Wednesday, October 06, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 57

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

Great Expectations
by Charles Dickens

Great Expectations (Penguin Classics)Let me be frank. I hate Charles Dickens.

To be fair, I don't hate him personally. I'm sure he was a fine enough fellow 150 years ago. But I can't stand his writing. His prose seems as dry to me as the soil of a desert.

But to say Dickens never had an influence upon me as a writer would be folly. Dickens has, whether we want to admit it or not, influenced nearly all American novelists since his time in the 19th century.

I first became acquainted with this author's writing with this book, Great Expectations, during junior high school. I had to read the book for an English class. I hated it. The book and the class. Which was unfortunate on all counts. I like to read. I like to write. I generally liked all my English classes in school except this particular class.

It's sad really.

Why did I hate this class? Because the teacher tended to go on and on and on about thematic materials in the literature we had to read. She never let up, informing all us youths about the hidden meanings of this character's name, or the history behind the author's use of a certain phrase, or the cabalistic secrets referred to by a particular author's use of semi-colons.

I hated all that nonsense. Why can't a story just be a story? Why can't a write just write?

I personally tend to think most writers don't have all that stuff going through their heads while their putting pen to paper, but I'm willing to admit that some do, especially literary writers. And I'll admit that as an adult, I have grown somewhat fond of literary study and criticism.

But I didn't feel that way back when I was 12 or 13.

To repeat, I hated all that nonsense.

And I think that's why to this very day I still can't stand the writings of Charles Dickens. I've tried some of his other works. Still don't like his writing.

But, all that being said, I do recognize a lot of strengths in Dickens's works even if I am dulled to sleep by his prose.

The man knew how to plot. True, by today's standards some of his plots were a bit serendipitous, but they were still quite strong plots and interesting. They worked for his times, and for his readers.

I also think Dickens knew how to create characters quite well. Today many of his characters seem to be stereotypes, but that's because they were such iconic figures for their times. Even though I detest reading Great Expectations, once done, who could ever forget mousy little Pip or cruddy Miss Havisham. And in his other works, Scrooge, the Artful Dodger, David Copperfield, Tiny Tim, all of these are iconic characters still remembered more than a century later.

So, as much as I hate to admit it, Charles Dickens and his Great Expectations have influenced me as an author. If nothing else, he and the book have influenced the way I look at and study characterization and plotting.

But I really wish I liked reading his books. Really, I do. Maybe I'll give him another go now that I'm older.

Up next: Han Solo at Stars' End

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