Month In Review with Steve Rossiter (January 2013)
The Writing Novels in Australia 2013 line-up was launched on January 1st with a diverse range of aspiring novelists, early-career novelists and established novelists in Australia as monthly contributors. Each monthly contributor now has their first Writing Novels in Australia article online.
The purpose of these Month In Review articles is to:
– provide a handy list of links to the articles for the past month, then to
– relate some of the content of these articles to my own novel writing to help novel writers and other interested people discover the month’s content and gain some insights into ways the month’s content can be engaged with in a practical context.
Articles for January 2013
This month’s articles and writing my novel
Get your novel written… your way… but for readers
Jenn J McLeod quoted Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Jenn then added her own maxim: “Believe. Be Brave. Be business-like.”
Kelly Inglis quoted: “Don’t be afraid of who might read your writing – write what you want!”
Ben Marshall wrote: “We write to love and be loved, so we don’t feel so alone. Even surrounded by family and friends, the need to connect with others is strong. We might not want to meet our readers, but we do want to introduce them to our colourful cast of characters, and take them on a journey.”
Greg Barron wrote: “Luckily, “What you know” [in the context of ‘write what you know’], is a very fluid term. You are an intelligent, curious creature. “Write what interests you,” might be a better maxim. You can learn enough to write about just about any topic, but absorbing knowledge to a level necessary for writing a book is not a matter of spending ten minutes on Wikipedia.”
Alison Booth wrote: “I wrote the novel from six viewpoints. Some people have subsequently told me that this is not ‘fashionable’, but fortunately for me I didn’t know that then. Each character’s perspective contributes to the whole because of their distinct plot lines and their idiosyncratic opinions, and that’s why I chose six points of view.”
“Writers write,” is a truism worth emphasising, as everything else to do with your novel is hypothetical unless you actually write it. Helene Young discussed how an intensive period of getting the words down, such as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), works or her. Philippa Fioretti pointed out the “symbiotic process between putting the words down and generating ideas”, whereby writing generates further ideas which, when written, generate even more ideas, and so on until a novel is complete – or, as Lia Weston put it when describing her own experience: “What if….?” became “…and then what?”. However you do it, you can’t get away from the fact that writers write; writing is not all helicopters and Las Vegas holidays, to borrow a phrase I heard recently in relation to this.
A common sentiment from numerous contributors in January was to write what interests you rather than write according to a formula. Writing what interests you, and what you are knowledgable about, is a good idea. You may also want to consider which of the things that interests you also appeals to a reasonable number of readers – especially if you’re aiming for your novel to be published with a major publisher. Something that theoretically has wide appeal my also run into trouble finding readers or getting picked up by a major publisher if a market is already saturated with similar novels.
I developed the concept for the novel I am currently drafting, a teen historical novels set in 1939 Poland, out of an interest in writing something which has characters readers will connect with and a level of knowledge behind the story which implicitly encourage people to actively learn more after reading the novel, while being an entertaining story which looks at human behaviour and relationships between people.
For whatever reasons, 1939 Poland stood out as an interesting time and place where I could do this, and I settled on Bydgoszcz in western Poland as the primary setting. 1939 Poland, and Bydgoszcz in particular, is a setting which provides highs and lows of human behaviour intermingled in a small geographical area. 1939 Poland is also a setting with resonance for a vast range of people around the world but which is uncommon in English language fiction. Many people around the world learn about the German invasion of Poland in 1939, but this is usually limited to Germany’s Blitzkreig strategy and the rise of mobile mechanised warfare, and high-level political tensions over the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Novels and films dealing with WW2 Poland tend to focus on Warsaw or the Holocaust, whereas my focus will be on Poles (not specifically Jewish Poles, and the period depicted is before the infamous ghettos and concentration camps were in place in Poland) and Germans (not just German soldiers and other agents of the German government, but also ethnic German civilians who resided in Poland during the inter-war years).
The premise involves a teenage boy from Bydgoszcz, Poland who discovers at the outbreak of WW2 that he was adopted and his biological parents intend to take him to Berlin, but he has other other ideas. The story follows his efforts to put his Polish family back together amidst the German invasion and occupation.
So, it’s something which interests me, has wide appeal amongst potential readers around the world and has originality or freshness in relation to the bulk of the novels already available.
My intention with this novel-in-progress is to engage readers emotionally with a good story while providing in-roads into discovering more about life in 1939 Poland/Bydgoszcz than they would normally encounter in history books and high school or university subjects, to help people enhance their understanding of the world and human behaviour while being entertained along the way.
Descriptive and prescriptive concepts of genre
Onil Lad wrote: “To create something different in a familiar genre is where I want to get to…”
Belinda Dorio wrote: “Writing novels shouldn’t be like doing math. I believe there is no magic formula for writing, no matter what people say. And even if certain books do follow a pre-defined plot pathway and get published, most readers aren’t fooled.”
Concepts of genre can be descriptive, where a particular label is used to describe the novel a writer has written, or prescriptive, where a set of criteria are followed to write a novel.
I have referred to my novel-in-progress as a teen historical novel. I mean this in a descriptive sense: the main character is a teenager and the novel is set in 1939. I would like the novel to appeal to teenage readers and also to adult readers. The main character is at a pivotal point of his life, as a teenager separated from his family by war, and the novel is set amidst the German invasion and first few months of occupation of western Poland; a pivotal point in the history of Poland, Europe and the world. I am not modelling the novel on a specific set of ‘teen genre conventions’ or ‘historical novel conventions’, but of course the end result could be described in reference to other teen novels or historical novels and such descriptions may be further generalised and related to genres of novels. I could just as easily describe it as a wartime novel, a coming-of-age novel, or a novel of family and friendship.
Concepts of genre tend to be categorising and marketing strategies used to help readers more efficiently find the kinds of novels they want to read and to help publishers more efficiently reach the people most likely to be interested in reading particular novels.
Using concepts of genre prescriptively runs the risk of cliched, or overly-simplistic and formulaic, results. Much bigger concerns for me as I write my draft are creating:
– characters with compelling personalities and motivations;
– a story with strong narrative momentum to which readers can attribute meaningful themes; and
– a satisfying depiction of the historical setting which serves the purpose of helping to show the story of my characters, as part of a novel which entertains, enlightens and stands up to expert scrutiny.
However, concepts of genre will be important for how the final novel is presented, for concisely communicating the gist of the novel to potential readers and for making it easier to find for people looking for such a novel.
Writing Novels in Australia