I find writing inspiration all around me. One thing that inspires me is when an author does something interesting or unexpected. One such author is Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
Now don’t fall asleep on me yet. I’m quite aware that not everyone shares the love for Dostoyevsky that I do. Mostly people who were forced to read him in school. Fortunately, my introduction was different, but it almost ended as disastrously.
A friend encouraged me (and I say encouraged instead of forced to be polite) to read Dostoyevsky. My mistake was when I started with The Idiot (that’s the name of the book, not my friend). Not only were there a ridiculous number of Russian names thrown at me within the first twenty pages, Dostoyevsky switches how he refers to characters. He uses first, middle, and last names and then switches the combination of these names to refer to the same character, even in the same paragraph. So if a character was named Ivan Petrovitch Ptitsyn, he might be referred to as Ivan Petrovitch, or Petrovitch Ptitsyn, or Ivan Ptitsyn. It made it very difficult for me to keep track of the characters, and may be why I came to understand the importance of name consistency as I discussed in last week’s post: Character Names and Nicknames.
I never finished reading The Idiot. It’s still on my list of books to read some day. Luckily, I tried some of his other works, starting with short stories before working up to longer pieces.
It was on this journey that I came to read his novella The Underground. This may be one of his better known pieces aside from Crime and Punishment, although The Double has several film adaptations and is one of the pieces that sticks with me the most. But I digress.
Onto the lesson from The Underground. After reading this novella, I found I was depressed for a good two weeks. And I’d moved onto other things. It took me a while to pinpoint why I was feeling that way. Everything appeared to be fine in my life. Then one day it dawned on me. It was the story. Yes, it’s a dark story, it’s a bit depressing, but I’ve read stories like that before and had no long term effects from them.
Usually when you read, the emotions, the plot, the characters, all of that is out in the open and as a reader, you choose to go on the journey that an author has set for you. The author develops the story, and the reader engages in it and becomes a willing participant to go emotionally where the author is telling the reader the story is going. Then you’re done, you maybe brood over it a bit, and then move on.
I found out though, that there can be more. I learned that an author can make a reader feel something without their permission. I’d always been a willing participant before, going along for the ride, sometimes jumping ship if the book’s sentimentality was too forceful in telling me I had to feel a certain way about what had just happened to a character. But never had I been so subtly swayed into feeling something that by the time I was overwhelmed with the emotion, I had no idea of its source.
So if you haven’t read Dostoyevsky before, be in the right frame of mind. Have your guard up a bit. Don’t start with The Idiot. Perhaps his short story The Gambler would be a safer choice.
Is there an author who you learned something from that you haven’t seen in other people’s work? What author or book has influenced the way you write or even just had an impact on you even if you don’t write?