February 3, 2009

Being a Bookworm has its Benefits

In the comments following an earlier post regarding finding time to write again, Five Reflections asked, "What are some of the reflections on the four college literature classes and other classes you participated in?" and, "What deep intuitive understandings did you collect from your study of other authors?"

I've been thinking about the questions ever since.

I picked a rather mismatched set of subjects to study in college, majoring in English and minoring in Biology. Originally I thought this would help me become a journalist for National Geographic someday while still being practical for a local journalism job. Plus, I figured it couldn't hurt to study the work of some of the greats and know at least the basic biological principals in pursuit of my goal to become a science fiction novelist.

How helpful these classes have been outside of college is a matter up for debate. On the one hand, my degree isn't particularly helpful in obtaining employment in the local market aside from what few journalistic jobs are available and secretarial work. My background in the sciences would be a greater asset; however, just a minor doesn't really count for much. Yet, the classes were and continue to be a huge help when it comes to writing.

Let's start with the easiest to explain first. Coupling biology with English literature may have earned me a few odd looks over the years, but although I enjoy the sciences, I took it up for a purpose. Simply put, I wanted the worlds I created to be as believable as possible, and understanding the fundamental rules of life systems has helped tremendously when creating new lifeforms.

Plus, there's the added bonus of being able to recognize some ingredients in medications and homeopathic remedies not listed under their most common names. How some things are on the market, I'll never know.

When it comes to literature, it's all about taking away what you need from it. Studying the classics won't guarantee you'll become a memorable or even good writer yourself. Learning to write well takes practice and lots of it, but much can be gleaned from a study of literature, classical or contemporary. (Mythology and literature from Chaucer's day until the Victorian Era just happens to be my personal cup of tea outside of contemporary science fiction and fantasy.)

First there's the laundry list of terms to label techniques used throughout the years high school teachers and college professors alike are so fond of handing out. You get a definition of the technique, and then you pick up one piece after another and are able to see numerous examples of how to employ the technique. After a time, you can almost develop an "ear" for what works in a process similar to the one we use as infants learning to speak.

Then there are the insights you can gain from seeing how literature has been used throughout the ages.

I've been fond of science fiction and fantasy since my parents introduced me to Star Trek, Lost in Space, and Star Wars as a child. Then I studied The Time Machine, Gulliver's Travels, and other early examples of the genres. The teachers pointed out how not only were the stories entertaining, but they spoke to fundamental truths of the age while providing a layer of protection to the authors for daring to speak against certain aspects of society.

I learned "escapist" literature can serve a larger purpose than merely to amuse, yet every reader will generally take away what they will from a story. I have the things I want to talk about, but not every reader wants to hear the discussion. So, I tell my story, weaving in my points and allusions to other works for those who look for them and keeping it entertaining for those readers who simply want to step out of their lives for a time, and I have my studies in literature for helping me learn how to do so.

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