Thursday, November 3, 2011

Give to me the stories that are not

Ben Godby relaxing on his day off.
I got an interesting rejection letter yesterday. I did a rewrite for a magazine that's expressed interest in my fiction a few times (namely in rewrite requests and personal rejections), but it was ultimately turned down by the head editor. That's fine, but what was curious was that the editor broke down an overall dissatisfaction with what I'd been submitting: that while, "as usual," it had nice descriptions (what I'd love to generalize as "poetic language," but let's forget that lack for the moment), it was, "as usual," lacking in "story."

This is interesting because she's right - at least in the primary market notion of "story" as the evolution of characters through challenges. I wrote stories like that for a while when I was on a binge of "story advice," hunting for "the formula" that would bring me success. However, I always had trouble cranking those out, because I don't inherently have interest in characters as a writer. I love reading about characters, but I don't like to mould that kind of story myself (i.e. I'm bad at it). Me, I prefer to deal in ideas.

It took me a long time to realize this. I actually recently went back to the archives from my early days of writing and realized that I had construed those works as "bad" or "poor writing" precisely because they didn't conform to the normal set of objectives for marketable fiction. I used a lot of first person, a lot of passivity, a lot of unresolvability, a lot of ideas and, generally speaking, a preference for anti-movement or even regression rather than change or transformation. The story in question above, that was rewritten and then rejected, was actually a very old story, and it fit this form exactly: in it, nothing happens.

Of course, nothing happening is a great foundation for meditating on various facts of life. I'm reminded of a rant by Aliette de Bodard:

"I'm tired of plots that value individualism and egotism above all else; of heroes that always have to be the masters of their own fates, to be active and not take anything that life deals at them lying down (whereas most of the time, we lie down, we accept, we deal with what we have been given)..."

Suffice to say that, after various existential crises (I mean, whatever, right? Camus already did it), I'm going back to those forms. I don't know exactly what it is I'm writing now, but I think it's going to push me out of the running in a lot of markets. The philosophies driving me to write fiction that is interesting to me - as opposed to the philosophies that (I now shamefully admit) I followed in an attempt to please others - are incongruent with what most market-driven editors are looking for.


And now: Goat Horn tribute by awesome metal kids. I'll always have you, metal.



  1. I'm sure it was Stephen King who said in one of his many afterwords to something that there were two kinds of writer: The literary and the popular. Write for yourself or write for others.

    Well, I'm adding to it: There are idea writers and there are character writers.

    I'm a writer of characters, and they have ideas.

    You, sir, are a literary bastard. (OOH BURNED)

  2. No, no, I'm the literary equivalent of immaculate conception: I'm the son of Ideology and the great mindsperm of the ancients!

  3. "The Son of Ideology vs. The Great Mindsperm of the Ancients" is your new sword-and-sandal epic. Set in ancient Greece. Possibly in a cave, shadows cast all over the place, etc. etc. Make it happen, Idealer.

    (Imagine the cover art!)

  4. I'm finding myself at this place exactly. I'm all for experimenting right now. The issue with me is that I not only like to deal with concepts, but the only times I'm interested in characters is when I'm doing villains and the emotional depth and shadings behind these psychopaths. Or you know, play around with different genders and body parts that should not go there.