Doing what’s been done

When I wrote Randolph’s One Bedroom I thought that I was doing something original. The book consists of twenty short stories but it is not strictly a collection of short stories per se because all of the shorts contain the same protagonist and numerous recurring supporting characters. The shorts also contain character development and growth, both for the protagonist himself and for some of the other characters. The careful reader will moreover note that the events relayed in the book take place over the course of a single calendar year, so that there is a strictly linear progression somewhat submerged in the background as well. I described the book as containing “serial shorts”, wishing to conjure up in the reader an image of a serialized TV program wherein each episode is a stand-alone story but whose characters and world the viewer gets to know little by little as the season goes along. The same is true of the book and so I thought the comparison apt. At the time it did occur to me that I was most likely neither the first nor the only writer to have produced such a work but I still thought that I was at least working somewhere outside the mainstream even if I was skirting the mainstream by doing so. I then found out that there is an entire genre of such works. Oops.

In my latest, and still as yet untitled work (I’m waiting for it to come naturally, though with the writing portion of the process completed I think it will be soon), I have created a chapter device which I think is entirely my own – at least in its whole if not in all its parts – though again that may just be due to my paucity of knowledge and I will later be embarrassed once more by thinking too much of my own work. I won’t say here what the device in question is because I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but I will say that the idea for it, like very many ideas which are felt by their bearer to be quite striking, came to me suddenly out of the blue, unlooked for and unexpected. A bolt of Thor’s lightning, a whisper of the muse, a nudge of the daemon. But please do keep an eye out for the book to appear in either late 2017 or early 2018 following the standard lengthy and painful editing procedures; more on that later, of course. The question, at any rate, that presents itself here is: Does all this (purported) creativity really matter?

I may well find that my allegedly unique device has been tried and true in the great annals of fiction writing – at least at some point – but aside from having to wipe the egg from my face that will not particularly bother me because I did not wish to add the device to my book solely because I thought it was new. Rather, I wanted to include it because it works, and indeed given the thrust and structure of the story being told I am convinced that it works exceedingly well even if it does make a fairly considerable demand on the reader at that point in their interacting with the book. Some readers will be turned off by it I’m sure, some will find it curious, and some will find it intriguing – maybe even fun. This I think should be the main criterion that we consider as writers. Forget about the old “But it’s been done before!” objection that you hear from tired keyboard hacks continuously depressed that they weren’t born as James Joyce. Of course it’s been done before; in a world of seven billion people who have been writing for at least five millennia what hasn’t? Naturally some things haven’t but whether what you want to do is one of them or not is, I’m sure, entirely irrelevant. Our only concern should be does it or doesn’t it work? If it does, and specifically in relation to the piece or book in question, then its inclusion seems entirely called for. There is little point to doing something just because it might be unusual, and if it has to be forced in it will undoubtedly be a poor fit. If, on the other hand, it slides into place and makes the whole more beautiful than it was then by all means go for it. Its originality must be secondary to the practical matters involved but if it in fact is original, unique, the first of its kind, then kudos to you for another feather in your cap. And if not then kudos to you anyway for making your writing that much better. When a reader closes the back cover, turns the last page, or exits the file, that is all that will matter. The brass tacks, at least how I see them, consist in this: Experiment yes, but always with an eye on the big picture.

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