What makes a book what it is?
Modern day Science fiction has a lot of things that the writers of the past had to quite literally make up. Computers, communication devices and space travel are all real. Somehow, though the creativity of the writers of science fiction today still pushes the boundaries of imagination that few other genres manage to do. However, it is not just science fiction, or more likely science fact, writing that has pushed the envelope when it comes to good storytelling.
Fantasy stories such as Harry Potter and Percy Jackson have much of what Tolkien wrote about in the Lord of the Rings and that C S Lewis wrote about in the impressive and still hugely popular Narnia novels. Readers now as they did then need escapism, something to take them out of the humdrum or stressed out world we live in. Readers need to somehow believe that there is perhaps an alternative existence and hope they can close their eyes and wake up in a dream.
Jules Verne took readers on amazing adventures, under the sea and to the centre of the earth as well as to the moon. His stories were born out of a love for adventure and travel. The only one of his adventures that has not become a reality is to the centre of the earth. But still, we have not sent a man to the core as yet. The best writers tell stories of adventures in places in faraway places with the impossible being just part of the story in the fact that it is just or maybe somehow could happen. Modern day Clive Cussler stories have much of the adventure contained in a Jules Verne story. True they are aimed at a more mature audience but for the reader, his books are believable escapism with a perfect blend of possible, impossible and who knows if it could be possible. Raise the Titanic? It has been done with other ships so why not?
But what is it that makes a writer write a book than enthrals a generation of readers?
The popularity of Narnia and Middle Earth are still as popular today as they were in the mid-1900s when they were conceived and written. There was something in them that made each page come alive and something that is as real today as it was then.
The reason why the books were and are so popular is adversity. When Tolkien’s and Lewis’ books were written, the world was in a state of turmoil. The depression was ending when Tolkien published the Hobbit in 1937 and World War II had just ended five years prior to the publication of the Lion, the Witch and the wardrobe. People needed cheering up, times for most people times were hard, there was no TV, cinema was a treat and money was scarce for many forms of entertainment.
Books and reading became an affordable and enjoyable pastime that has remained today. Modern books in paperback or hardback outstrip sales of e-books despite the convenience of a Kindle but nonetheless, books are still popular. It could be said that many modern authors are heavily influenced by other writers and this is not surprising and despite this great stories still emerge even if there is a hint that we may have heard the story before.
Yes, we live in a tough world but it is nowhere near as dark and worrisome as it was in times past. The world is not at war, countries are not being invaded and while the economy could be better, it is nowhere near as bad as it was in the 1930s. Writers of science fiction, fantasy and adventure have to dig a little deeper to find their inspiration and make a book a best seller, they need to find some adversity that the world can understand.
People want to read, they want good stories, and there are many great and lesser-known authors today who enthral readers. Harry Potter did a good job of getting kids to read and for many struggling writers the story behind J K Rowling gave them the courage to write. The reason for the success of Harry Potter was that it was a story like nothing before. Witches, Wizards and Muggles took the world by storm and the success is a story all on its own. It worked because of originality, some crazy almost believable storyline and it stretched the imagination of the reader to the perfect sweet spot.
Other authors can inspire writers and always will but it takes some form of adversity to create an original best seller. J K Rowling had long train journeys and nothing to do and Harry, Ron and Hermione popped into her mind. Rowling’s characters and theme was unique, other writers try to “write a book like” another author, Rowling didn’t. While a story may well be enjoyable, it is perhaps a little predictable, the sense of trying to be a Mark Twain, Edgar Rice Burrows or C S Lewis and the fact someone is aspiring to this level is just too difficult to ignore. Those who imitate a style or rewrite the same or similar plot will sell, the escapism will always work but for success originality is the key, taking readers to new places in between the pages of their minds.
Writers over the generations have taken readers to places they could never imagine and places they would be too scared to imagine. Edgar Rice Burroughs took readers into the Jungle Tarzan and to Mars with John Carter, two extremes that were and still are in many cases impossible to live in reality. His stories are still popular and fresh today.
Not many people will know that Robert E. Howard a writer of what is commonly called Pulp Fiction died at the age of 30 in 1936. Howard was a prolific author of many books and stories that inspire thousands of authors every day. Howard took people out of this world in some of the most well read and well-known stories and themes specialising in Sword and Sorcery stories and ending his final years before his suicide writing westerns. Howard’s influence today in much of the fantasy and adventure stories is close to impossible to deny, he was a master who died too soon.
The combination of influence of other writers and some form of adversity makes for good reading. If a reader can relate and the imagination is pushed into a sweet spot of almost real readers will turn the page. It is hard to think where we would be today without the writers of the past who have blazed a trail for the writers of tomorrow who dare to dream and then put it down in words.