Genre Influences On My Novel Writing, by Onil Lad
Times change and you can’t read the same story over and over again forever. I gave up on Epic Fantasy when I could no longer take it seriously. Perhaps I’d become cynical. I moved on to the Bookers, the Pulitzers and everything in between. I even read books that were allegedly ‘beautifully’ written.
My mistake in walking away from a familiar genre became clear when I started writing my novel. I knew what I wanted to say and the way I wanted to say it, but I was stuck on the plot. I couldn’t think in terms of realism. The reason I started reading in the first place was to escape from reality.
I used to poke fun at those who only read fantasy – you don’t know what else you’re missing out on. Not a lot, as it turns out. They were right, of course. Read for sheer escapism, avoid the confusion, find your niche and when the time comes to write, plunder the rich-vein of what you know inside out. That’s what I should have done.
I thought back to all the sprawling fantasy series’ that I’d missed out on – Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books, George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones books, Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen books, the Shannara books by Terry Brooks and heaps more. I should’ve been an expert in the field by now, reeling off epic plots at will.
What can you do? The past will haunt you forever, but you can’t go back and undo what you did. I would have had millions of words to catch up on and I’d grown even more cynical then when I quit.
There was a new genre in town – Urban Fantasy. I developed a taste for paranormal noir, especially stories concerning a down and out Private Investigator with a chip on his shoulder, trying to make his way in today’s broken old world. This brand of Dystopian Urban Fantasy was well suited to the bitter cynic in me. I came up with a plot within the genre, with my own peculiar twist.
But after reaching thirty thousand words, not even half a first draft, I paused to review how far I’d come. It felt contrived, clichéd and all wrong. I’d followed the rules, created an outline and filled in the blanks, but it lacked any spark.
Around this time, I stumbled upon the sci-fi works of Philip K. Dick. His books said everything. They touch you in that place that tells you the world has fallen to pieces, you’ve been dumped on from above, the whole deal is rotten, but if you battle on regardless, you can still find your way.
By today’s standards, his writing isn’t all that flash though. The male and female characters speak with the same voice and the dialogue is nothing special. But he’s got his own style and it’s not about the joy of language. He pulls it off because the story is so far out there and his books have spirit. None of them are dull and they all deliver that final emotional hit.
In the latest one that I read, Now Wait for Last Year, there are insect-like aliens called Reegs, an addictive time-travelling drug called JJ-180 and every other corny 70’s sci-fi trope. The end result is just the same as those Pulitzer and Booker prize winners and ultimately, because of the sheer craziness, it gives you more.
Going back to my first draft, I thought, so what if there are a few clichés stuck in there? They’ll all come out in the wash eventually. The goal has always been to get a first draft done. Philip K. Dick used every cliché imaginable and still came up with the goods. I thought about how I could translate the feel of his books into Urban Fantasy. I tweaked my plot, focussed on the craziness and people’s reactions when the world they think they know comes apart in the most ridiculous way. At the moment, it may be a bit hit and miss in places, but that can worked on. It’s the feeling at the end that counts.
You’re meant to read widely but meandering into literary fiction never helped me getting my novel done. Philip K. Dick stuck to what he knew. Each of his books follows an agenda and delivers in its own unique way.
To create something different in a familiar genre is where I want to get to, but I’m not quite there yet.
If I’d have stuck to Epic Fantasy, I don’t think it would have taken me so long to get this far.
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