My daughter's taste is quite different, though, and being auditory where my son is visual, she prefers I read to her. She understands better when I read to her. She loves Little House on the Prairie, A Little Princess, Black Beauty, and others of that ilk.
In other words, she loves classics. The problem: she can't understand the originals and I have had to read abridged versions to her. There was this part of me that felt soooooo guilty about that. As if my high school English teachers might find out and come to my house, shaking their heads with disappointment. As if my fellow writers would find out and tsk, tsk.
But, honestly, I see nothing wrong with putting classics into contemporary language.
Don't get me wrong. Classics as written are awesome. Some amazing stories there. But the way they are written reflects the speech patterns of times long gone in many cases.
I was in all gifted classes, and like my son I read at an early age. But trying to read Shakespeare sent my brain into screaming fits. I adored the stories and characters, but I felt like I needed a translation guide. Like I was in a foreign country where I didn't know the language.
I believe that's closer to the truth than a lot of people would like to admit. Elizabethan English IS like a foreign language. Maybe a whole lot of the words are the same, but the sentences are structured differently, ideas are expressed with phrases not used anymore. It is NOT just a vocabulary issue. I have a large vocabulary, as do both my son and daughter.
But, putting it plainly: People just don't talk that way anymore.
Defenders of classics in their original form sometimes get a bit ruffled at that idea. As if you're somehow uncivilized because you read books written in plain, contemporary English. Low brow. And, well, frankly, just not as smart.
|The most beautiful structures can be built |
from some of the simplest materials
One of the reasons writers are taught to write the way they do now is that it's our job to communicate to our readers.
Does that mean dumbing things down?
My novels are not dumbed down. I don't use a plethora of mountainous vocabulary words, but the story is complex, the characters are complex, and reading it requires thought. (Truth be told, I've had a couple readers complain about that fact. "Ugh, I had to think about it too much.")
One thing I see happening is a reverse of simple language and complex thought--writers pumping out flowery, deep-sounding writing that, if it were to be put plainly, would have very little substance underneath. (You don't get what I mean? When's the last time you listened to a politician talk?)
My point in this little diatribe is this:
Dumbing down has nothing to do with sentence length or the use of contemporary language. A novel written concisely, efficiently, clearly--in a contemporary manner--can be just as literary, just as thinky, as a classic with all its mystical prose and lovely turn of phrase. There is no reason to write circles around your readers. I'm not saying one should never go for more...flavor when writing. You love that classic verbiage? Go for it. I'm only saying that more simply phrased writing can be just as deep and meaningful if it's used to build real story.