I have been bitten by the writing bug. During July 2011 – June 2012, I wrote three stories submitted for publication in Bohemia (4,200 words) and about 68,000 words delivered orally. Since July 2012, the oral component is even larger, and I took 5,000 words with me to a writing workshop two weeks ago. After two weeks, that 5,000 words is now 10,000 words and growing. At that rate, this year I expect my written output to exceed my oral work.
People ask where I get my ideas. Any writer learns from what he has read. If you wish to be a great writer then read great literature. Granted, I started with Edgar Rice Burroughs (“A Princess of Mars”) back in 1964. Not great literature, but a good place for a 9-year-old boy to learn about heroics and romance, as were the Arthurian legends. Please *do* read the books, and not simply criticize the eleven Barsoomian novels or the 50+ Tarzan novels based on some very inaccurate movies. But here is my list of 10 great works to read if you wish to be a story teller.
10) The Chronicles of Narnia and the Perelandra trilogy
C. S. Lewis was a wonderful writer, and I consider his Narnia heptology one of the best things a child could read. It is, of course, a subtle introduction to Christian values – he was a cleric – but there is nothing wrong with that. That undertone is stronger in the later volumes of his science fiction trilogy, but once again, Perelandra is a great story.
9) Any of the works by William Shakespear
I would rank the Bard’s work higher, but many people cannot follow the 400-year-old English. For those who do not mind reading with an unabridged dictionary in hand, Shakespear is a great source of ideas. By the way, when he said that Romeo and Juliet were “fond” lovers, he was calling them foolish. And before his audience saw MacBeth, a “poison” was something good to drink.
8) The Mabinogion.
In general, I like mythology as a source of ideas, but the Celtic omni-capable deities are among the best. So I recommend the Mabinogion as a great read, and Evangeline Walton has a very tractable retelling of the 11 stories forming that work.
7) The Iliad and Odyssey
Homer is, of course, one of the world’s most famous storytellers. The Iliad and Odyssey should be on everyone’s reading list, in my opinion.
6) Stranger in a Strange Land
If you know Science Fiction, you know the names Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke. Stranger in a Strange Land is Robert Heinlein’s masterpiece: the book in which he transitioned from writing action stories for teenagers to serious fiction for adults. Stranger in a Strange Land is still a deeply thought-provoking novel.
5) The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov
Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and The Second Foundation spin a tale which is literally galactic in scope. For those who are not inclined towards science fiction, perhaps the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire would be a good substitute. For those who like more obscure works, I highly recommend Last and First Men by Olaf Stapleton. Any of these three works will encourage you to take the long view and think about the flow of history.
4) The Bible
I shall carefully not call the Bible “literature,” but it is certainly full of great stories and very inspirational. Whatever your religious views, I certainly consider it a “must read,” especially the Old Testament, for any storytellers.
3) Lord of Light
Robert Zelazny wrote an epic novel about the descendents of a generation ship, now ruled over by the technically-savvy crew who have taken on the roles of Hindu gods. And then someone shows up who really seems to be the Bodhisatva. Lord of Light raises many questions about the use and misuse of technology, while telling a fascinating tale.
2) War and Peace
I highly recommend anything by Leo Tolstoy, but Voina i Mir’
is his classic. This is a tale told on a very wide stage, covering many years and 1600 pages in my unabridged version.
1) Lord of the Rings
Based on work as early as 1917 and originally written as a hexalogy (6 slim novels) in the 1940s, J. R. R. Tolkein’s masterpiece was published as a trilogy in the 1950s and re-released twenty years later. Reading it then, I fell in love with heroic fantasy. In case there is someone who does not know, it tells the tale of a heroic quest by a small and unlikely group in the midst of a world-encompassing war. It is thus a great example of how to tell both a big and small story simultaneously. It is also the model from which most modern fantasy is based. Finally, since fantasy is what I write most, it is my number one recommendation to any future storytellers.