Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lessons from Dostoevsky

When I have money to spend at a bookstore, I want to spend it well.  I want to spend it on something that's worth my while - worth my time and money.  Something that will feed me, inspire me, and make me want to come back.  While I don't always get my way and sometimes feel cheated out of my money, I've never EVER felt cheated by Dostoevsky.


Did I say ever?

I've read The Idiot and Crime and Punishment.  I read The Idiot when I was in 9th grade - something the majority of 9th graders in the world would never do...I'm sure most of them don't even know who the author is.  But I, the lone Russian-literature-loving Freshman, knew.

I knew, I read, I loved.  (Shhhh...I know...I can be cheesy.)

I began loving Russian literature with The Idiot.  Now, every time I have money to spend on books - EVERY time - I consider buying something of Dostoevsky's or Tolstoy's or whatever else I can find.  It doesn't always happen, but it's on my radar 24/7.  I want to get as much of it as I can.  It's some of the most quality literature out there, where you can get everything from romance and adventure and some of the most difficult struggles imaginable - all in one book.  It's deep and holds a well-deserved place in the ranks of great literature.

So why am I writing this post? you may ask.

The other day at the bookstore, I was looking to spend the last Barnes and Noble Groupon I'd bought.  And, of course, I made myself comfortable in the "D" section.  Copies of Dostoevsky's novels The Possessed and Crime and Punishment have just recently come out by Vintage Classics.  I was contemplating the possibility of buying them, but I was unsure of the translation.  My fingers lingered over the beautiful spines - and the beautiful stories underneath.  I picked up The Brother's Karamazov.  I own the book, but have never read it.  Picking it up, I wanted to see what lay beneath the cover.  This is what I read:
Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov was the third son of a landowner from our district, Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, well known in his own way for his dark and tragic death, which happened exactly thirteen years ago and which I shall speak of in its proper place.

-- Chapter 1, The Brother's Karamazov, Everyman's Library (Translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky)

Not only did it strike me for the beautiful way it was written, but also the content of the paragraph.  Do you know how many times I read a book and will suddenly think, WOW, this author knows exactly where to put information, at exactly the right time, said by the right person, in the right setting.

"...and which I shall speak of in its proper place."

It only happens once in a blue moon.  Brittney Ryan, Anne Perry, N. D. Wilson, James Barrie and...Fyodor Dostoevsky.  There are many books out there that I love and cherish so much, and while they are written well, and even expertly, they do not display this intensely rare gift.

It is something I strive for in my own novels.  Sometimes (oftentimes) when I read something I just wrote I am disappointed by the amount of information stored up in one paragraph and I immeditely think, "How can I stretch this out?  Turn it around?  Give the information some originality, in form and in place?"  The way I accomplish this (and the best way to accomplish this for me, I've found in my eight years of writing) is to read each chapter once you've finished it, over and over again if needed, until you feel as though everything is in its proper place.  It helps to also focus on this one aspect of your writing, and once that is done to finally go to the next aspect or idea.  Another way to tone your writing in this way is to read the great authors like Dostoevsky, Barrie, Wilson, and the rest listed above.  It's inspiring, encouraging, and gives you examples of what you're trying to do on the published end of things.

I can't wait to be able to sit down and write - and incorporate these things that I am learning about the art of writing.

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