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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Writing Spaces: The Novel

The Writing Spaces lecturer usually splits a single topic over two weeks, building on what we learned in the first week during the second week. But the lectures on prose fiction were split a little differently. The first week, which I re-capped in my last post, was about short stories and flash fiction more than anything, and the second week, which I'll cover in this post, was dedicated to a form I think more of you out there reading this will be interested: the novel.

In the lecture, we talked about some of the qualities of a novel. It's a form of long prose fiction which is capable of exploring every type of plot, in many different styles and genres. It has the capacity to cover every imaginable subject matter from all points of view. This writing space appeared with the print revolution and has developed since then into the most diverse and commercially used forms of literature. Today, a novel has the freedom to explore multiple conflicts and complex issues and themes in depth, which is something that cannot be done as successfully within the constrains of shorter prose.

The novel that we studied for this particular part of the unit was The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. I haven't finished it yet, but none of my assignments are going to be based on it so that's okay. I'm determined to finish it though, as I firmly believe that it is one of the best books I have ever read. I'm only a quarter of the way through and so I won't say it's because of the plot or the characters, though so far I love them too. What I love most about this book is Roy's ability to surprise me over and over again on every page by the way she phrases things. There are so many moments, moments I wouldn't have even considered, that could have been written in cliches, but the descriptions in this book are so incredibly unique that it makes me want to keep reading and never stop. I can't wait to finish reading it.

Writing a good novel takes a lot of hard work. There's finding and developing a substantial idea for the novel, and then there's putting in the hard yards to writing out that first draft. Then there's looking over your first draft, seeing it riddled with cliches and unnecessary dialogue, among other things, and having to redraft it. And redraft it again. And again. Until you are satisfied that it is good enough to start showing people. I mean people who matter, like agents. Especially agents. If you're lucky enough to get an agent, then there's all of the redrafting and editing they'll make you do, and all the editing and redrafting you'll have to do to please the publisher if you make it that far.

Basically, editing and redrafting is a lot harder and more time consuming when you've got a chapter length novel that's tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of words long, than when you're doing the same thing for a short story. Novels require a long-term commitment. Maybe this is a big part of why some people consider short stories the inferior 'easy' way into publishing. (I am not one of these people. I love a good short story as much as I love novels. This is just food for thought and whatnot, so no hating.)

What are some of the best novels you have ever read and why? 

- Bonnee.

15 comments:

  1. Sometimes I think "editing" is synonymous with "evil" ;-)

    Seriously, though, I definitely agree about all the drafts a novel usually has. It's crazy and awesome at the same time!

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    1. I get some sort of sick enjoyment out of editing though. Maybe because I want to work in that field later in life? Thanks for visiting, Shari :)

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  2. I've heard good things about this book and will definitely be picking it up. I'm going to ignore your question, because I'm that sort of guy, and instead ask you one: Have you found yourself looking at your previously-completed works--or your novels in progress--in a different way as as a result of your studies? (heck, I wonder if you've even had *time* to look at them)

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    1. I ask questions for the sake of starting a discussion, but any discussion is good :) In answer to your question, yes, I see my older work very differently now to how I did before. I find myself applying techniques to my W.I.P that haven't been applied at the beginning. Basically, this question is going to be answered in a blog-post at the end of the year. Thanks for stopping by :D

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    2. I can't wait to see what you have to say about that subject! And now, I'll kind of, sort of answer your question: two favorites of mine: The Grapes of Wrath, by Steinbeck, and A Prayer for Owen Meany, by Irving. There's a similarity to both stories, in that there's a great story told against the backdrop of historic events (Great Depression/Dust Bowl for Grapes, American's escalating involvement in Vietnam in Meany).

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    3. I'll be adding those to my to-read list :) I already meant to add The Grapes of Wrath. Thanks again JeffO :D

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  3. Here's my list, conveniently located on my blog: http://intotheravenousmaw.blogspot.com/p/reading-past-and-present.html

    Of those, my favorite is The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. Mr. Jordan has the uncanny ability to write 800 page books without wasting words.

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    1. In that case, I strive to one day have similar abilities to Robert Jordan :) That's impressive.

      I actually stumbled across that page yesterday after commenting on your blog. I didn't know there was a book to Howl's Moving Castle, so I got pretty excited when I saw it. Have you seen the anime movie?

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    2. Yes, I have. Hayao Miyazaki is the best director of movies in general, let alone anime. I would have liked a closer adaption, but I never had any complaints watching the movie before I read the book.

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  4. I'm glad I pepper my novel revisions with short story subs, or I'd never feel like I've accomplished anything. Revising takes TIME.

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    1. I often discover ideas for novels through writing short stories, or writing with the intention of something shorter and then realising how much more it could be. They are a nice break in the midst of novel writing.

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  5. This will be in my post tomorrow, but I'm reading a fabulous book right now by Bernard Cornwell called The Winter King. It's a King Arthur tale but told with exquisite historical detail. Anyway, it's the sort of novel I'd like to be able to write. The plot is engaging, but it's more the mood, voice and word choice that is keeping me intrigued. So good.

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    1. It's always great to stumble upon an author who writes the way you aspire to write like. Thanks for stopping by :)

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  6. Thanks for the book "The God of Small Things". I don't read many books till the end, but I like to read the first pages of many famous books just to see how they write. So I'll check this book in my local book store. I agree that many revisions are the key to write a good novel. I'm now going again over my two complete novels and it's amazing how many mistakes I've made. Hopefully they will become better. I thought that I'll get an agent and they tell me what to do. But agents get so many queries, so it's better to do the revisions first and submit to them as best as you can do, especially to have top notch first 10 pages. I don't think that writing short stories is "inferior" or "easier." Sure, there are less words to go over and revise, but a collection of shorts stories has the same length as a novel. I just know that agents prefer novels, maybe because editors tell them that they don't like to publish collection of short stories. Next time when an agent will offer to answer question, I'll ask them why agents don't like short stories and will tell you their answers. I guess that agents want something that sell well, and if you look at the list of best sellers, you rarely see collections of short stories. I see that you already have another post already ...:)

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    1. I'll warn you now that the first few pages of 'The God of Small Things' is mostly scene setting. It's lovely, but I suggest flipping to a random page somewhere and taking a read.

      I'd be interested to hear how agents answer that question. I do love short stories.

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