By Dennis Mellersh
One of the traps that new fiction writers can fall into is using images, issues, or concepts from previous periods of artistic creativity in their work, instead of utilizing contemporary references. This tendency can stem from an effort to write in what the writer perceives as a “literary manner.” For the new writer learning how to write a book, this is a pattern of writing that can be avoided by being aware of the importance of speaking in your own voice, of being original.
Much writing from earlier periods, particularly poetry, contains references to classical mythology and symbols, for example. The readers of earlier periods understood those references. Or there may be allusions to the Bible, which was known intimately by most people years ago, but which is not known nearly so well today, by most people.
Using imagery and references from earlier periods of literature will not be understood by many readers today, including, probably, the target audience for your book.
The issues that concerned an informed reading audience 100 or 150 years ago are generally not the same issues that are of interest to readers today.
I am not speaking here about issues and themes involving human emotions and their associated behaviors, which have remained a constant throughout recorded history. Human behaviour, in fact, is in one way or another, the foundation of all good fiction writing.
In addition to the communication problems posed by such images and references, using the outdated images and references of the writers of previous time periods will make your work appear dated and derivative.
Most of us imitate when we are in early stages of becoming a writer. But as we progress in our writing, we need to use symbols, references, and images that are readily recognized by today’s reading audience.
In his book Creative Authenticity, the painter Ian Roberts makes an excellent point that can be applied to the art or craft of writing well: “We cannot appropriate the power of past images by using them today. We can’t assume that because they had a primal, aboriginal, and elemental power when they were created, that they will, if we use them today, convey that power to a viewer now.”
I’ve written before on the subjective of imitative writing, but I think it is worth re-emphasizing. Imitative writing robs us of our uniqueness.
Whether you are writing a novel, or working on a book-length collection of short stories or poems, imitating other writers, particularly from earlier literary periods (except as a study or learning exercise) works against our ability to originate and create.
It really boils down to having the confidence to write in your own voice and not someone else’s.