This is HARD. I am in a pickle.

“We all know why this book was written. There is no doubt 99% of dystopias published during the last year or so have been trying to at least partially replicate the success of the trilogy.”~ Excerpt of a review I just read

This raised a flag for me. First things first: published in the last year means they were written years ago, Lord knows how long so no, we don’t “know” why it was written or that the author was familiar with HG when it was.

The problem with genre fiction is that people read one – whichever is the most successful – and then get caught on all the similarities between it and whatever is released after – similarities that might exist, btw, because of the genre and its definition. Make a list of the differences before making hyperbolic statements, please. (This is not to say there aren’t a bunch of copycats out there. But as a writer, I can tell you that the idea of reading someone else’s work and then getting inspired to write an entire book – you do know something about what and how much time that process entails, yes – is really unrealistic.) What I’m saying to the reader, then: insofar as you are able, read the book for this book. Unless it forces upon you its similarities to another, don’t force it yourself. Otherwise, don’t read more than one book in a genre, particularly one as particular as dystopia.

More on what bugs mewritten on vacation last month. Very blunt. You’ve been warned.

“Show, don’t tell” is an adage best left to high school teachers insisting upon critical analysis and the defense of one’s conclusions. As far as writers go, it’s pretty useless. And before you barrage me with the number of agents who’ve insisted upon this (S-don’t-T), please remember that reader enjoyment, quality and agent assessment are not necessarily linked. Crit partners would be wise to take this lesson, as well. Attempting to create a set of rules for how an artist should proceed leads to uniformity at best and mediocrity at worst. And before you storm my beaches with “this is a business”, lemme say, duh. But it’s also an art. (Sometimes.) The art is why there’s a business to begin with. (If those last sentiments doesn’t seem to follow absolutely with where we began, it’s probably because they sit above any such discussion.)

Feel free not to describe precisely how your character’s eyes drooped at the corners, how her shoulders were heavy, etc. At least not every time. You can actually use words like melancholy, sad, despondent. In my opinion both as a reader and a writer, trying to show that can lead to overly wordy and melodramatic passages. And as character is the reason I read (and write) if you make me roll my eyes or forcibly exhale, I’m no longer enjoying the story.

There are things so much worse than telling – particularly because in beautiful literature, telling can work so well. (Language, you see, is the reason some writers write in the first place.)

Thing, the first: Attempting to foster doubt by having the character question or disbelieve the obvious. There’s nothing worse than this, for me. If we all know the motivation of another character and – in routine human interaction – so would anyone? Don’t force me to wade through her unsubstantiated wonderment. Wait, you can’t. I’ll just skim or stop reading.

Thing, the second: Particularly in first person (apparently), having the character describe strong predilections or desires for which there is no apparent basis or foundation. In this way, it’s easier to write a weak character than a strong one. If – for example – a young female character has a strong desire to needlessly perform death defying acts? And I’ve been given no history, no sense of this? Or worse, her interaction with others doesn’t support this? That, my friends, is telling. That is. You are insisting upon a characterization you haven’t composed. I am expected to take your word for it and that’s not gonna happen. Telling me she felt angry? Not a problem. Telling me she’s Evil Knievel? Prove it. Preferably before the plot depends on it.

Thing, the third: Describing any operation, mechanism or action in more than minor detail. How the harness/pulley situation functioned to allow your MC to scale that wall. The inner workings of any piece of machinery. Basically anything where it is assumed my brain doesn’t function properly enough to suggest its own solution. The longer the description, the more likely (guaranteed) you are to disrupt the image in my head. Trust the reader, please. With this and to come to their own conclusions about the relationships between characters. It’s sort of how (most times) guys don’t actually stop and go, “Will you be my girlfriend?” You’ve been here the whole time, you’ve seen and felt how this was progressing. Please don’t have your character muse and ruminate (to an unreasonable extent) about a situation like I need a guide.

So yes, my love and roots are in literary fiction, where characters and language are king. I love high concept, love dystopian especially, but seriously am getting tired of seeing the same trend of informing the reader, insisting upon some things and then refusing to tell other completely tellable things.

If we’re all gonna follow a formula for how a book should start, what language should be used to describe it, who the character should be – why have more than one writer? All that will matter is who gets their book published first and then everything else in the genre will just be comparative reading. THIS for the first time is a situation where I can understand wondering about self or e-pubbing instead of the traditional route. Though it’s not for me, at least not in the beginning stages of a career. Just because I love high concept doesn’t mean I want to write the same book, the same way and I especially don’t want someone supposing what the reader – for whom, by the way, I’m writing – will like to the point of forcing a set of criteria on every book that crosses the desk.

Present day: I have absolutely been guilty of AT LEAST overwriting. I actually find that writing to a word count goal encourages that. Revision is the only way not to fall into any or all of the abovementioned traps, a mon avis.

Further to this – I am still undecided on how useful reviews are to the writer. I tend to think it would be useless to read them once the book is published, but that’s a post for another time. I can tell you that if the reviews I’ve been reading are any indication, a lot of assumptions about the *writing* of books are made that are absolutely ignorant and absolutely impact the validity of the review. Again. Another time.

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5 thoughts on “This is HARD. I am in a pickle.

  1. Furzer to dis, it’s all subjective. I often find in literature that first the author will show, then tell. Think Olivia Benson.

    Stabler: “We found the knife in Jimmy’s apartment with the blood still on it”.

    Benson: (with a strained look on her face to show how hard the wheels are turning) “So Jimmy is the killer”.

    End scene….

    Like

    • Best Olivia conclusion:
      M.E.: Everyone gets their mitochondrial DNA from their mother. This mother and son have *too* much in common.
      Elliot: More than half of their DNA matches. They have the same father.
      Olivia: (Same strained look – not realizing the conclusion has already been stated) This baby is the product of incest!

      Like

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