Do you know how to break things? Like, really, devastate and obliterate a thing until whatever the thing is wishes that it had never existed in the first place? Learn that skill, and your dramatic scenes will take on a pitch and intensity that will awe your readers and make you seem deep, like them ol’ timey Russians. (You know, Tolstoy and Dostoyevski, and the depressing folk from that era.)
Why Would I Want To Write Like A Russian?
Not a contemporary Russian, friend. We’re talking classic-tome territory here. The first thing on your journey to literary depth is death and pragmatism.
Wait, You Haven’t Told Me Why I Want To Write Like A Russian Yet
Well, you don’t want to write like a Russian, per say. You want to write like yourself, but with more intensity. See what I mean? And there is nothing in the world like a touch of nihilistic Russian philosophy to add pathos and meaning to your fiction.
Okay Victor, Sure. Whatever You Say
Yep, yep. So, death first (or last, as we might say). It is important to realize that the old Russian greats meant things. If they were petty, they had well-thought-out reasons for being petty. If they were depressed, they were REALLY depressed. And if they had deep thoughts about death, they stuck to those meditations like champs.
You’re Losing Me, Victor
I know, I know, Russian melancholia is an acquired taste. But it impresses other people, so we’re going to talk about it. Let’s look at an example here.
Bad Writing (American shallow):
Balerie drew long pink eyebrows on her face, and pulled a powder of blue fish scales out of her bag. She patted the scales down over her cheeks, and checked her reflection carefully. It was not as good as she could have done with a full set and two hours, but she thought it would do.
A knock sounded on her chamber door, and she stuffed away the things, and straightened her flimsy gown.
Good Writing (old-fashioned Russian depth):
Balerie’s hand shook as she gripped the worn pink eyebrow pencil, which she had stolen from her aunt’s things. A mixture of terror and excitement wrangled through her insides, and she tried to steady her breath. She smoothed the pink lines over her eyes, and dug in her bag for the remnants of crushed blue scales.
She patted the last of the sparkling powder on her cheeks as a heavy knock sounded at the door. Ye gods, I hope I look better than last time, she thought, as she tucked away her things, and smoothed her paper-thin gown.
What Is This Skill You Promised Me?
One skill that will raise your stakes through the stratosphere: Everything must be deliberate. Intellectually lazy people find this approach exhausting, but a dead Russian author would not pick up a plot line without thinking twelve directions through it first; how can anything go wrong, and should the character give up and live in a corner until they die of starvation? This sounds facetious, but is actually a fairly accurate description of the way this style of fiction is written.
Nothing is casual; nothing is light-hearted. Every item, every sound, every word becomes a possible portent of death, chaos, and bitter misery.
When your character(s) are hovering on the edge of unmanageable despair, everything becomes high-stakes.
Well, That Was Depressing
I know, right? Makes for good fiction, though.