History is often seen as long dates, complicated names, and something used only to remember when you last had a proper birthday party. Almost nobody sees it as the biggest tool for a writer’s success… and the best step to avoiding the Writer’s Ultimate Nightmare.
Did you know that history can be something more? Something you could use to improve your writing?
I’m guessing that you’ve already got this topic you want to write about—and you’ve outlined your work. Now you can’t wait to get it down on paper.
…But you’re scared.
Scared that your writing isn’t good enough to be out in the world, scared that you’ll get lots of backlash. But one fear that totally takes the cake:
The fear of writing something that’s never valued.
Oh boy, isn’t that quite a scare! But hey, I get it.
I’ve attended countless webinars to dismiss this problem, and each of them told me to “change my mindset”. I did – but still, when I reviewed my writing with friends, even they told me it wasn’t exactly gripping.
Almost all beginner writers feel this, the ultimate scare when they’re halfway through their writing.
So what do they do then? I recommend joining an encouraging accountability group like Ninja Writers.
We may never overcome our fears; lose heart in our writing, and never make it to the publishing stage. We all may enter the Writer’s Ultimate Nightmare: failing to write something special.
But, no worries! I’m here, just in time—actually, history’s here, just in… time.
See, the best way to get rid of your fear is by writing engagingly: which you can do by learning from historical stories, not just blindly editing your work.
As the Spanish poet and philosopher George Santayana rightly said: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.
Proving Mr Santayana right, many writers don’t succeed because they overlook the mistakes writers made before them. Instead, if they studied older writers’ works, they would know what mistakes to avoid and what to implement in their own writing. Worse still, sometimes modern writers don’t simply overlook past mistakes, but actually mock the ancient writer.
Well, surprise! The style of writing from ancient authors is still incredibly beneficial to writers today. No, readers won’t shun your work if you use a historical term. Yes, your writing will improve and you’ll lessen your fear if you follow the secrets of these ancient authors.
Well, that’s all well and good, but how do you study the mistakes other writers did, avoid them in your writing, and implement the good elements in your piece? This is precisely what I’ll show you in this post, so that you can take your writing to the next level, learning from ancient authors.
Now, don’t panic. By studying historical works, I don’t mean that you have to wolf down A Midnight Summer’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, or Lord of the Flies.
The process is fairly simple. You will need the following:
Let’s take The Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician’s Nephew as an example. And now, we have to answer the following (examples are given, don’t worry!):
And this does work. I know because I’ve tried this myself. My stories lacked world building (I mainly write dark fantasy and horror) but after studying my favorite stories, they became so cool and complex!
There’s something common between ancient epics such as Homer’s Odyssey or Iliad, the Epic of Gilgamesh, or Mahabharata. Even though they originate from different cultures, these epics are still remembered today.
Even though they’re a thousand years old, even though their writing isn’t what modern people like to read today, and even though some have to be translated thoroughly to be read.
Why is that? Why put all that hard work into reading ancient writing?
That’s because each and every ancient writing teaches us a lesson, even the fictional ones. The subtlest but most important lessons are taught through beautifully woven characters, their backstories and the plot.
These stories had a ‘why’ – a cause. The Mahabharata’s cause was to show the world how a family’s tiny squabble could lead to even a war against your loved ones – it’s lesson was “thoughts turn into words, words turn into actions, and actions turn into consequences”.
So the next most important thing you have to do is find out your story’s cause. Some really good questions to ask yourself are:
This can take ten minutes, but I recommend taking your time here. It’s one of the most important steps to improving your writing.
So after you finish reading this, be sure to answer them in your own time.
The point is you’ve got to change whatever’s been so old it’s become a cliche, or bring a new POV to something the majority of the people see as normal.
A great example of this is Amish Tripathi, an Indian writer who gets paid millions of dollars for retelling the Ramayana and the story of a Hindu god.
At first, everybody told him his ideas were of no value because apparently, nobody wanted their beloved epics to be ‘twisted and turned’… but now look at him – he gets approximately 1.7 million sales from his latest trilogy!
However, it doesn’t have to be about changing ideology or retelling something. Your writing can just be about making your reader feel something in a way never been done before.
The point is, learn from ancient authors, but be YOU. And being yourself is a really big topic, so if you’re interested in ‘being YOU’, I’d recommend reading this article.
In this post I showed you how to study historical works to improve your writing, creating more realistic characters and more engaging scenes—in one word, more immersive text.
To study historical works you’ve gotta ask yourself:
There is a lot to learn from ancient literature. Epics like Odyssey and Mahabharata are still remembered and read today for… well, an epic reason. And believe me, you’d be losing something precious if you dismissed them as irrelevant to modern times.
Even though you can modernize these old texts, their basic framework remains on-point even today, which you can learn from.
And so, with these lessons in mind, pull your laptop closer to you and start writing, as so many countless authors before you did (well, without a laptop perhaps).
And then, after you’ve blurted out those words, celebrate the fact that you’re a writer, standing on the shoulders of literary giants!
A Bengali sixth grader, Ahana Chakrabarti is the self-appointed supernatural investigator of her house and a devoted writer. She has travelled not only around the world, but also around the Universe, exploring multiple stars and constellations. She often breaks out of the mundane student’s life by writing sizzling short stories or articles on the craft of writing. When she’s not working on her supernatural novel, you can find her taking online classes or reading on her Kindle. If you like writing and supernatural stories, you can find her works at her blogs called Author Ahana and Creative Ahana.