Weekly post at The Night Bazaar: Heroes and Heroines by Thomas Roche at Night-Bazaar.com.
When it comes to writing, “Feedback,” of course, is the real F-word — an obscenity so strong that even Lenny Bruce was scared to utter it. I’ll get to that in a minute, but I’ve got a few things to say about that other F-word, first. I’m going to use it reluctantly, so I hope you’ll indulge me.
I’m not a writer who believes that the writing is in the rewriting. The writing, for me, is in the writing. There is a certain quality that needs to be there in a story or novel before rewriting will do me any good. There’s got to be something that burns at the center of it; the plot and the characters, and hopefully the setting, have to reach critical mass. If it doesn’t, I don’t think anything will save it. I find that more time will be wasted trying to save an uninspired story told in uninspired prose than would be spent starting all over again.
Starting all over again, sometimes, would also be — and here I use the F-word, as promised, only with a shudder.
Sometimes, starting all over again would be more fun.
My inner curmudgeon has the answer to that, by the way: Fun? So now writing is “fun”? Sure, whatever you say, guy. One published novel and he’s Bozo the Clown.
In the interest of not spending the next six months writing a whole book about it the way Henry Miller and Colin Wilson did, or spending another 4 hours writing another 6,000 words about 10 or 12 writers — the way I just did, oops — I’m going to pick three writers I’ve enjoyed very much, who are connected in strange ways, and talk about them: Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock and J.G. Ballard. They’re all dudes; sorry. I swear I’m not a sexist pig, but for the first twenty years of my life, my bookshelf was a bit of a sausage fest.
Incidentally, none of these writers is what would call the biggest writing influence on me in the fields of science fiction, fantasy, or horror. That dubious honor goes to Roger Zelazny. But given what I’ve been writing lately, Ballard, Howard and Moorcock give me a lot to sink my teeth into.
Before we get started, I advise you to ignore everything I say; I haven’t the foggiest idea how to write commercial books or get an agent. Sorry. But I do have a piece of advice I got from someone much smarter than me. A brilliant fantasy writer and wonderful person said something to me years ago that has stuck with me. It’s been helpful, and the fact that I’ve ignored it most of the time has been to my detriment. That’s why I bring it up now, in the discussion of getting an agent — because I think it might be the most important thing you can know in seeking an agent.
What she said was this: “Genre readers want 90% of the same stuff they’ve been reading, and 10% new.”
What she meant, obviously, is that people who have read Lord of the Rings want something like Lord of the Rings — but enough different from Lord of the Rings that it gives them a new experience. This doesn’t address the overall quality of the work, just its marketability over and above its being (hopefully) a damn good book.
I like the 90%-10% rule. You don’t have to accept it, obviously, and I’ve already admitted I don’t know what I’m talking about. Agree or disagree with me; the discussion is sure to prove interesting. I think plenty of people may yell and scream that I’m distilling genre writing down to product. I couldn’t agree with them more. It’s a highly dangerous enterprise to do so, because genre writing, to my mind, is where the true innovation in the literary world and in life actually comes from nowadays.