laura--I think that's the thing--the universal themes thing. And right. I try to avoid anything that will date my writing. Unless it's like a historical or something. LOL! :D

@Jane--Hi, there! *snort* Jude the Obscure. Thank God I never had to read that one... :D I was like that w/Crime & Punishment. bleah. :p Wow, I love your musing on CMY and SB... I don't know either of those writers... now doing some investigation~

@Hollly--ooo, I do that, too. And I do the whole Stephen King thing where I watch when JRM stops reading one of my MSs... I'm all, "Where were you? Why did you put it down?" like a vulture. LOL! He's like, "I had to pee..." *snort* :D

@Summer--THANKS for playing!!! Yay, blogfest! :D And something new. I like it... :o)

@Hil--yay for happiness and laughs. Lord knows I always need 'em. Please do come and enjoy~

@Dawn--touchingly told. ooo... me likey! Thanks for that, and thanks for playing! I'm looking forward to mucho giggles.

Thanks to everyone for your thoughts. I love hearing what you all think. Most valuable research~ <3

Patti said...

It's hard to know what makes a classic, a classic. I try to read one every couple of months and sometimes I'm not sure why. The pacing is slow, they don't necessarily follow perfect structure, but there's something about the characters that just sticks with you.

Katie Mills said...

oh crap. I don't have any writerly jokes. At least...not yet. I'll have to think about this one;) As for a classic- would you consider J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Series as a modern day classic? I would. Why? Popularity, world wide popularity, it's used in school systems, in writing classes, it has its own theme park and eight movies to its name. I would love to write something like that too but I don't think writing a classic is something anyone really has control over. I doubt JK knew what she was doing in any case when she wrote that first book.

Pk Hrezo said...

I've wondered this plenty of times myself. And the best I can come up with is that it's a combination of things that just work side by side to make a delicious recipe. Like the storytelling voice, the underlying theme, the realness of the characters. It's almost like the authors of those classics breathe in a bit of wisdom without readers even detecting that's what it is. Each character is there for a purpose and adds something so real, that they themselves become real.

Sounds like a fun blogfest!

Talli Roland said...

Difficult questions! I'm not sure what it is that makes a book an enduring classic, but please let me know if you find it! :)

LTM said...

@PK--I know that's right--and there are tips hidden in what you've said... It's like those times when you're writing and it's all just clicking. And then the magic happens~ :D <3 Thanks, girl!

Carolyn Abiad said...

Listen to Matt...LOL! :) I'm voting for the serendipity thing, but you know I'm partial to that kind of stuff. Now where am I going to find something funny for you?

Al said...

Great questions.

Good writing at the right time I guess.

great idea for a blogfest.

Julie Musil said...

I've thought about this too, and wish I knew the answer. Maybe it just happens, but it wouldn't just happen if the writing wasn't great, know what I mean? Like with HUNGER GAMES, maybe we were just ready for that type of tragic story, plus the writing was amazing. When you figure it out, please tell me!

Myne Whitman said...

I think Classics just happen. But like you mentioned, there are elements that have to be there too.

Thanks for the blogfest, will be taking part!

Theresa Milstein said...

I don't know what makes a book a classic. I'd say voice. Each one I can think of has a protagonist that draws me in. I want to write one to. Maybe someday...

Kittie Howard said...

Great question! I think it's the author's passion that comes through. Margaret Mitchell had one story to tell. David Baldacchi writes many books.

I gave you a shout-out today at my place.

Stephen Tremp said...

Mister Linky still isn;t working, at least not for me. I'm in. I'll try back later.

LTM said...

@Stephen--I think we got it. Thanks for playing! :o)

Ginger said...

Hey, I am coming over from Myne Whitman Writes.

I think what makes a classic classic is the enduring theme. Be it romance or politics..you read it today and you feel like the characters and place can be transported to the present. Sometimes It maybe cause of the writers' style or cause it holds special memories for people. eg. world war 2 themed stories and movies.
Provoking post..

LTM said...

Hi, Ginger! Welcome! I love your take on this. I think that's a big part of it--having the relatable characters. And you're onto something w/the special memories...

Thanks for joining in! :o)