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In many ways Shakespeare is the idol of every writer whether they’re a blogger, author or journalist. He hasn’t written much in the past few centuries, but Shakespeare remains a constant readers’ favourite with a truly global audience. The definition of an international bestseller.

But in many ways he isn’t our idol. Shakespeare’s writing is seen as too old-fashioned, pretentious and reminiscent of morality fables for writers to want to try to recreate it. Let’s change that.

Reproduce the Shakespearean plot

Shakespeare had a very unique and satisfying way of writing a plot. This isn’t his work, it’s an example of how to use his technique:

A tall knight, skilled in sword-play enters stage right. From stage left, a humble fisherman’s wife. The woman begins to interrogate the knight about what he’s doing around town so late in the evening.

This is typical of Shakespearean plot style. It looks a bit dull at first. But imagine it set on the stage or with the detailed narrative and witty dialogue of a novel. He’s throwing two very different characters together and turning our expectations on their head. That’s a good story.

It engages the reader and, most importantly, surprises them. They know the knight already, a common character type even if it’s his first time on stage, but the fisherman’s wife is new and unexpected.

Use Shakespearean language

This title sounds counter-intuitive enough to be a farce. Many of you will be familiar with Shakespearean language from reading his works in school. It’s barely recognisable as English, quite tough to understand. Of course, that isn’t what I’m suggesting (then again, it could work!).

The thing about Shakespeare’s works is context. Context is crucial. When read in the London dialect of the time when Shakespeare wrote, the language takes on a new meaning entirely. There are hidden messages regarding the sub-plot and some crude innuendo to make the audience laugh.

Here’s a quote from Act II Scene VII of Shakespeare’s As You Like It:

“And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe,

And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot;”

Pretty pretentious, thought-provoking stuff right? Try reading it as pronounced in the original dialect. “Hour” would have sounded more like “whore”, “ripe” like “rape” and “rot” like “rut”. That’s not so… pretentious.

I’m not suggesting you put lewd limericks into your novels, blogs or articles. But consider the present-day alternatives. Throw in some slang, or a hidden message through well-chosen words with double meanings. Appeal to the other side of your audience, such as the immature teenager hiding behind the spectacles of the stuffy academic.

Re-invent Shakespeare’s characters

Whenever I read or watch a Shakespeare play, I find myself disliking his characters. Does anyone else think Juliet (or Romeo for that matter) is a bit of a stupid wimp? There’s a reason for that.

In my opinion, the best Shakespeare plays come from his Wars of the Roses tetrology. A notable character in them is Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. What makes him special? Overall, he’s a pretty nice guy. That’s it. Everyone else, not so much.

Shakespeare’s characters aren’t always separated into neat categories of good and bad. That doesn’t sit well with how we writers view the evolution of our craft. The past is supposed to be a time when people only saw in black and white. It’s us who realised that each person, therefore each character, has at least one fundamental flaw.

But no, Shakespeare knew that most people have a good side and a bad side. Your characters or the people you discuss in non-fiction could benefit from being equally three-dimensional. Give them a mean streak. Make them nasty. Go on.

Let me know in the comments if any of this was useful. Do you have any writing tips to share?

Previously:

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4 thoughts on “Tip #17: Write Like Shakespeare

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