A Novel Style of Writing?

Here’s something you may find controversial: There is no fixed standard for good or effective creative writing; it changes over time.

That’s the notion I have been trying to take on board. If you read a novel – especially science fiction – written ten+ years ago the chances are it will be over 400 pages. I think back to those doorstop sized tomes and wonder if I could ever commit myself to one of those again. It would have to be exceptionally good or by an author I knew to be good (reviews notwithstanding). Nowadays I prefer them on Kindle, seeming less onerous to pick up.

But here’s the problem: I tend to dip into a book, and find it difficult to grasp just what the … heck is going on with the plot. Most recently this happened with an SF novel featuring at least five POV protagonists – that were connected to previous characters… The prose was well-written, technically fine (in a conventional way) yet I found it a struggle and felt relieved to finish. Now, maybe my attention span is deteriorating with age, or with the age. It’s hardly a new argument that technology could be making most of us easily distracted. The free time unlocked by lockdown has been not only an opportunity but a test. Perhaps not one that I passed.

When I look back to one of my own early novels I wonder how I (unfamiliar to it) could ever apply the requisite concentration to follow the story. And maybe I was behind the curve in realising that. The writer can feel hamstrung by the golden rule of show don’t tell, and the less than fully dedicated reader confused by a scene or plot point that subtly (if skillfully) shows you how the story is progressing, such as the character’s change in appearance or the way they speak. All that is undeniably good writing but there are times I’d prefer a little catch-up exposition. Well maybe this is a sign of my own failing.

So I’m having to adapt my own writing style, to keep the plot simple, from the point of view of one protagonist. But those rules…. Still aiming for the classic 100k words. And what a challenge that has been!

Links to my published fiction: The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK) Time Over (US)

Worlds Beyond Time (intro)

Stranger Than Fiction?

At this time it feels like reality has overtaken anything fiction can credibly produce. A killer virus; world economies on the brink of a collapse not seen in anyone’s lifetime; liberal governments becoming authoritarian, while autocratic rulers seize their perfect opportunity for increasingly draconian measures. Could any speculative writer have seriously considered this scenario?

Well maybe I’m watching too much news that can seem to revel in the drama, if not totally ignoring the positives such as how communities have rallied round.

While out for my permitted hour’s exercise, there was something post-apocalyptic about the town. Bonfire smoke clouded the otherwise clear air. (Bonfires are more common these days.) A strange quietness and calm had descended. A serenity even, away from the town square, in the bright sun. Life slowed down.

Maybe the world needs to be broken apart before it can be reconstructed, goes one line of thinking; force change to save the planet.

But now, like surely many fiction writers, I face a dilemma. Do I try to keep on my original track – as patchy as it is – if only to be consistent? Or be influenced by such an important moment in history?

 

Links to my published fiction: The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK) Time Over (US)

Worlds Beyond Time (intro)

To Carry On

It’s usually a personal crisis that overwhelms the creative ability; world events hardly ever. But now we humans are facing devastation from a surprisingly effective enemy, borne of a pathogen far less harmful to its original and entirely innocent host species (most likely a bat). And now fear, suspicion and paranoia are themselves spreading like a virus. You only need to see reports from continental Europe to believe we’ve already arrived at the dystopian future envisioned by many an SF writer. Thus the drama of reality can make writing fiction feel redundant.

But I try to carry on.

Being a writer means writing even when you don’t feel like it, those days when the muse just isn’t there. Days when it really feels like hard work. But I admit it, I’m faltering; struggling to find inspiration; can’t get into the fiction writing mode.

Inspiration was no problem with my first novel. If anything I felt overwhelmed by ideas, tried to pack so many into the narrative it read like three stories juxtaposed. A bit of a mess, admittedly. The second was more disciplined but still convoluted. And beyond I saw the need to narrow down the focus, with fewer POVs.

Now on my fifth I did the ultimate reduction to a first person perspective. Unless you’ve had some incredible interesting life to draw from, there is no challenge comparable in creative writing. It takes a whole new level of self-discipline. And I’ve certainly been struggling with that. I’m sure it helps to plan the structure of your novel; I started with a scene from the end but no idea how I will get there.

I read and listen with despair those writer/novelists who say they start at a certain time each morning, write for 5, 6 hours or set themselves a goal of 1500 words. I will, as long as I live, never be like those writers. They are people I admire as an amateur cyclist would a tour champion.

Links to my published fiction: The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK) Time Over (US)

Worlds Beyond Time (intro)

In hope of an epiphany

The greatest fear of most creative writers is not commercial failure, it is failure to find the next big idea. I mean, you can fail just as I have, and even accept a project will never be a success. What keeps me going (writing) is the belief some epiphany or revelation is just round the corner – that sudden insight. Yes, it’s gotta be about… It’s the breakthrough that will get my name in lights. What I’m talking about is faith in my own creative ability, however irrational that may be.

Right now I am working on a novel about a man who suspects the world will end very soon, and is given the chance to stop it. Well that may not be the most original of ideas, I’ll grant you, so I need some unique twist on it. After all, it’s said there are only seven truly original stories.

Some may well call such faith in my creativity deluded if not over-confident, but it’s not anything like certainty. It is hope. And how many times I have concluded there will never be another novel, I’d rather not recount. Even this current one I will not feel like it can ever be finished until I get past the milestone of 50,000 words (which I’m so tantalizingly close to passing).

How difficult it must be for those whose livelihood depends on the next big idea, those who set themselves targets – yearly, monthly, daily. The pressure I can hardly imagine, which must take a special kind of self-discipline!

I’ve never planned my novels in advance; never written an outline. To me that would take some special talent I can barely comprehend. There have been times when it seemed there was no way forward; classic writer’s bock. A bit like depression, when you struggle to envisage things ever resolving – life being okay.

But even in the darkest hour there is always the prospect of light.

 

Links to my published fiction: The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK) Time Over (US)

Worlds Beyond Time (intro)

 

 

 

http://www.adriankyte.com/

 

The Three Novel Problem

Four words writers fear most from a potential reader: So what’s it about?

If someone were to ask me to summarize a novel, one I have been spending the last 3+ years committed to, I’d like to think I wouldn’t disappoint them. Surely not if I had my synopsis written down, all agent-submission prepared. And yet, responding to a question about themes, or deeper meanings, well, I’d be struggling. The same would apply with my last two novels. But at least I would be in good company, for that is what acclaimed novelist Cixin Liu (The Three-Body Problem) was tasked to do by a reporter; questions about his fiction sourced from a Chinese mid-grade school text book. He got them all wrong. In his defence he responded: “I don’t begin with some conceit in mind. I’m just trying to tell a good story.” As a multi-million selling author his work, of course, has been well analysed.

Since, it’s fair to say, my work hasn’t been I can produce most any answer and sound convincing. So my sympathy goes out to Cixin Liu. Much of creative writing operates on a subconscious level. For me, it’s about progressing the story, making it interesting and entertaining. And just good. Maybe some big issue of the day influences my protagonist’s actions and dialogue or even the story arc. But to suppose there is some profound plan behind the plot, or intentional allegory, is to ascribe a level of awareness beyond anything I’ve managed to attain.

My problem now has been unearthing the central themes and deeper meanings of my novel to pitch in a submission. I could say it’s about the nature of time, of memory; sentience; lost love; obsession; displacement; isolation; loneliness; the dangers of technology, of power; the need to find a greater purpose; sacrifice. I’d be tempted to say: it’s about all the things that matter in contemporary life transposed into a future universe. For all that would achieve.

Links to my published fiction: The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK) Time Over (US)

http://www.adriankyte.com/

Writer’s block – me?

Writer’s block is not something I used to believe in. If you were stuck, I thought, it was simply due to a lack of effort; a block can always be navigated around.

Now at the quarter way point into my latest novel I am struggling to write more than eight hundred words in a week. It seemed the best cure is to seek inspiration, find a book that resonates with what I am hoping to write. So I turned to a classic: Flowers for Algernon. It was not that I wanted to write a similar book (my protagonist is brain boosted from an early age to fulfill a top secret project). But in reading this SF masterwork I was in awe at some of the writing – the depiction of a man who goes from ‘retard’ (yes it’s an old book with outdated terms) to ubergenius, and the interweaving of a tragic love story.

So how can I even hope to compete with such a science fiction classic, I wondered to myself. Well, for a start there is no point in writing something comparable that can only end up as a pastiche. I have to find my own voice, the one that distinguishes my style of writing.

And yet. I see the standard. I see the level of the bar and feel my limbs go weak at the thought of trying to vault it. This is the problem of when – as a writer – you encounter another writer who you know has set an example, one you imagine could be used by the literary agent that rejects your latest.

So somehow I have to not fixate on writing a classic. There’s maybe some analogy in sport, or academia; observing the star talent and thinking: why should I even bother to compete? But no one can know the effort, or the time, the greatest put in to become just that.

Then, be positive? Of course, but it’s always a challenge!

Links to my published fiction:  The Captured (US)  The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

http://www.adriankyte.com/

Rejection and Beyond

One good thing about rejection: it focuses the mind. Makes you realise how much getting published matters.

After three years of writing, rewriting, and rethinking, I submitted my novel to an agent. And then soon regretted it, but none so much as now. Yet another revision was needed. The synopsis was, frankly, badly written. I’d made the mistake of setting myself a deadline (to send it off just before my holiday). Deadlines are dangerous!

It was not that the agent left a critique – they rarely give feedback, but said he had to completely love a book to take it on. Not a high bar to clear? Well of course it always is. Confronted with hundreds of submissions a month I’d be rejecting all too readily, probably much of what ends up being traditionally published to great success. Even if all was in my chosen SF genre.

My rejection happened after more than 3 months since submitting it. Really, by then I’d reconciled myself to the fact that it would not be accepted. Then I saw the email had appeared, and I must admit to being afraid to read it for a while; a prepare-yourself-to-be-stung moment. But after so much time, to receive a short rejection borders on insulting. Maybe it got left in a must reject folder with a time-code, and he thought leaving it this late would lessen the blow. No it doesn’t! Ten weeks has previously been the longest wait, and they said they had been giving it careful consideration.

But it’s never a bad thing to have to go back to a previous (apparently) finished work after a few months, even in a state of despondency. You see it with completely fresh and certainly more critical eyes; whereas before, you’re still emotionally caught up in that grand literary project. Hardly surprising after over 3 years of it.

Still, I learned not set myself a deadline for the next submission. Just keep on with the next grand project.

Links to my published fiction:  The Captured (US)  The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

http://www.adriankyte.com/

The Function of Fiction

…is to make my life better.

At least I look for a novel to make me feel better. But maybe of late my demands have become unreasonable. Should its purpose be to solve my problems, to find answers to unresolved (if not unresolvable) issues?

A good story is no longer enough. Now it’s difficult to find a book to fill that void; reading the blurb, the first few pages, or even the reviews may only give a clue in my search. Just as well, then, I’m not a literary agent!

So my own work should be aiming for such an exemplary standard, right? The only problem is, if you use your novel for laying out a psychological fix it can come across as indulgent. It shouldn’t be therapy. But that’s how it can feel. There’s only the hope that others will relate to the protagonist’s issues. Of course sometimes that happens – and you’re on to a winner! Some of my most inspired writing has come from a dark place.

I’ve never been sure if fiction should always have a function beyond entertainment. If its enjoyable then that’s a lot; humorous or just fun – it’s a big achievement by the author!

Yet I can’t seem to pin down the ultimate value of fiction. In a novel you can be in another person’s shoes – they don’t have to be the hero or even relatable – and understand their thoughts and feelings in a way that’s usually only hinted at in movies. A novel gives you knowledge interwoven in the narrative rather than merely dry facts; though so much of mainstream [so-called] Science Fiction has steered away from the scientific, of late. Well maybe that’s fine if it’s entertaining, if it makes you feel better.

Since I am writing the kind of books I like to read it’s impossible to be sure if I am writing for anyone other than myself.

Links to my fiction:  The Captured (US)  The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

Cover Design Quandary

How much difference does a front cover make to sales of a novel? Given the volume of new books published, combined with the millions of existing titles, I would say a big difference. If the author is not famous or lacks a dedicated online following you’ve got to try every trick in the, em, book to catch the attention of the time-poor viewer. In my own case about a second.

I’ve been troubling with the challenge of grabbing attention for my own novel, The Captured. The first cover design – by myself – I grew to hate: It somehow looked simultaneously clever and amateurish, suggesting “this is not your conventional presentation of a Science fiction novel.” Not that even I’m sure what the conventional standard is, let alone what’s appropriate. So I changed it but kept a minimalist design. Changed it within the constraints of using free software. But I’m still not entirely happy with it – not professional enough. Then it has to be worth considering getting a professional to design it.

Subgenre-ization (if that can be a word) should make front cover design easy for SF. Except mine doesn’t easily fit into any of those. Can we blame Amazon for such pigeon-holing? I’m sure that works fine for most authors and readers. I guess there’s no perfect solution. For a start you can often guess the demographic the novel is aimed at within a second, though it can all become homogenized (dystopian SF anyone?) where you might wonder about its originality.

In the last decade literary novels have tended more to use ultra minimalist front covers, whereas genre fiction more commonly features fine artwork and detailed illustrations. Taking the minimalist approach, then, might seem pretentious; but going for the elaborate, and highly descriptive, artwork is a time – and possibly money – consuming exercise, which can give a false impression if it’s not judged just right.

So how much does a front cover matter? Well, if you’re already a famous author, not all that much – as your books are far less likely to be merely stumbled upon. For the 99.9etc percent of us writers it is the quickest portal to our undiscovered masterpiece work.

Links to my fiction:  The Captured (US)  The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

Reflections on Rejections

Surely it’s the time most writers dread: those weeks (and sometimes months) waiting for a reply from an agent. After analyzing the odds, the percentage of submissions rejected, I defy any writer not to be worried. Or to not feel despondent when the rejection does come.

Personally I’d reject most of what I see, not just from debut authors but a lot of professional writers. But then I’d make a bad literary agent: too quick to judge, not being open to something that seems unconnected with my life on any easily accessible level. In particular, science fiction (which, actually, I mostly read) can seem forbidding initially. And, perhaps like most readers, I also rely too much on reviews and reputation. The challenge these days is finding something new and special among the sheer welter of books.

Now that my own work is out there to be assessed by those who are still thought of as the gatekeepers to the literary world, I’m wondering if what i’ve submitted is going to be judged so hurriedly. It would be interesting to know the exact process of each agent: how much is determined by that first page, chapter or synopsis – where I feel I’ve already failed (see Synopsis Hell).

After my last book Time Over had been rejected a few times, I did some rewriting then self published. How tempting it is these days to just give up on the traditional route. Because rejections are troubling if not painful; you read into each word, wondering what s/he truly felt behind the polite or diplomatic language. Well, I guess I have more of that to look forward to in the near future.

http://www.adriankyte.com/