Writing Discussion

The Novel You Wish You Could Read

I’ve been thinking about writing and self-censorship lately. I realized I’ve been craving more romance in fiction, but I haven’t written it, because I’m afraid to write it badly. I’ve not delved deep into emotion, because I’ve been afraid of bordering on melodrama. There are good reasons to self-censor, but fear is not one of them.

I need to have the confidence to write the novel I want to read, but that means I have to figure out what I want, doesn’t it? So here goes! As usual, list making ensues.

The Novel I Wish I Could Read Has…

  1. Characters that make mistakes, that are trying to do their best, but screw up sometimes.
  2. Characters that are forced to make tough decisions. Sometimes right and wrong aren’t always simple to define.
  3. Worlds that are fresh, rich, new, unexplored. No more pseudo-medieval settings, thanks.
  4. Romance! There I said it. I want more of it. Romance doesn’t have to end happily, and not all relationships are healthy, but it always adds an extra layer of tension.
  5. Relationship development that involves more than just lust . It pisses me off when the only reason X loves Y is because they’re beautiful. Love doesn’t always begin at first sight. What about starting with friendship? What about compatible personalities?
  6. Male and female relationships that are platonic. Not every pairing has to end up in a romance.
  7. Diverse standards of beauty. Not everyone finds blond and blue eyed lust worthy. Maybe people like freckles, brown skin, or shortness. Maybe people admire perfect earlobes. Alternately, maybe beauty has nothing to do with the physical.
  8. Strong female characters. They don’t wait to be saved, they act upon their environments with whatever tools they have at their disposal.
  9. Different definitions of strength. Emotional strength, resilience, love for family, loyalty to friends… its not just physical strength that matters.
  10. Villains that are just as nuanced as the main characters. They must have a reason for what they do. Maybe they even think they’re doing the right thing.
  11. A sense that the world is greater than the book, that there was a history to this world, and there is a future that extends beyond the story. I want to feel like I’ve just glanced a moment in of time.
  12. A multicultural setting. People of color, mixed-raced characters. A fantasy/sci-fi world where every one of us on this crazy planet could exist.
  13. Magic with serious consequences.
  14. Issues relevant to today. Maybe the story’s entertaining on the surface, but doesn’t shy away from issues that are very real: poverty, genetic manipulation, immigration, natural disasters, global warming, disease, displacement…
  15. Scary magical creatures. The supernatural is frightening, isn’t it?
  16. Action. Characters kicking ass. Suspense.
  17. Emotion that rings true. You feel it, you know it’s real pain. You know its honest.

Maybe I can’t write it (I will try), but if you’ve written this novel, I swear I will line up to buy it, and you’ve got a fan for life!

What are some things that you’d throw into the novel you wish you could read?

19 Comments

  1. That’s a great list. My only quibble: I still loves me some psuedo-medieval setting. Although, of course, I love the wide variety of different period settings that are being made available in Fantasy fiction today. It’s pretty cool to have that variety.

    I guess there’s a caveat to the pseudo-medieval setting, as well. Historically, at least, there hasn’t been a lot of realistically depicted multiculturalism in such settings. Which is to say, you can set the story in any number of different cultural milieus which are at a medeival level of society, culture, and technology, but since different races and people, at least in the real world, come from very diverse and difficult-to-reach places, with respect to each other, and medieval technology levels make for very long contact periods between cultures – unless you set a story on the frontiers between cultures (something akin to a story set in Moorish Spain or during the equivalent of the Crusades) but then you run the danger of type-casting races and cultures as good-guy/bad-guy without the nuance…

    I guess it’s easier to do this more realistically and with more nuance in stories set in late-rennaissance and later development periods…

    Anyway, I do think the whole shebang can be done in a satisfying way even with a medieval-era setting… But I’ll agree in wanting variety – and not just more medieval settings. I am, after all, a big fan of Steampunk as well, among other things.

    1. You know though, Alexander the Great marched all the way to India in BC times. The Roman empire included parts of Africa. Even during the 13th and 14th centuries (well within the medieval period), the Mongols controlled trade from China all the way to Turkey, and the silk route extended all the way to Italy. There is room for diversity that maintains historic accuracy. Sure travel was slower, but it was possible. Spices, silk, pepper, and tea traveled the world, carried by human hands. Someone brought them. Stories of these people tend to slip through through the cracks, but there is room for them.

      Of course, when it comes to fantasy, the rules of the world are up to you. Who’s prevent you from creating a medieval city is not set in the middle of a desert, or a jungle? And, when it comes to steampunk, there are no rules, really.

      Just food for thought perhaps 🙂

      1. Very good points, actually. Perhaps what’s more unrealistic is a pseudo-medieval setting that’s somehow like a self-contained Europe with no contact to the larger, outside world. There might not be a trade route with China or contact with Africa in your standard Arthurian-style Epic, but the real roots of those period were much more integrated than I guess I sometimes give it credit for.

        That gives me food-for-thought for my somewhat-temporarily-shelved age-old novel project.

  2. I agree with Stephen, great list indeed!!

    (And I’m SO happy that my current wip has all the elements except #13 and #15. I was checking off as I read, hehehe. I mean, it might all be in a rough form, but the foundation is there!)

  3. Huge agreement on #6.

    This list exercise is a great idea. Sadly, the novels I want to read and write simply could not sell. They would return to the narrative style of Ovid and Apollodorus, very stilted, passive and baffling in their mythology, insane character motivations nobody would believe, and it’d probably be full of idle cleverness. The sort of things modern readers do not crave at all. I’ve been thinking of writing a post lately about these things I love that I know I can’t possibly expect to market.

      1. Yes, actually! It’s my side-side-project. The main projects are my novels and short stories, the Bathroom Monologues are my side-project, and this thing that perhaps only I could enjoy is my side-side-project. I think if I ever grew fortunate enough to retire, that’d be the sort of thing I’d write.

  4. I LOVE this list. Seems like we got the exact same taste. Hehe. No WONDER we’re blogging friends.

    I love 12 especially. Let’s get some people of color up in here. For realzies.

  5. Oh man! Awesome list! I’m new to your blog and this is the first post I read. TOTALLY agree with it all. I’m glad you included no.11. That’s something I’m really working over in my novel. I have a strong sense of the history of this world I’ve invented, but will the reader? Yes, if I have my way – and if I take my time in careful development.

    Thanks so much for posting this list! It’s exciting to think more books like this will be coming available in the next decade or so – ours included?

    Always, G E N E V I E V E

    1. Thanks Genevieve. Yes sometimes I wonder about that too, but I think it comes out if you know your world well enough (or at least I hope so).

      Yep, really looking forward to all the good stuff to come! all our books included 🙂

  6. Hi, Tessa.

    I have to admit, I appreciate most (if not all) of the items on your list, especially the ones about characters. (I guess that’s most of the items on your list.) I try to work most of those characterization items into my own stories, and try to drill a notch deeper with each new story I write.

    I highly recommend you check out Talyn by Holly Lisle, one of my new all-time favorite novels:
    1. Holly’s characters are some of the deepest and most realistic that I’ve ever read.
    2. Holly’s fantasy worlds are also some of the deepest and most realistic I’ve seen, including in their back-history and future-history, and the world of Talyn is one of the best (if not the best) world she’s ever created.
    3. Talyn involves a complex romance between the two main characters, with more complex issues than you can imagine. (And pure sex is not one of them, at least not for Talyn.)
    4. Talyn herself is a warrior, and an incredibly strong and stable character, knows who she is, what she values, where she’s going.
    5. A variety of characters, check. Strong villain, check. Multicultural, check. Serious magic, double check. A story that’s actually about something, check. Action, check. Emotion, check—remember what I said about her characters.
    6. Scary magical creatures… Kinda, but not exactly. More like zombi magic.

    -TimK

  7. I think I have all except maybe #14 in Air… for a world started from a Caucasian POV, it now has all the races of our planet, and Air is inspired by India/Persia and some Japan (while Fire has Africa)… I’m afraid the rest is still medievalish, but I carefully avoid all fantasy clichés! 😉
    Hope you’ll check Air when it comes out later in the year… and please let me know if it meets your expectations or not! 😉

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