How do you keep from writing a novel that is going to be the same old thing as everybody else writes?
Jonathan posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
Here’s a long winded statement/question: All my life, I think I have known that I wanted to create fiction, and have accordingly spent my time reading and writing, and watching movies, all in the hopes that I will learn how to create powerful emotional experiences for my future readers.
I have a problem, and I think that it is keeping me from being able to finish any of my story ideas. I have been thinking about it really hard, and recently, I think I have stumbled upon what it is that is causing my block: I don’t want my book to become a Kate Hudson Movie.
What I mean by that is that I don’t want my readers to read a few words of my book, and say “Ah-ha! It’s this story again! Boy meets Girl (Gasp! Sometimes boy already knew Girl!), Boy and Girl are thrust into an awkward/interesting situation, a moment of truth comes which breaks them apart, but at the last possible moment, they realize their love for each other and live happier ever after.”
How do I write without doing this? If fiction is really just a collection of archetypes tied together in such a way so as to make a cohesive story, how can I stand out or possibly ever be different from the next guy?
It seems like books that do break this mold- Infinite Jest, House of Leaves, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close do exist, but often times play games with so much stuff that it’s difficult to (with all do respect to these authors, extremely loud is a favorite book of mine) really call them classics of fiction.
How do I add cohesive structure to what I write without being just like the last guy who wrote about exactly what I plan to write about?
Randy sez: Jonathan, I hear you. Nobody wants to write a cliche novel. Nobody wants to be mediocre. Nobody wants to be an also-ran.
But believe me, writing a cliche novel is a whole heck of a lot harder than it looks. If that’s all you ever do, that’ll be an achievement.
Being “just another lineman in the NFL” is a whole heck of a lot harder than it looks too. So is being “just another astronaut on the Space Station.” So is being “just another member of the House of Representatives.”
It may look like all of the above are mediocre folks who don’t have what it takes. Baloney. These are all people who happen to be “average” in a crowd of incredibly high achievers.
Same deal with fiction writers who write yet another novel that gets published by a major publisher and gets made into a movie. If you do that, you’ll be somebody in the fiction world, whether or not you achieve J.K. Rowling or Stieg Larsson numbers. Yes, we all would love to be megabestselling authors, but just making it to the ranks of the published is a pretty darned remarkable feat.
Jonathan, go write your book and see what comes out. Maybe you’ll quit before you finish. Maybe you’ll try for years and years and never get it published. Maybe, (if you have talent and you work hard) you’ll become that thing you dread. Maybe, (if you’re one of the insanely lucky and talented few) you may achieve what you really want, which is to be utterly brilliant, mold-breaking, unique. Go ahead and aspire to that and use it to motivate yourself.
But if you wind up writing a novel that becomes a Kate Hudson movie, that ain’t failure, my friend. That’s success. And if you’d rather not chance yourself to that kind of fate, there are always easier professions where success is more assured.
Such as pro football, the astronaut corps, or national politics.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.