Why Should I Read Your Novel? Why Should You Read Mine?

Why should I read your novel? Why should anyone? Only you know the answer to that, and you tell us by the story you choose to tell, the characters you choose to create, the themes you choose to develop.

We read not so much to escape our lives but to add meaning, understanding, and depth to our days. If we find nothing but the same old stories told in the same old ways, we come away from the experience intellectually and emotionally unsatisfied. If the characters don’t change in a fundamental way, if they don’t struggle with an idea bigger than they are, we don’t change either.

Too often when I finish reading a book, I wonder why I bothered. The story is stale, the characters undeveloped, the stakes trivial, the theme banal. This is particularly true of books written by prolific authors. After three or four books, they plagiarize themselves, using the same basic characters and plots they did before. Perhaps their first book was fresh, with something new to say, but that something becomes stale with each succeeding book.

Not being a published writer myself, I don’t know how to keep that from happening, especially in today’s book market where an author is expected to churn out a clone every year. And new writers are being steered into that same pattern. We’re told to write in the genre we read because obviously we like the genre and because we are familiar with its conventions. But perhaps the opposite is true. Perhaps we should write in a genre we don’t read so we don’t keep perpetuating clichés. We might unwittingly rehash old stories in the unfamiliar genre, but there is greater chance of saying something new.

My current work-in-progress is developing into an allegorical apocalyptic novel, which is bizarre because I don’t read that particular type of book; I don’t even know if that is a type. What isn’t bizarre, though, is all I am learning by writing in an unfamiliar genre. I may very well be writing a clichéd story — I have no way of knowing — but at least I am coming to it from my own unique viewpoint, not the distilled vision of all the authors who have gone before. And I am learning more about writing from this novel than any of my previous ones because I have to pull what comes next out of the creative ether, not from my memory of the stories I have previously read.

Without a mystery at its core as in my previous works, I have to search for other ways of adding tension to the story such as the inner conflicts that beset my hero. How much freedom is he willing to give up for security? How much security is he willing to give up for security? How much of freedom and security are illusory? And I am becoming cognizant of theme, symbols, and other mythic elements as ways of unifying disparate parts of the story.

So why should you read my book when it’s completed? Because, if I do it right, it will be an entertaining way for you come to terms with one of the major dilemmas facing us today, and it will take you into the life of a character whose conflicts and choices will help make sense of your own life.

At least, that’s the way story is supposed to work.

4 Responses to “Why Should I Read Your Novel? Why Should You Read Mine?”

  1. Jane Krenn Says:

    I like your approach to writing. I think originality is important. Creating it without the input of all these people who know how to do it to a tried and tested formula. My story has a starting point, a middle and an end but apart from that it lives as it is told. If a chapter has less than a full page and another one has eight pages, well, too bad. It did not want to develop the first one beyond that page (the limit of interest to the overall theme) and I did not want to split the longer one to create one of these neatly packaged books (I read them as well but don’t necessarily want to re-read them because they don’t bring me any new message about the human experience).
    My first novel has now gone to a publisher in its French original version and its second-best but enjoyable English version (I have been told by the readers who were polite or brave enough to comment). I am now working on the next one which has a bleaker view of mankind than the first. As you can see, I am also dealing with some of the fundamental dilemmas facing us, like forgiveness, being rootless or expat, deciding on one’s own attitude to life (well trying to reinvent oneself!)
    I look forward to reading your novel and I hope you will want to read mine!
    Jane Krenn

  2. K.S. Clay Says:

    Actually, I’ve come to agree with the “write in the genre you like to read” advice. After all, just because the author doesn’t know it’s a cliche when they write it doesn’t mean it’s not, and the reader won’t care if the author knew it or not. If the story reads the same as all of the other stories in that genre, the reader is going to say it’s cliche. Secondly, it’s not so much about the idea. It’s about the execution. You can give five writers the same basic plot ideas and come out with five completely different stories. I agree there are writers who end up writing essentially the same book over and over. But there are other writers who don’t. Stephen King is a prolific writer and yet each of his stories seems different to me. He does branch out in terms of genre, though, which I think is a good thing. A lot of the best writers do that (end up writing in a few different genres) and I think that helps when it comes to keeping their stories fresh. So far as I know they’re fans of each genre they write in, though.

  3. elizaw Says:

    I like writing in a genre I’m familiar with– if I didn’t know what has and hasn’t been done in fantasy, I’d have no idea where the boundaries are. And then how could I step outside of them?

    I think the most important thing about writing a book that people will want to read is to make it as good as you possibly can. Write it several times. Restructure the weak points. Edit, polish, elaborate, cut. I think that the majority of mediocre fiction is simply the authors not challenging themselves.

  4. imaginationoitanigami Says:

    I genuinely like everything that you said, and I agree with most of it. I have to say though that I do not always read to work out my own inner conflicts or life struggles on any level. In fact, very rarely is that my motivation for like/dislike in a novel. Many times I sincerely read for an escape, a trip to the other place meeting new people… I have to indentify with the main character in order for the escape hatch to open…

    an opinion: I think the best books to write are books which reflect characters in yourself and your own life. When people write about people and situations they cannot FEEL, it makes for dull characters and a dull book.


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