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How much are you willing to Forgive a Classic? (1 Viewer)

Riptide

WF Veterans
So, I am listening to The War of the Worlds, audio book, for me hour drive to and from work... nice little thing, and I'm enjoying it, but I notice a lot of filtering, like, "I saw" "I heard' or a "then suddenly"

Idk if we had this discussion before, but why do you think we've evolved as writers to look down on such things now in our own writing or our fellow writers' writings? When people obviously still read/possibly enjoy the classics for doing all the things we frown upon?

My two cents, maybe it's the idea of the classic itself? Or just we've accept it as a style of writing that many people can forgive.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
Exactly. Prose stylists are more prevalent and common in the 21st century. But then a lot of science fiction writers when starting out were dealing with a new genre. HG wells is a classic example. He is cited often for starting science fiction. Some say it started with Frankenstein. But HG wells also became rich for writing his science fiction novels. He went to a school that was a special program for science students. He knew a lot of science and wrote the invisible man based on actual science at the time that I am guessing was theoretical. Even though he did get pulled out of the science program he knew a lot about science. I read a biography of his in a book in a library a long time ago.

My favorite story of his is the island of Doctor Monreau.

I am willing to forgive classics of science fiction as acclaimed by critics years later. I don't usually listen to critics. But this author wrote some classics. I can forgive his style because he has really good ideas and consequently plot. His stories are idea driven more so that plot and character actually.
 
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JBF

Staff member
Global Moderator
Well...that begs the question whether you're of a mind that classics need forgiving. I tend to fall on the side that they don't.

Best I can figure, you can only look at a classic as a product of its time; some part of the equation put it on the map for a reason, but by turns it's pretty well accepted that the first of anything usually isn't the best. Better to judge one as the start of something as opposed to the apex.

The 1903 Wright Flyer, the Model T Ford, Whitney's cotton gin...all of these things represent a revolutionary change in how the world functioned for king and commoner alike, but for somebody accustomed to the convenience, safety, and efficiency of modern cars or the fruits of our present economy they all seem quaint relics of a lesser time.

Do we know more about motoring, aviation, and industrialized production now? Sure. Now we've got electric light at the flip of a switch. Submarines that can stay submerged near-indefinitely. The ability to grow animal tissue in a lab environment. With a single drop of blood we can track an individual back into history beyond the limits of living memory. We've split the atom, gone to space, and cured diseases once considered inevitable as the seasons.

For us, that's the standard. We've always had those things. We can imagine life without, but seldom can we imagine it completely.

What makes a classic isn't the style. Jules Verne told about life in space and under the sea. Shelley warned of the consequences found at the crossing of scientific genius and megalomania. Shakespeare wrote trash for the masses, but he was enough an examiner of human nature and quick-witted enough to make it stick. In your example, H.G. Wells hit on something so weird and far-out that it shocked the world, both in content and delivery.

Are writers better now? I dunno. Maybe. We've certainly got more rules than we used to, if that's how you want to define progress.

The Wright Brothers couldn't have built the Bell X-1 that Chuck Yeager used to break the sound barrier...but then again, the boys at Bell couldn't have built their wonder machine without the groundwork laid by a couple of bicycle mechanics half a century earlier.
 
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VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
In addition to what JBF said, the prose isn't bad prose. It's well written prose with tags or superlatives we're cautioned to use less frequently now. We're probably cautioned to use them less frequently NOT because they flawed the classic beyond any ability to enjoy it, but because lesser writers who followed tried to copy those styles, and bolloxed it all up.

Even if it's average writing by current standards, a good story can survive average writing ... just not poor writing.

A couple of years ago I read Around the World in 80 Days ... of course a translation into English. The translation was just as flat as it could be ... I'm sure a great disservice to the original. Yet, I still enjoyed the story, even if I would never consider reading that translation again.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
In my last year of high school, our principal read to us from a book written in Middle English. I couldn't understand a word, yet without that stepping stone our language wouldn't be what it is today. Common speech changes all the time - every year words are added and removed from the English language. I struggled to get through Great Expectations even though it was only written 160 years ago.
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
In my last year of high school, our principal read to us from a book written in Middle English. I couldn't understand a word, yet without that stepping stone our language wouldn't be what it is today. Common speech changes all the time - every year words are added and removed from the English language. I struggled to get through Great Expectations even though it was only written 160 years ago.
I struggled to get through Great Expectations because I thought it was a wretched story. LOL
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
Back to something positive. (PLEASE)
I always liked Swiss Family Robinson ... read it two or three times as a kid. We were early adopters for Kindle. I pre-ordered one the fall they came out (2007) and gave it to Betty for Christmas. I got to sneak and use it from time to time when she was busy with a book from the library. I suspected she would return the favor the next summer for my birthday, and since she's an excellent wife, she did.

I was prepared, and had lined up a bunch of great classics to put on my own Kindle to read. Why start with classics? They're all in the public domain and I could get them for free. I'm like that.

Swiss Family Robinson was the first one I read, and I enjoyed it every bit as much 13 years ago as I did as a kid.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Well, I'll go against the grain and say I love War of the Worlds - the opening stanza still takes my breath away. Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, 1984, along the newer classics by Clarke, like Childhood's End are wonderful.
OH! And don't forget The Lathe of Heaven.
 

Backstroke_Italics

Senior Member
Writing has gotten better over time, full stop. PEople used to think that there was nothing wrong with stuffing a paragraph with filler words and weasely adverbs, only to hide the point in a parenthetical. They didn't do these things deliberately for artistic purpose; they just didn't know any better. The ideas of structure, pacing, setup and payoff, etc., have developed over time. To test this, go even further back to things like the Kalevala, New Testament books, the Vedas, Korean panseori plays, etc. They are all, without exception, absolute train wrecks from a story telling point of view. There's nothing wrong with admiring old stories, and finding value in them, and encouraging other people to read them. But let's not pretend that they have some sort of technical advantage over modern writing.
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
But let's not pretend that they have some sort of technical advantage over modern writing.
It depends on which older writing and which newer writing, and the individual reader's taste for particular styles. And if rigorously followed, I'm sure you're correct.

Plus:
Where is our cut-off point for "modern technique"?
Is there any real improvement in plotting?
How do you factor in skill in story telling (which is a different thing than plotting)?

The reason many classics stand up well, and which classics stands up will differ from reader to reader, is that their plotting and story telling stand up well, or are superior to, the average book you can pull off the shelf today. And if today's average writing does not routinely exceed, in standards, older classics in technique, the advantages of modern technique may be overrated, or at least diluted.

Read Tarzan books. Burroughs did not start out to write classics, but many of Burroughs' titles qualify. Burroughs had two easily identified technical flaws ... an overreliance on superlatives ("tremendous" was a favorite), and in plotting, coincidence.

How does that stack up? I can hardly read a "popular modern book", or watch the product of a screenplay, without seeing "amazing" all over the place. "Amazing" is in no way a superior superlative to "tremendous", it's just what is in vogue now. It's at the point I won't even use the word in conversation, and I cringe every time I read it or hear it.

Want to know how much fiction I find using coincidence to resolve various crises in a recent title? Lots and lots.

How about backstory? According to modern theory, kind of a no-no. I read two best-selling romances recently which dive into backstory at the author's whim, and that whim occurred pretty often. LOL I'd wager you find more backstory today than you did "way back when".

Purple prose? Some writing in earlier centuries had purple prose, some didn't. I still find writing with what many consider to be excess modifiers, and published, at that.

Just some examples here. I could analyze the full list of them and come to similar conclusions for each entry.

What good is "modern technique" if modern best-selling novels stomp all over it?

Then we get to plotting. 19th and 20th century classics (in various genres) were ground-breaking stories, and those ground-breaking plots are copied (I mean 'provide inspiration') for a large percentage of modern work. Is modern technique saving a plot I've already read from other authors multiple times? My own answer is No.

Finally, how about plain old story telling? I don't find modern story telling at ALL superior. Let's go back to Burroughs. His sense of pacing was on the money. H.G. Wells, for my taste, also very good. Arthur Conan Doyle? Formal style, fascinating plots and good story telling.
 
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Tettsuo

WF Veterans
What good is "modern technique" if modern best-selling novels stomp all over it?

Then we get to plotting. 19th and 20th century classics (in various genres) were ground-breaking stories, and those ground-breaking plots are copied (I mean 'provide inspiration') for a large percentage of modern work. Is modern technique saving a plot I've already read from other authors multiple times? My own answer is No.

Finally, how about plain old story telling? I don't find modern story telling at ALL superior. Let's go back to Burroughs. His sense of pacing was on the money. H.G. Wells, for my taste, also very good. Arthur Conan Doyle? Formal style, fascinating plots and good story telling.
There's a massive reliance on writing technique and little on great storytelling amongst writers. Prose is king amongst writers, but story is king for readers.

But don't get me wrong, I'm not implying that writers shouldn't work on their prose. What I am saying is we need to be really focused on telling good stories and using prose to improve the story's communicative strength instead of focusing so much on creating great prose... unless you're writing literary fiction.

Lots of writers have a myopic view on writing. I think this is proven by the elevation of silly writing rules and the reliance on formulaic storytelling. The classics are what they are because they were often willing to break rules and brought a new look at how to tell the same archetypical story concepts. But for new writers, we've been trained to homogenize our art and in effect, killing any idea of fresh storytelling.
 

Riptide

WF Veterans
Well, I'll go against the grain and say I love War of the Worlds - the opening stanza still takes my breath away. Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, 1984, along the newer classics by Clarke, like Childhood's End are wonderful.
OH! And don't forget The Lathe of Heaven.
I liked the War on Worlds, but I do notice how very action centric it seems to be.

I don't really know the characters that well. Like, at all. They're mentioned but there's not much growth as far as I can see. Just all story.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
I liked the War on Worlds, but I do notice how very action centric it seems to be.

I don't really know the characters that well. Like, at all. They're mentioned but there's not much growth as far as I can see. Just all story.
Some stories are more character driven by their nature. For me, War of the Worlds is iconic.
 

WEFerence

Senior Member
There's a massive reliance on writing technique and little on great storytelling amongst writers. Prose is king amongst writers, but story is king for readers.

But don't get me wrong, I'm not implying that writers shouldn't work on their prose. What I am saying is we need to be really focused on telling good stories and using prose to improve the story's communicative strength instead of focusing so much on creating great prose... unless you're writing literary fiction.

Lots of writers have a myopic view on writing. I think this is proven by the elevation of silly writing rules and the reliance on formulaic storytelling. The classics are what they are because they were often willing to break rules and brought a new look at how to tell the same archetypical story concepts. But for new writers, we've been trained to homogenize our art and in effect, killing any idea of fresh storytelling.
Could you perhaps explain the whole "literary fiction" part of it? I know the term gets tossed around a lot, but maybe it'd be nice to have an explanation to its definition.

And yes, I do believe the whole literary canon does create that myopic view. That, and fear of criticism
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
There's a massive reliance on writing technique and little on great storytelling amongst writers. Prose is king amongst writers, but story is king for readers.

But don't get me wrong, I'm not implying that writers shouldn't work on their prose. What I am saying is we need to be really focused on telling good stories and using prose to improve the story's communicative strength instead of focusing so much on creating great prose... unless you're writing literary fiction.

Lots of writers have a myopic view on writing. I think this is proven by the elevation of silly writing rules and the reliance on formulaic storytelling. The classics are what they are because they were often willing to break rules and brought a new look at how to tell the same archetypical story concepts. But for new writers, we've been trained to homogenize our art and in effect, killing any idea of fresh storytelling.
The book I'm currently reading had an interesting premise which lured me in. Once committed I found the writing technique good, but the characters somewhat two-dimensional, and the story is going nowhere. It's just a series of conflicts without justification or direction. I'm tempted to set it aside, but will probably skim to push through to the end.

If the premise and the characters are intriguing and the story has a plot that keeps me turning the pages, I can forgive some errors in prose.
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
‘Story is king’ threads conjure a dystopian nightmare - time when I am forced to read the scrawl of every semi-literate neighbour
Calm yourself ... one deep breath ... two deep breaths ... one more ... let it out. Focus on a nearby solid object, then reach out and grab it. It's real.

Generally, crap writers write crap, overused tropes. It'll be okay. (Ignore "50 Shades of Gray". Or don't. Kink lives.)
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
Could you perhaps explain the whole "literary fiction" part of it? I know the term gets tossed around a lot, but maybe it'd be nice to have an explanation to its definition.

And yes, I do believe the whole literary canon does create that myopic view. That, and fear of criticism
Unlike genre fiction, literary fiction tends to be less about plot and more about the lives of people and the author's ability to creatively write entertaining prose.
 
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