Living in France did something to me. When I walked the historical cities, literature became my writing teacher and the classics came alive.
The Count of Monte Cristo did not just roam the paper world, he walked and breathed along the same ports and beaches that I did. He drank tea and contemplated life in the same parks. He dreamed and laughed and sorrowed. It was as if I saw him wherever I went, and my imagination grew. The same thing happened when I lived in England.
Now, not everyone can live in Europe, but everyone has access to a library. Here are three simple reasons I believe the classics can teach you a lot about writing.
1. An Ever Present Reality of the Human heart both historical and now.
As we study the classics, powerful themes emerge that have been passed down generation after generation. The human heart, we realize, has always debated moral issues, values, emotional pain and joy, love and loss,—and yet the response has not always been the same.
The reflection then, as writers, becomes even more thought provoking. What does this look like now? If they were alive today, how would they react? What is available to them now, that wasn’t then? How would it have changed the situation? Often, the answers become ideas for new stories…
2: History (or Time Travel.)
History is another reason to read classics. Even fiction takes us back in time with them and teaches us. We learn about the past through enjoying a story. In my European History class, we were often assigned fictional works of that time period. It was there that I understood the history in context, and I retained that much more than the plain historical facts.
Reading classics helps us grow in our historical, cultural and literary references, too. *Bonus for those still in school! (Travel bonus: Going to France can teach you a lot about History too! Oh, and they wrap their trees in scarves and it looks pretty 🙂
3. Reliability. These stories that have passed the test of time. We can trust them.
This is where study comes in. Why do people love these stories? What do they teach us? Why are the famous? Why do people love them?
Also, the Classics emerged before TV and movies (though many of them have been made into film!) They were the first experts in showing and not telling – some would argue that it is sometimes overdone, (and it is!) but wow, if you look closer you’ll see the genius and will learn a lot about narrative emotion and inner dialogue punch.
Pick a classic—Dickens, Dumas, MacDonald, Defoe, Austen, Melville, Carrol, Alcott, Joyce, Dostoevsky, Twain, Homer, Montgomery—and dive in today.
(Travel Bonus! Going to France will inspire you forever. And you can eat, yummy croissants, sip coffee or tea at pretty cafés, ride the metro, romantically walk the bridges, and speak to nice people who use a beautiful language—Vive la France!
PS: I lived in five European countries over the course of 5 years. The history within all of them will knock your socks off. Travel. Travel. Travel. If you can.