The Excuse of Originality: Defying Expectations in Fiction

I am in the middle of a quagmire of editing. Actually I’m currently sitting at the side staring morosely into the quagmire and refusing to climb in. I tried a toe. Now it smells..

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I got a crit from a big proper editor  – always hard to ignore those – which said something I am struggling to get my head around. The book needs a thorough edit – don’t get me wrong – but I honestly don’t know how much of their crit is a matter of editing and how much is simply that the book itself is odd..

I could be making excuses to avoid facing up to the flaws of the book – except I am very aware of its flaws – many many deep flaws. Are expectations so worn into readers that anything that is different by too great a degree is wrong? How do you know where that line is? How do you know it isn’t just you trying something that plain doesn’t work?

Sometimes when I hear people talk about blending genres, I find myself agreeing with those official lines; certain things don’t mix well. Yet I can barely remember the last time I picked up a book that I couldn’t ‘read’ the direction of, purely from the opening lines. I often feel as though the whole story is signposted from the beginning. There are so many ‘gievaways’ that just make the whole thing feel almost as though I have read it before.

I would like to read something new and unpredictable – in terms of the characters, their relationships, the actual body of the book not just the obligatory twist at the end.

This isn’t about me avoiding editing – that’s an inevitable hell, I know it 😦  but that was precisely what I set out to do, subtly undermine expectations while still delivering the things I enjoy in books – humour, memorable characters, interesting relationships, even end twists. I’m just wondering if deep down people like having their expectations met?

When you know the book is flawed it becomes even more difficult to judge. Their complaint mostly hinges around the book moving too fast between plot developments – yet as far as I can see the actual developments are just that – developments. Each scene is designed to add a piece to the story as set up in the opening chapters.

I start to ask myself questions til my head spins. I have heard it said before that in every scene you should arrive late and leave early. Have I taken this too far? I am guilty of rushing through things purely because I think my reader will get bored, this is one of my greatest fears, yet have I left too much unsaid?

Its not the first time this accusation has been laid at my feet. What the writer understands having lived with their tale and all the parts of it that will never reach a page, and what the reader understands coming to it cold, often seem at odds, not in facts but in depth. We want to not just know something but feel it.

Equally when it comes to editing, to knowing what is good writing, there are the facts, the cold theories of execution and then there is what you feel. What is too much? What is too fast? How early should you leave a scene? Have you in fact robbed it of any real purpose?

It would be easy to say that the only expectation that needs to be met is that of a satisfied reader, but that would be risibly simple. I have often heard writers say that if a reader has oversalted their taste buds with certain fare then they will likely require the same oversalted fare to satisfy them. They might need time to reset their taste buds.

And I have always thought.. mm..well.. maybe..

I’ve never considered my work avant-garde. I’ve read lit fic, of the modern variety and found much of it lacking. Too little happens. Too long is taken going from nowhere to a little further left of nowhere, before we end.. still nowhere. People in publishing have taken to reading my work as Lit fic, though I have never marketed or subbed as such. Is this the issue – a fundamental disconnect between the demands of commercial fiction and literary? Am I sitting in a no-mans land between the two?

Much of my book examines sin. That could be considered quite a big theme, too big perhaps to absorb in a fast paced novel. Have I blended the two most fundamental genres that divide modern publishing? And is there any place for such a book? Does the divide exist because of readers demands or publishing conventions?

The book needs editing but I have to question if it is worth my time to do so? Who should I listen to the editor or my own gut? Parts of me wonders how much that needs edited does so because I listened to others when I shouldn’t have in the first place. But it still feels foolish to ignore a successful editor whose only desire is surely to find and publish good books. I honestly have no answer at this time. Would be greatly interested to hear other perspectives, because for me I have a feeling this question isn’t going away.

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