3 Things I Learned About Writing: Analyzing Miguel Cervantes’ DON QUIXOTE

This reoccurring column takes the classic writing advice “good writers are good readers” and puts it to work, by looking at books across all time periods and all genres to find techniques that we can apply in our own work. This installment examines the piece considered to be the very first novel—DON QUIXOTE by Miguel Cervantes.

1. Try new things.

“All you have to do is try, with meaningful words, properly and effectively arranged, to honestly unroll your sentences and paragraphs, clearly, sensibly, just explaining what you’re up to as well and as powerfully as you can” (11).

(Do you need different agents if you write multiple genres?)

 DON QUIXOTE is considered to be the very first novel. No one had ever written an epic in prose form before. So Cervantes decided to try prose. Often, he interjects a defense for his form through the novel, letting various characters articulate his points. Obviously, this new form worked well and is still used today. Don’t be afraid to try something that hasn’t been done before. If it doesn’t work, start over and try again. There are an infinite number of ways to tell stories. Don’t get stuck in a rut.

Hannah-haney-writer Don-quixote-book-cover

Column by Hannah Haney, a regular contributor to the GLA blog
and to Writer’s Digest. She is the Managing Editor for Relief Journal
and has been published in The Cincinnati Enquirer and Writer’s Digest.
In her free time, she reads good books, 
eats good food, and writes bad
poetry. You can follow her on
 Twitter or on her blog.

2. Metafiction is fun.

“The wise Sidi Hamid Benegeli tells us that….” (81).

There are several layers of narration in DON QUIXOTE. Bear with me: First, you have Sidi Hamid Benegeli (author of the narrative of Don Quixote), then a fictional translator of the narrative, and then Cervantes as author (injecting first person comments). And of course, the whole thing is fiction, so Cervantes is writing at three different levels. This means that Cervantes can get away with a lot. If he wants to offer a critique (see my next point), he won’t get in trouble because technically Sidi Hamid is writing the critique, not Cervantes as author. Metafiction allows the author to take on personas and interact with the text and the reader in an incredibly intimate way that’s fun for both the author and the reader.

(Do you need multiple literary agents if you write different genres?)

3. Social and political critiques don’t have to be dry.

“The duke and duchess took such infinite delight in Don Quijote and Sancho Panza’s conversation, that it made them even more determined to devise a number of jokes, all in the manner and guise of adventures…” (542).

One of the main critiques in the novel is the power held by the upper class and how they use that power to manipulate and abuse the lower class. The duke and duchess represent the upper class. They have unlimited power, which allows them to play whatever tricks they wish without repercussions. Because it is so dangerous to make this statement about those in power in 1604 Spain, Cervantes largely uses humor to make his critiques. The story is so funny, that you hardly realize that Cervantes is making a political statement. Don’t fall into the trap that critiques have to be serious. Cervantes used humor to avoid punishment, yes, but it was extraordinarily effective. Critique  works best when used with humor.

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