I never give advice. Or at least I never give advice I don’t regret later, when an older, wiser me looks at my advice, shakes his head and chuckles. But I’m going to opine in this case and with the full knowledge that I’ll regret it later.
If you want to make a living out of ‘How-To’, Idiots’ Guides, news and textbooks then you must write for your audience. If you’re writing fiction, to hell with your audience; write for yourself.
When I was writing Singular, a friend asked me, casually and as if it were a question I must know the answer to, “Who are you writing for?” I wish I had bellowed, “Get thee hence! I place no chains on my wit!” (In retrospect I always imagine myself as Lord Byron – with the frock coat, but without the syphilis).
What I actually said was: men, aged 25 to 34, probably university graduates. Market and customer research is my day job; it was exactly what years of training had taught me to say. And it wasn’t true. I was writing Singular for the best, though often the least financially rewarding, of reasons: I hadn’t read it.
A story about death, isolation and the self – that is also a comedy? You won’t be the first person to think that’s a pretty small niche I’m clinging to. But isn’t that what we want writers to do; to take us and show us and reveal new ways of seeing familiar things? Doesn’t that demand that the writer care more about the story and the telling than about anything else? And isn’t an arbitrary demand that your work conform to a selection of tropes unfair to the story, the reader and the writer?
Do you have anything new to say about love affairs between vampires and teens? Can you put a different slant on women who want it all and get it? Are you the writer who can captivate the world with a tough spy who risks lives to save more? Then film needs you – desperately. But books can probably do without.
That was rather a long list of rhetorical questions, but what it comes down to is that genre itself is an avoidable cliché. One of my favourite writers, Ursala K Le Guin, wrote, “The story is not in the plot, but in the telling. It is the telling that moves”.
If I can pay Ursala the insult of grouping her thoughts with my own, my point is this: write, in the best way you can, something you haven’t read. If you can do that, the people who can appreciate what you’ve written will appear.
Thanks for having me guest blog as part of the Singular book tour, which runs until the end of June 2011. You can follow the tour’s progress on my website www.dfpiii.com or follow me on Twitter @dfpiii or using the hashtag #SVBT. Also, at the end of the book tour, one lucky person who “likes” Singular on Facebook will receive the signed proof copy of the US print edition of Singular – a one-of-a-kind, never-be-another prize.