You all know the story of Frankenstein’s monster. The scientist Victor F. tries to create a man and instead unleashes a monster that terrorizes his family. You’ve seen the movie, right?
But how many of you have read the book? Did you know that there have been two versions published? That Frankenstein’s bride is part of the original story? Did you know that Mary Shelley was nineteen years old when she wrote it?
I kid thee not. Nineteen years old. Wowee, right?
Most of us who grew up writing had plans to be published by the time we were in high school. I’ll admit it. I wanted my first bestseller out by the time I was sixteen. It didn’t happen, but that’s another story.
When I read Frankenstein, I wonder what it is that makes the work so unforgettable. It was a popular novel in its time, and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t know at least an outline of the Frankenstein story.
So what is it about Frankenstein that makes it worth remembering?
Shelley was 19 when she wrote it, but the themes that she tackled in the book have hounded scholars for years. She makes the reader question the existence of God, ponder the dangers of science, weigh the essence of life . . . these are Big Ideas!
It’s the ideas that live on when the pages of work have decayed, so be a timeless writer by thinking big thoughts. Ask tough questions. Make your readers think. Be a writer that makes every piece a challenge to the generic work around you. When the questions you ask—or try to answer—make people think, your writing sticks in their memories.
And sticky writing is writing that lasts.
A Foundation of Learning
Of course, the big ideas and important questions that make your writing memorable don’t spring from your forehead fully grown. In order to think big thoughts, you have to cultivate a deep-thinking mind. And that, I’m afraid, is going to require you to have a wider basis of knowledge than what you can gain from your high school textbooks.
Mary Shelley spent most of her younger years reading books written by her parents. She was reading feminist theories at seven! To be a smart writer, you need to be a smart reader. You are what you eat, some say, but I say you are what you read. So read smart!
So far it seems that all you need to do to be a great writer is become your English 101 professor, right?
Education and braininess only goes so far, because writing fulfills its greatest purpose when it’s read. You may be the brightest scholar on Subterranean Arthropods out there, but if no one cares about underground snails, your writing isn’t going to be read.
Mary Shelley was working up the idea for Frankenstein, her older half-sister lived with her, and annoyed Mary endlessly with nightmares.
What was it that made Fanny scream in her sleep? The books she read obsessively. Gothic horror was all the rage.
Sinister was in. Creepy was cool. People wanted to read stories that would make them wet their pants. They wanted to read books that dealt with dark, stormy nights.
Gothic was popular with the public, so it’s what Mary gave them.
I’ve talked to several publishers in my time, and the one thing that I hear over and over is that no matter how good a book is, if no one will buy it, it won’t get printed. The same goes for businesses and services—anything that depends on customer sales must take into account the demands of the masses. We can have the art vs. craft discussion (we can… promise), but at the end of the day, if you write for a living, you need to make sure that your writing keeps you alive.
Now Go, and Make Your Own Monsters!
It takes most people longer to figure out the key elements of timeless writing than it took Mary Shelley. Despair not! You may not be nineteen anymore, but that doesn’t mean you’ve missed your chance to be remembered. It’s never too late to learn how to write undying works.
Speak. Write. Put yourself out there. And see what havoc your creation wreaks upon the world.