He got up and sat on the edge of the bedstead with his back to the window. “It’s better not to sleep at all,” he decided. There was a cold damp draught from the window, however; without getting up he drew the blanket over him and wrapped himself in it. He was not thinking of anything and did not want to think. But one image rose after another, incoherent scraps of thought without beginning or end passed through his mind. He sank into drowsiness. Perhaps the cold, or the dampness, or the dark, or the wind that howled under the window and tossed the trees roused a sort of persistent craving for the fantastic. He kept dwelling on images of flowers, he fancied a charming flower garden, a bright, warm, almost hot day, a holiday—Trinity day. A fine, sumptuous country cottage in the English taste overgrown with fragrant flowers, with flower beds going round the house; the porch, wreathed in climbers, was surrounded with beds of roses. A light, cool staircase, carpeted with rich rugs, was decorated with rare plants in china pots. He noticed particularly in the windows nosegays of tender, white, heavily fragrant narcissus bending over their bright, green, thick long stalks. He was reluctant to move away from them, but he went up the stairs and came into a large, high drawing-room and again everywhere—at the windows, the doors on to the balcony, and on the balcony itself—were flowers. The floors were strewn with freshly-cut fragrant hay, the windows were open, a fresh, cool, light air came into the room. The birds were chirruping under the window, and in the middle of the room, on a table covered with a white satin shroud, stood a coffin. The coffin was covered with white silk and edged with a thick white frill; wreaths of flowers surrounded it on all sides. Among the flowers lay a girl in a white muslin dress, with her arms crossed and pressed on her bosom, as though carved out of marble. But her loose fair hair was wet; there was a wreath of roses on her head. The stern and already rigid profile of her face looked as though chiselled of marble too, and the smile on her pale lips was full of an immense unchildish misery and sorrowful appeal. Svidrigaïlov knew that girl; there was no holy image, no burning candle beside the coffin; no sound of prayers: the girl had drowned herself. She was only fourteen, but her heart was broken. And she had destroyed herself, crushed by an insult that had appalled and amazed that childish soul, had smirched that angel purity with unmerited disgrace and torn from her a last scream of despair, unheeded and brutally disregarded, on a dark night in the cold and wet while the wind howled

How to Write “Timeless” Fiction

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What exactly is ‘timeless’ fiction? In essence, it’s a piece of work that withstands the passing of years, even decades, maintaining its relevancy and charm.

The danger is that your fiction won’t age well, and in 10 years certain references will make readers scratch their heads, either bewildered or feeling like your book is dated.

This guide aims to provide the strategies to help ensure your book is timeless. We will explore:

  • the traps of writing in this present moment
  • the importance of understanding trends
  • the pillars of timeless fiction
  • the delicate balance between timelessness and capturing the zeitgeist

Slang, technology, pop culture

To begin, let’s identify the obstacles that can tether a story to a particular time and hinder its longevity. These elements include language, technology, and pop culture references, all of which require careful use to maintain timelessness.

Language and slang

The lingo of a particular era can lend authenticity, but it can also firmly anchor a piece in time, eventually making it dated. To avoid this, you can utilize universal language, avoiding era-specific phrases. 

Writers like Hemingway and Orwell crafted timeless pieces with simple, clear language. You can also invent your own slang if the narrative demands it, as Anthony Burgess did in ‘A Clockwork Orange.’

One of Orwell’s most timeless and straightforward quotes comes from his novel ‘1984’: 

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” 

This sentence, despite its simplicity, encapsulates the paradoxical nature of authoritarian regimes, and it remains relevant across generations.

Technology references

Referencing technology is a double-edged sword. It can root the story in its time, but as technology changes at a rapid pace, these references can become obsolete. 

Rather than using specific devices or platforms, consider using broad terms, such as ‘social media’ or ‘phone.’ Tom Clancy’s ‘Net Force’ series offers an example of technology references that aged quickly, with its focus on a version of the internet that’s now outdated.

Music and pop culture

Pop culture references can add color and context, but also risk dating your work. Instead of using explicit references, you can describe the feeling evoked by a particular piece of music or cultural event.

Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ remains timeless despite many pop culture references, primarily because they are tied to universal themes of war and humanity.

Navigating trends

Next, we dive into the ebb and flow of genre trends and societal movements. A keen awareness of these elements can enrich your story, but to remain timeless, they should be woven subtly and skillfully into your narrative.

Understand your genre’s history

Being aware of the trends and history of your genre can help avoid overused tropes. This knowledge allows you to innovate and pay tribute to classic elements without recycling clichés. ‘Game of Thrones’ by George R. R. Martin subverted many fantasy tropes, making it feel fresh despite its traditional setting.

Culture and trends

Societal movements can shape a book’s relevance. Incorporate them subtly without making them the centerpiece, unless you want your book to be a time capsule of an era.

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ has aged well because its exploration of racial injustice and morality is as pertinent today as it was when it was written.

The symbol of the mockingbird epitomizes innocence, so its destruction signifies the loss of innocence, a theme that maintains its relevance more than 60 years after the book was originally published. Here’s a well-known quote from the book as an illustration:

“Atticus said to Jem one day, ‘I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’ That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. ‘Your father’s right,’ she said. ‘Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.'”

Pillars of Timeless Fiction

The backbone of any timeless narrative consists of universal themes, complex characters, and a solid understanding of the craft of storytelling.

Embrace the universal

Timeless stories often center around universal human experiences and emotions. ‘Pride and Prejudice’ continues to resonate because love, class struggles, and the quest for independence are timeless themes.

The opening line of the novel humorously highlights societal pressures related to marriage and wealth:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Craft complex characters

The relatability and depth of characters play a critical role in creating timeless fiction. People relate to characters who embody universal human traits and feelings.

Develop characters with evolving motivations and personal growth to keep your readers engaged.

Focus on your craft

Excellence in storytelling craft is key. Aspects like plot structure, thematic exploration, and world-building have enduring relevance. Constantly improving your craft can ensure that your work remains relatable. Resources like ‘The Elements of Style’ by Strunk and White or online writing courses can be invaluable.

Philosophy of Timelessness

Finally, let’s explore the broader philosophy of timeless fiction and its practical application: how to create an enduring ambiance through detailed descriptions, and the balance between timelessness and capturing the zeitgeist.

In-depth and thoughtful description

Detailed descriptions can contribute to a timeless feel. Rely on sensory and emotional descriptions rather than time-bound concepts. The way F. Scott Fitzgerald described the glitz and melancholy of the Roaring Twenties in ‘The Great Gatsby’ continues to captivate readers:

“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. (…) At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft, or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his two motor-boats slit the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam. On weekends his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city between nine in the morning and long past midnight, while his station wagon scampered like a brisk yellow bug to meet all trains.”

Timeless or trendy: a delicate balance

Is it even possible, or desirable, for a work of fiction to be truly timeless? While it’s appealing, remember that capturing the zeitgeist has its own merit.

Consider ‘1984’ by George Orwell. While some aspects may seem dated, its central ‘Big Brother is watching you’ theme feels increasingly relevant:

“Behind Winston’s back the voice from the telescreen was still babbling away about pig-iron and the overfulfilment of the Ninth Three-Year Plan. The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard.”


Writing timeless fiction is a delicate balancing act. It requires an understanding of the perils of time, a deep dive into trends, a strong grasp of universal themes, and complex characters, along with honed storytelling skills. 

While it’s important to aim for timelessness, don’t shy away from reflecting the era you are part of. It’s in this balance where truly enduring stories are born. Happy writing!

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Harry Bingham is the founder of Jericho Writers, a company offering writers expert editorial assistance.  He has written a variety of books over the years, notching up multiple six-figure deals and relationships with each of the world’s three largest trade publishers. His work has been critically acclaimed across the globe and has been adapted for TV. He’s also written non-fiction, short stories, and has worked as a ghost/editor on a number of exciting projects. Harry also self-publishes some of his work, and loves doing so.

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