I’m sick as a very sick dog, so this will be brief and a little truculent. We should try harder. Far be it from me to tell anyone else what to do. However, I want more and better books to read. What am I ranting about? I’m angry at writing “by the numbers.”
I once got into a discussion where a fellow writer challenged me to define what I meant. I replied that he already knew what I meant and he had the grace to say, “Well, yeah.”
However, in case anyone is unclear, I’m talking about books that are too predictable and the tread is gone on their plots.
I’m talking about writing that is too safe. It can race along, but feels like it’s on the Indianapolis oval, always that predictable left turn. Race that car through the woods and duck some trees and crash through the stands!
When I see a cover that looks like all the other covers of a genre and read a sample that seems interchangeable with a dozen other books, I admit, I don’t go in with high expectations (or I don’t look further). Different gets eyeballs, if it’s good different. You don’t find good different without risking bad different.
No one sets out to write a bad book. There aren’t any really bad books because every author can find a raging fan for anything. There are only books that are not to your particular taste. What’s death to art is catering to one bland taste. That’s the lowest common denominator. There’s room for that and lots of people will buy it, sure, but is bland why you wanted to be a writer? It’s certainly not why I’m a reader.
Here’s what isn’t to my taste:
If the title is indistinguishable from six other titles in the genre and the plot sounds too much like all the others, it’s possible the manuscript emerged not from a printer, but from a hamburger grinder.
Take a damn risk!
Make an unpopular or forbidden artistic choice once in a while! Cross a genre boundary. Use poetic language instead of one steady drone of minimalism. Don’t kill someone when it’s the easy way to solve a plot problem. Then kill a beloved character. Do something in your art that isn’t easily defined. Try something new instead of writing the same book over and over.
Yes, I know many authors write the same book again and again to great success. Yes, I know some (dumb) readers won’t be receptive to you taking chances. They’ll say “I don’t get it,” or “This wasn’t what I expected and I’m uncomfortable with how the story strayed.”
The story never strays. The story goes where it’s supposed to go. It’s where the author wrote it. Maybe the author didn’t write enough small words. Or maybe the author failed to make a satisfying end or a believable context or a dozen other variables that are the author’s fault. But please, dare to be different somehow.
Don’t aspire to be Hemingway or King or anybody else. Strive to develop your unique voice.
My friend, author Shermin Kruse, risks being branded “experimental” by allocating a part of her debut novel, Butterfly Stitching, to the form of a screenplay. It’s not experimental or dense. It’s cool. (I’ll let you know when the book comes out.)
Follow her lead. Do something unexpected. Some writers will say you shouldn’t. Most readers will appreciate that you did.
Now go write. And REACH!