What to write?

Now you’ve chosen to become a writer, what kind of stories are you going to write? How do you decide what type of stories are going to appeal to people, or are going to sell to publishers? Would a wander around your local bookshop help you decide on a particularly popular theme, or maybe go on a trawl of the internet to pinpoint exactly what the latest, hottest trends are?

My advice is to forget all that. Yes, I know that Kathe Koja said very much the same thing in her guest-blog, but I think it’s worth reiterating: don’t worry about all that trying to jump on the bandwagon malarky. There are already too many publishing houses and authors willing to jump on any particular ‘thing’ that has captured the public’s imagination and then proceed to flood the market with imitations and rip-offs. Inevitably, this is why you’ll find stacks of books in bargain bins and in sales. The vein has been thoroughly bled dry and the public has already gone on to the next thing. And, of course, the cycle will begin anew.

Instead, write the type of material that you’d love to see in your ideal bookshop. In fact, write the species of story that that you would just love to read yourself. Just sit down and write it. Don’t worry too much about whether it’s good enough or not, just get it all down. Any tightening up that’s needed (and believe me, the story WILL need editing and rewriting, however brilliant you think it is) can be done afterwards.  For instance, Stephen Jones opined at a panel at the alt.fiction event that the best horror stories are those that have been inspired by things that genuinely scare the author. The idea being that if they frighten the author, and he writes the tale well enough, then it’s almost certain that he’ll scare the reader too. The same motivation can be applied to any genre of fiction – if you’re tired of seeing the same old formulas being trotted out and taking up valuable space on the bookshop shelves, maybe it’s time to stop complaining and sighing about it and write the book that YOU would like to see there.

For example, I’ve always wanted to write a fantasy book, but not the kind that seems to clutter up the shelf-space in bookstores. Neither would I want to write a trilogy, a modus operandi that appears to be de rigeur for fantasy. Instead, I want to remove it entirely from the typical fantasy milieu, remove some of the more obvious fantasy elements from it and yet have enough of a fantastical aura about it that it would unmistakably be classed as fantasy. I would also introduce ideas and themes that are not normally associated with fantasy.

Now, before you say anything, this has in all likelihood already been done before, as there is very little that hasn’t at least been attempted (George RR Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice cycle, perhaps?). Neither am I saying that I necessarily have the talent to pull something like this off. But that wouldn’t prevent me from having a go. I used to read a great deal of fantasy when I was younger and the only reason I don’t do so now is because I got tired of the repetitive formulaicism of much of that genre. Certainly in my experience, every book/trilogy I read had the same basic plot and used the same basic character templates, and all translated wholesale from the ‘bible’ that Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings has become. Of course, you can say that about any genre; however, whatever it is that I am writing, I hope that my work does have a modicum of originality about it – an increasingly difficult proposition, considering just how many gazillion words have been written over the millennia.

The bottom line is that there could be many who are crying out for the sort of book that you have in mind. And, who knows, you may just write the book that they’ve been hankering after for years but have never been able to get down to write themselves. You (and they) won’t know that unless you actually start writing it.

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2 Responses to “What to write?”

  1. Good stuff, sir. It’s an old truism, but it stands: write for yourself. Worry about the genre and the sales later.

    But regarding the fantasy genre – I’m baffled as to why the new genre writers feel the need to make their story a trilogy. FFS, as a new writer whichever book you write/story you tell, it should stand on its own. If the world is captivating enough to make a triogy, all well and good – but the first book should be a stand-alone story.

    Freshness. IMHO, that’s what all writing should be about. We’re all inspired by the masters who’ve gone before, whatever genre, but they know the true value of storytelling – that there are only a finite amount of stories, repetition is inevitable – but we love to hear/read those stories all over again.

    But not necessarily in a three-book box set!

    In a new light. And that is the challenge – and appeal – to us new writers. It’s not so much the story as the telling.

  2. Essentially, this is what I was attempting to get at in my piece – and that’s exactly what I was thinking when I wrote the blog… thanks Adrian…

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