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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Monday, June 12, 2006

my little blockbuster

Summer heat is setting in. Kimmie is off work with her cold. I'm balancing my own writing with a copywriting job on the side.

Today another book arrived in the mail (yippee!), always a treat. This one is Writing the Blockbuster Novel by the literary agent Albert Zuckerman, who has represented Ken Follett, among others. I look forward to it, since I enjoy informed, technical advice on how to improve the commercialness of writing, even though I am not a "commercial" writer.

What am I really trying to say here. I am not a commercial writer in the sense that I mean: that is, someone for whom the commercial aspect of writing--making money--is at or near the top of his priority list. The cash-starved creative writer is an ancient character, and has included most important literary authors as well as mainstream hit authors such as Stephen King. I've been one myself--am one myself--and I didn't like it. Most genre writers and other professional income-earning authors are under pressure to turn out a book a year or so in order to pay their bills.

Fair enough. Other writers are more like artists, who can't or won't (or don't have to) subordinate their creative standards to the need to earn a living from writing. Here I think of writers such as James Joyce and Franz Kafka and Malcolm Lowry. They put the quality of the project at the top of the priority list, and then make ends meet as best they can. While I don't pretend to be in the same quality bracket as these writers, they represent the values that I hold in writing: quality.

On the other hand, I am not a "literary" writer. I don't put any value on having an elevated or poetic prose style, or deliberately frustrating readers' plot expectations, or creating work that anyone might be tempted to call "experimental". I regard all those things as low-hanging fruit, and not productive of enjoyable reading experiences.

No. For me the top literary value is storytelling. Yes: I'm saying that a novel with a well-crafted story is of higher literary value than a more overtly academic or experimental or poetic work whose story is weak or absent. As Robert McKee says, writing is relatively easy; storytelling is hard.

And storytelling, of course, is a "commercial" quality. Books with strong stories sell well, because this is what readers--virtually all readers--are looking for. It is rarely achieved. I believe that most breakout bestsellers--those novels that propel a new author to the bestseller lists--have good stories. (Most books on the bestseller list, on the other hand, are by brand-name authors who at some time in the past wrote a good story, and who enjoy the good fortune of a loyal audience even though their follow-up works are not as good.)

So, I have bought Zuckerman's book (on the advice of the Grumpy Old Bookman, by the way, who used to be a client of Zuckerman's as well), not so much to turn my opus into a by-the-numbers blockbuster (no chance of that, and no interest either, since most "bestsellers" are boring to me), but to learn what he has to say about the crafting of story to create a "big" book. I hope to make it better by my own criteria; if I also make it more saleable, then so much the better.



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1 Comments:

  • very interesting, i just finished my 1st edit of a novel last night (very very late) and i guess now I'm stuck and not sure what to do.

    i assume i should begin trying to find an agent? and continue editing & looking for people to critique my work.

    --RC of strangeculture.blogspot.com

    By Blogger RC, at June 12, 2006 9:11 PM  

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