Posted on June 15, 2010


Today, I lament my lot in life.  It’s not a lot, but it’s a life.

Okay, you might just want to stop reading now.  I mean it.  There’s nothing below that’s of any interest to you.  So please go.  Good day.

It’s been a month since graduation and I’m just now falling into some sort of routine.  This is a problem because I feel as though I’ve missed so much time — time that could have been spent on working.  As soon as I think this, however, I realize that I’ve been spending time with my family, and that’s easily just as important.  But so is working.  And so I go back and forth on the issue — work, family, work, family — until my head swells to the size of an overripe watermelon.  Just pierce the side and pour in the vodka, and we’re ready for a party.

Now I’m forcing myself to write.  I’m taking a vise to my head and squeezing until all the good ideas drip out of my pores, like molasses through a moldy piece of cheese cloth.  Unfortunately, all the bad ideas come with it.  What should be pure sugary syrup on my palate is a congealed mass of sweet and rotten eggs.

For example, I’ve got this idea in my head for a series of books that take place in a fictional city.  The city was founded by a group of psychics looking to escape worldwide persecution.  The problem is that I want to turn it into a series, and I want it published, but the more I look into it, the less likely that is to happen.  See, the market is constantly saturated by stories, and publishers (who have several decades of success and failure to learn from) want certain things.  For example, the protagonist of a story has to be active.  The story can’t be about someone who lets things happen to him all the time: he has to actively participate in his story.  This is a fact: readers prefer stories with active protagonists.  They read better.  They are stronger stories.  If I want to write something with a passive main character, I need to make the rest of the story very compelling.  Another example is plot.  There needs to be conflict, and there needs to be tension, and there needs to be a reason for the reader to turn the page and find out what happens next, instead of putting the book down and playing a video game.  These seem, to me, minor issues, but when all of them show up in my writing, they’re real problems.

So I find myself thinking about the things that make other stories successful.  Harry Potter, for example, isn’t a fantastic piece of literature.  The writing doesn’t compare with Shakespeare.  In my opinion, The Chronicles of Narnia are far superior.  But Potter is successful; it sells; it makes money.  Consider, also, the Percy Jackson series, or His Dark Materials, or The DaVinci Code: they aren’t literary masterpieces.  They have problems, weak points that a trained reader can easily see, that even the average reader notices (The Golden Compass has a confusing point of view, sometimes limiting us to the main character and sometimes giving us inside information we probably shouldn’t have — but it sold well, and it was made into a movie, so the author did something right).

And the more I think about these stories, the more I find myself rewriting mine to imitate.  A city of psychics, founded as a haven for a persecuted people, needs to educate new citizens.  So we have a school.  If there’s a school, the main characters should probably be of school age.  That means adjusting my intended audience.  But if I want to make the series long (about 12 books right now), then I’ll have time to turn it into something for adults.  Now I’ve got to figure out the plot for the first book: if they’re new students in a school, there should be old students, some who can be the villains.  Hello Malfoy, or any other snot-faced, prissy brat who thinks he’s better than everyone else.

So now I worry that I’ll create something that’s nothing more than a ripoff of something else.  And that’s where I’m going to leave it, because I’m committed to making this work and I don’t want to dwell on the negative for any longer.  Next time, I think I’ll tackle a terrible debate in the publishing world: fantasy or science-fiction.

Posted in: Writing