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Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Pioneers

     A lot of agents pass along the advice for writers to read the genre that they write. Go out to bookstore and libraries, see what's on the shelves, and read them. Very sound advice, and there's no earthly reason not take that advice. I will, however, add to it.
     Go read the pioneers of the genre. Read the authors who wrote and made that genre viable. By and large, everything on the shelves today is derived from those original pioneers. You can't look at a mystery, the classic whodunit, without looking at Sherlock Holmes. Science fiction? Shelley, Verne, Wells. Too old fashioned, not enough "real" science? Asimov, Bradbury, and Heinlein. Vampires? Bram Stoker. Fantasy? Look at the sci fi guys. They did a lot of both. Epic fantasy? Tolkien. Romance? Austen. Hard-boiled detectives? Hammett and Chandler.
     I think it's important to read these more original works to see what they did that was so different. What did they do that started off a craze, even launched an entirely new genre in some cases? Take them, analyze them, compare them to today. Compare them to what you write, and look ahead to what might be the next turn.
     For my money, don't stop there. Need to know how to write funny? Tragic? Shakespeare. The Greek playwrights. Epic? Homer, Milton, Virgil. Fantastic? Ovid. Sexy or bawdy? Shakespeare, Ovid.
     Okay, I'll be honest. Shakespeare is the man for nearly all of this. There's not much he didn't do, and he managed to pull it off brilliantly, even the legal comedy (Merchant of Venice, anyone?). The point is, a lot can be learned from the people who were there first. I'm not downplaying authors today, but don't limit yourself to what's just what's been published in the last few years. Go explore, and find the ones who came first.
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