6.23.2016

Faintly Despising

Authors have all sorts of reasons to start a book. The most common one is that a topic piques their interest. A fascination with Irish mythology, to cite one example, can lead a writer to study the myths of the Ulster Cycle. A parallel interest in writing something that will sell, like his kids’ favorite, Harry Potter, can give birth to a young adult fantasy set in the Emerald Isle. Off he plunges into the great unknown that is a novel.

Many moons can pass before a draft of a manuscript is finalized. The author decides she wants to get it published—and then runs into the gauntlet known as “agents.” She is mystified that everyone sends back a form-letter rejection. At some point she may consult a professional like myself and ask what went wrong.

I read it and it’s instantly apparent that the book doesn’t meet the requirements of the genre. The author often doesn’t know what genre he’s writing in. As I talk to such authors, I frequently discover that he has an inner critic that dislikes the genre in general. “Oh, kids books” or  “What’s the big deal about Harry Potter, besides those amazing sales?”

A telling example of this bizarre attitude occurred at a book reading I attended. The author had become captivated with a futuristic gadget and wrote a slim dystopian novel based around it. In his prefatory remarks he said dismissively, “I didn’t even know what dystopian was until my agent told me.” Right away I was on guard. And sure enough, when he read aloud his excerpt, the material was dialogue-dominated gibberish. I know dystopian novels very well, and his sounded like “worst in class.”

I won’t bother advising here that an author study her genre before starting a book. That goes without saying. I do want to raise a question, though. Why, if you’re not willing to fully commit to providing what genre readers expect, bother writing the novel at all? No one is forcing you. Why spend all those hours on an enterprise that is doomed from the start by your own disinterest?

Life is short. The creative process is intoxicating, yes. But you also need to husband your time. Write a book that you can’t stop pouring your heart into. That’s the only way anyone reading it will respond.

Exercise: How do you pick out outstanding examples of a type of novel? It’s as simple as typing into an Amazon window “the best [YA fantasies].” If Harry Potter is not to your taste, check out the alternate authors on the list. One of those may write in a style that you feel chimes with your own. So see how she does it.

“Criticism is prejudice made plausible.”
—H. L. Mencken

Copyright @ 2016, John Paine


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