A complaint I’ve heard more than once about Hollywood is how they produce uninspired remakes or movies devoid of any substance, rather relying on CGI and car chases to fill the minutes. Also, if you want “story” you need to torture yourself with yet another Sundance Film Festival nominee about dysfunctional relationships. I would agree with these statements to some degree, but there is hope.
My sixteen year old and I are currently listening to the unabridged audiobook of, “Dune“ by Frank Herbert. During my daily exercise times I recently finished the audibook, “Foundation” by Isaac Asimov. Both stories are considered the BEST in their class for story telling.
In the case of Foundation, there is almost zero “action” in the entire book. Rather there is characterization and the plot is about using clever ways to extinguish the potential explosive actions of others. Even with the lack of “action”, the story still gives the reader an engrossing read that makes one appreciate the art of story telling.
Pick your genre and ask yourself: Is there something we can learn from the classics?
My first struggle in answering this is to say, no, because books like Dune and Foundation have no place in our culture and age of technology. Is there room for the classic-style stories when we live in a world of where we can experience every detail of every gruesome, degenerate action and/or Cable TV explicitness in movies, TV and books?
What I like to answer is, yes there is room for stories where:
- The decisions of the characters are clever versus relying on Jason Bourne tactics to resolve the conflict (though I’m one to admit I admire the Jason Bourne stories!).
- The content is kept clean. If certain elements need inclusion in order to move the story forward, we as authors can treat that content like the old black and white movies, where it’s done “off-stage”. A fairly “modern” example of this is the 1986 movie, The Hitcher. Nearly every kill scene is off-screen. As a viewer I felt the movie treated me as intelligent and let my imagination fill in the blanks with what really happened, which is sometimes worse than what the details may have represented.
- The “bulk” of the story isn’t about how everyone is a dysfunctional degenerate, but characters with realistic flaws they work to overcome those flaws and/or “good guys who in spite of their flaws are actively trying to do the right thing versus remaining an anti-hero jerks by the end of the story.
Is this what the classics can teach us about writing? I don’t know, but for me it does. Maybe I’m simply dissatisfied with much of the current day writing and I’m wishing for the “glory days”. If that is the case, ignore my rant.
In the end, I’m looking to make my writing more “meaty” and less full of graphic filler (though some stories expect a car chase or two). Maybe you too feel the same about the type of writing you want to accomplish.
Keep reading the classics and working to make your writing better.