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Monday, 31 October 2016

Challenging the Norm in Writing

From my other blog: 11 June 2015

There's this interesting concept which is all the rage in modern literature: subversion. Essentially it's the idea of challenging the norm (hence the blog title - isn't that obvious!) in writing. You see it in popular fantasy for instance, which is a genre I do read plenty of, whereby new authors attempt to make their work stand out from the mass of 'Tolkien clones' (read: Eragon, The Sword of Shannara, The Wheel of Time etc.) that all follow a kind of Joseph Campbell's 'hero's journey' concept. What I would like to touch on, therefore is that there is this idea that doing the subversive is somehow equivalent to strong writing. And I wish to insist that this is certainly not the case.

It's an amusing concept because every so often there are fantasy books that come out where a whole bunch of readers go 'oh that's new and different' because of one key fantasy trope or archetype that is subverted. For example how Game of Thrones has most of the main characters killed off at different stages or how Prince of Thorns (to use an obscure example) has a villain as the main protagonist. Or again how some authors like China Mieville write fantasy fiction which is just weird. But these subversions do not equal a great novel. If they did then all anyone would need to do to write a great, new, unique novel is research all the common archetypes and simply write a novel that does precisely the opposite. I expect that such a novel would last a mere ten pages before the protagonist falls off a cliff and the dark lord (who was actually the supposed hero) conquers the known world because no prophecy about the chosen one who would stop them by discovering their weakness (and by the way this dark lord has no weakness) came true.

I have read novels which subverted common ideas in their genre which were terrible. I have read novels which did the same and were terrific. I have read novels which were mediocre subversions. The one thing which separated these novels regardless of whether they used ideas which were 'the norm' in their genre or not was the quality of the writing and the storytelling. Novels like The Lord of the Rings, Mistborn and The Name of the Wind all follow a kind of 'hero's journey' archetype in a sense and while Mistborn subverts some key fantasy ideas it is still a kind of formulaic plot at its core. What made those novels stand out to me, however, is the fact that they all were beautifully written or told a story in a manner which was so thrilling or enticing. What readers want is not some superficial 'new idea' that will hold them for all of twenty seconds, they want depth to a story, something to hold onto and remember - though I do not like Game of Thrones I will admit that G.R.R Martin has done a great job of holding on to a large audience with some deeper qualities.

I feel that any new or aspiring authors can learn from this and need to know this before they write. Know your target audience and write a good strong, enticing story. If the story cannot be enjoyed by individuals outside of your target audience then it's probably not the greatest story. If your story is too fixated on one particular idea then it's probably not a strong story. However, if your story has heart, soul, a great plot and characters that people will care about then you are onto something,