Friday, May 6, 2011

On Staying Fresh, Marketable, and Innovative

A couple of days ago, I was listening to a sports talk show and they were interviewing the athletic director at Washington State University. Honestly, I really didn't listen much to the interview, but at the very end, he made a statement that really caught my attention. I am assuming he was talking about the sports program at WSU and he described that they believe in "honoring the past, living in the present and creating a future." As I thought more about what he said, I saw a clear connection to writing.

One of the things we frequently see as agents are submissions that fall under one of three categories:
  1. Out of date
  2. Not in touch with reality
  3. Too "out there"
Regardless of the situation, these are the stories that are frequently rejected. The stories that attract our attention, though, really seem to follow that idea the athletic director was talking about.

Honoring the Past While we want stories that are innovative and take on a new direction, we have to remember that readers are drawn to certain genres or authors because of the tradition the story has. We like the mystery element of romantic suspense, we love the dialogue and the relationship building in a Regency - things like this put us in a comfort zone. We know what we will expect. Successful writers know how to keep at least one foot in the past, maintaining a little bit of the tradition, but still giving us something new.

Living in the Present This one is key. When we we read a story, we want to see the things that are important to the people living today. Themes, issues, and personal problems need to be something the present day population can relate to. Even if you write a historical, the themes need to be something the reader can connect with.

Create the Future This is the part that connects with the past. I have mentioned it before, but readers don't want to read what is already out there. We don't want carbon copies of stories that are already in print. We get bored with those stories. Been there, done it. Instead, we want to see a new twist, a new turn or a new angle to the genre you are writing.

As an author, it is crucial to keep your feet in all of these areas to be successful.

See you on Monday!



  1. Narrative has also changed.

    I've worked with a number of writing students over the years who want to emulate certain writers from fifty or more years in the past.

    I have to explain that the craft of narrative has changed drastically during that period, and few modern readers have the patience or the desire to read someone channeling Sinclair Lewis or some other writer.

  2. I totally agree with Marilynn, and wish those teaching now would read--and use examples from--current works. You can't explain good craft today using examples from pre-1990s books. While basic storytelling hasn't changed, techniques have, and we need to be able to teach those techniques (or at least decipher them)that are being used today.

  3. This was a helpful post! Thanks for such a succinct summary of what works. I'm in the middle of a historical novel rewrite, and it's a good reminder of points to consider.