Or is it more a matter of letting the story choose you?
Pat again. The wenchly August schedule is chaotic as everyone but me runs out to play. (I prefer Christmas in warmer climes.) So I’m holding fort today until a wench or two journeys back from distant climes or some of our guests stop by. Hot August days require lazy, cool daiquiri discussions, don’t you think?
Now we all know there are as many stories in the world as there are blades of grass and grains of sand. Heaven only knows, authors have enough people walk up to them at book signings declaring we need to write their stories to know everyone has at least one tale to tell. The tough question here is how do we choose which one to tell? All I have to do is stare blankly at a proposal that’s giving me fits for bits of irrelevant dialogue to pop like weeds out of fertile soil–procrastination is an excellent spontaneous story generator. But really, do I want to write an entire book based upon a conversation that arrives in my head while it’s empty? I’ve spun this particular weed into a blog, but a book requires months and months of cohabitation, possibly years. How do we turn that crazy internal dialogue into characters worthy of all that time?
I realize the cliché about writing the book of your heart is scarcely relevant to today’s market, but if we dig around, we’ll find there’s a kernel of truth in it. If we are to spend months of our lives with a story, we have to find characters and tales about which we are passionate, the ones that well up inside us and compel us to put pen to paper, the ones that won’t leave us alone until we’ve woven them. If it happens that story doesn’t fall within the parameters of today’s publishing market, we can choose to write it anyway, knowing full well it will end up filed under the bed, never to be seen again unless we become a multi-bestseller who could sell peanut butter on paper.
But if we really want our brilliant idea to be read by others, we have to find a way to shape and fit it into today’s market. If we can distill the elements about which we’re truly passionate, it’s often possible to find a more marketable vehicle to insert them into. That’s where true genius and creativity lies—meshing passion and market. Unless, of course, you're a marketing as well as a creative genius and your stories automatically fit the current trends.
This doesn’t apply just to books, mind you. Think about television. Once upon a time, situation comedies ruled the airwaves. The audience demanded no more than witty lines and wacky characters. Then we grew a little more sophisticated and wanted strong storylines, but the kid characters grew up or the protagonists fell in love and the shows changed and withered. Like book publishers, TV producers had to keep spending more and more on shows people watched less and less—until they learned that the audience craved the familiar, with twists, which is where both TV and books seem to stand now.
Series books offer familiar characters in familiar worlds. Soap operas last for decades on the same premise. So TV began producing prime time family dramas, building worlds audiences wanted to spend time in. And when that worked, they created police and hospital dramas, where they could have the same setting and same characters every week. If a character grows old or annoying, he’s pushed out and another is introduced. Changing one character or storyline doesn’t disturb the expensive world the show has developed. Currently, contemporary genre fiction is aimed that same direction, with Nora’s trilogies and Macomber’s knitting circles and similar “community” romances and mysteries and even urban fantasy.
Like every trend, I suppose the series will end eventually. Our attention spans have never been great, and audiences keep demanding more and more be crammed into less and less until we’re all jumping the shark and something new comes along. That’s what happened back in the nineties when historical fiction built into time travel and paranormal and the whole balloon got too big and blew up.
On this lazy afternoon with nothing better to dream about, I like to wonder what will happen when readers tire of having to buy three or six books to live in our worlds for a while. If I have to take the story elements about which I’m passionate and install them into a marketable vehicle, what will that vehicle look like? Barbie and Ken driving off into the sunset in a Humvee? Luke Skywalker and Gidget surfing into Fiji to save the turtles? E-books with pictures? Novellas with videos?
As the world turns, where do you see books (or TV or film) going next? Or better yet, where would you LIKE it to go?