Sunday, November 15, 2009

Expecting someone taller

Ok so the movers arrive this morning, the Pets-en-transit guys to take the dats and cogs to quarantine too, and I still have a ton of sorting out to do (I'm attacking the last and worst now - my manuscripts) And that of course brings up a perennial old chestnut. "It's new! (and this makes it good)."
1)It ain't. Accept it as gracefully as you can, some aspects may be 'new' (and those are indeed something unusual) but all of human writing is derivative in some way. This does not take a rocket-scientist work out, and if you're still kidding yourself your work is ALL new, either you have read next to nothing (in which case you really need to read more), or you're so good at self-deception that you too can become a writer.
2)It depends on the value of 'good' you want to achieve. If for example you wish to approach sf (while denying loudly it is sf a la Winterson or Atwood and avoiding reading it) from ignorance of genre conventions you're possibly going to convince other ignoramuses (ignoramii?) that you have done something wonderful. There are sadly a lot of them out there (although the ones prepared to wade through your attempt may be somewhat limited). You may be the special natural talent, but it is more likely that your attempt will be as gifted someone who thought they'd play the violin without bothering to learn how. The genre and its conventions have evolved. Starting 'de novo' means your work will lack some of the dead ends in sf evolution, but will probably read like badly written Jules Verne at best. If the value of good you wanted to achieve was pleasing a lot of readers of your genre... here are a few cue-bats. a) Most of them aren't looking for 'new'. They're looking for new-old, or to put it another way, a new twist on the kind of thing they enjoy reading. Most TP fans want more Vimes/Rincewind/Vetinari/ Moist. Each one of those books is new and has much that is unique in it (I don't know how he does it) but is set within an 'old' universe with 'old' characters in supporting roles. Even when he breaks new ground he takes his old style and conventions of his writing with him. b)If you are going to break new ground, you'll probably pull more readers if you use the style and conventions of the genre.

So what have you read that is 'new' and good? And how did the author get around kid poking suspiciously at the new healthy spinach on his plate syndrome ("What's this? I don't like it." - before tasting it, and on tasting it, having already made up their mind "YUCK!")

10 comments:

matapam said...

It's hard to judge "this is new" vs. "this is new to me."

And I've been reading so much slush that my reading of published stuff is falling badly behind.

A quick look at the book shelves showed that the two things that leapt to my mind are, umm, eleven and twenty-three years old? Yikes.

I suppose technical advancements, traditionally predicted by Science Fiction, also open new pathways for a writer's creativity. And new media.

I suppose next we'll be exolaining magic and FTL with Dark Matter and Dark Energy.

RJ_CruzeJr said...

One other point to keep in mind is that a lot of things go in cycles so they seem new, but in reality they've just been in dormancy for a while and are making a comeback. Kind of like how every generation of adolescents "discovers" teen angst and youthful rebellion.

This happens with a lot of subgenres. A subgenre will go gangbusters for some years, run its course, then fade away. After a while, a new generation of writers will get a hold of it and revive it by infusing it with the mores, values, and sensibilities of their generation. Mind you, there will be those writers who truly believe they're breaking new ground. However, more often than not, the best work of this revived subgenre will be written by those writers who are most keenly aware upon whose shoulders they stand.

Then, of course, there's "reimagining" -- trying to project the illusion of being new and innovative by taking something old and familiar and dressing it up with rough, jerky camera shots, a whiny, angsty tone, and edgy, unlikable characters.

matapam said...

How true. A lot of the new Steam Punk stuff looks like Cyber Punk in a new wardrobe.

Chris McMahon said...

I liked the Joe Abercrombie books. Well written and a really fresh fantasy voice - although I did not like where he ultimately took the characters. Great writer, but thematically opposite to someone like Gemmell who was big on redemption.

Kate said...

The first thing I though of for "new" and "good" was PTerry. Um.

There really isn't much that hits "new" that I can think of. Just about everything is some flavor of "the old made fresh with a different perspective" - which the MGC authors all do well.

Oh, and Matapam? My science fiction is using the Holographic Principle ;-)

matapam said...

Kate, I thought of Pterry, too. Do you realize the Color of Magic is copyright 1983? Over a quarter of a century. Scary, no? And anyway, that World-on-the-back-of-the-elephants-on-the-back-of-the-turtle stuff is really, really ancient . . .

G,D&R

Kate said...

Matapam,

Yes, it is scary that PTerry has been around so long. He was first published in Australia in 1985... And there isn't anything he's done that hasn't been done somewhere before, either in actual mythology or actual history. He just puts it all together brilliantly. ("Just", she says).

As the saying goes, it's not the size, it's what you do with it.

matapam said...

Actually the scary part is that when I think of something "new" I immediately thought of three things all about a quarter century old. I know time's going by fast, but that is just ridiculous, and I don't care how many candles were on the last B'day cake!

Kate said...

Matapam,

Don't worry - it will eventually go quantum and you'll start getting younger again. At least that's what I keep telling myself!

Ori Pomerantz said...

Matapam: Actually the scary part is that when I think of something "new" I immediately thought of three things all about a quarter century old.

Ori: When it comes to literature, that is new. Most people have in their houses works that are millennia old.