I haven’t read nearly as much of his work as I should, but, I will say that Dickens is second only to John Steinbeck in the way he has influenced my writing. Wait…on second thought, John Irving had a pretty big impact on my writing style as well, but, he’s kind of a modern-day Dickens in my book, so, I don’t always count him. Sorry, dude.
Anyway, aside from the many vivid, iconic characters Dickens created over the years, what I love most about his work is that he knew how to milk a story for drama. And like many writers of popular fiction (and some of my favorite fellow screenwriters) Dickens’ work was chided by critics for not being substantial or meaningful, as if writing a really great page turner was some kind of crime. But, lemme tell ya, the complexity and beauty of his strongest stories is truly something to behold.
You can’t just casually flip through Dickens, man, you have to pay attention. To everything! Hell, that’s half the fun of it. The strange names, the larger-than-life characters, the diversions that seem pointless at the time but pay off, sometimes hundreds of pages later in genuinely shocking ways — pay careful attention to that swarthy convict on page seven, dear reader, because he just might turn out to be your secret benefactor on page three-hundred-something! — I mean, love him or hate him, you gotta give Dickens credit for being a master of structure. My head spins just thinking about him outlining something like BLEAK HOUSE…yikes!
And best of all, Dickens didn’t just dazzle us with cool plot twists for the fun or it. No way! These twists and turns of fate had meaning and impact and made us root for his characters even more. I think that’s what makes so many of his books so damn cinematic. There is so much description and beauty and humor and pain and pathos on every page that they literally read like movies.
Oy, I could go on about Charles Dickens for days, but, seeing as I have a toddler to feed and, you know, pay attention to and stuff, so, I’ll stop here. Happy birthday, Mr. Dickens! Ooo, and thanks to Google for the awesome Dickens Google Doodle on Tuesday. So cool!!