Hey, if the author tells a great story, I’m more than willing to tolerate a sub-par writing style. Well, maybe not sub-par so much as unsophisticated.
For instance, while I haven’t read any for a long time, I was once a huge fan of pulp fiction of all kinds. Not necessarily thought-provoking, but easy to read.
I haven’t yet started reading it, but I just ordered Ross Macdonald’s entire collection of short stories of detective fiction. Although I wouldn’t exactly put him in the pulp fiction category, as he always put a lot of time, thought and effort into his writing style. The following excerpt is from the opening of “Find The Woman” from 1946:
This was his early work, and the closest I could come to finding something by him that could be called “pulp”. When he got into writing full novels, his writing evolved greatly, and he could evoke places and draw characters like no other detective writer of the time could manage. I read all of his novels when I was in my 20’s, and always felt like I was reading something special with nearly every sentence I read.
His plots tended to center on damaged people and especially dysfunctional families and their complex dynamics and motivations. And the endings were always devastating. There were always twists, but never gratuitous, making them all the more effective. I nearly always felt simultaneously drained and completely satisfied whenever I finished one of his novels. Expertly crafted stories, especially for their time.
Ross Macdonald was by far the biggest influence that got me started writing seriously. I actually completed a novel done in his style when I was 28, and while I’m now proud of my emulation of his style, when I try to read it now, I can see that I failed miserably in the overarching execution that ties everything together into a cohesive whole.
Maybe with several re-writes, I could have pulled it off, but it needed a TON of work, and I began to appreciate how difficult it was to create an entire novel versus a short story. My sorry novel ended up at about 250 pages, which took nearly a year of several hours per day after my regular job. And when I sat down one night several years later and read it straight through, all of my errors became glaringly evident, even including two massive plot holes I could not believe I overlooked when I wrote it. And while I was extremely proud of my protagonist, I was appalled at how one-dimensional most of the other characters seemed to be, especially since the vision I had for them when writing it was much more filled-out.
In other words, conveying my complex characters to the reader was infinitely more of a challenge than I ever imagined.
While I still dream of going back and doing a proper job of it, as I think the story and ending are actually quite good, I now realize that there are so many interconnecting pieces that each need to be completely realized and work in harmony, that I just don’t think that now, at age 57, I have it in me anymore to go back to it and attempt such a monumental feat.
It seemed to be flowing so smoothly back when I originally wrote it, but reading it today, I can easily spot how completely disjointed it would be for the reader. What I have completed, I believe could be used as a mere outline, and nothing more. I would basically need to start over completely, and I just don’t think I’m up to it, as much as I’d like to try. Getting older has discouraged me, mostly because after a ten-hour shift at work, I’m too tired to even think about setting aside a few more hours to sink myself into that world.
Back in my 20’s, I thought nothing of it. I’d get home, eat supper, and promptly shut myself into my office for several hours, sometime banging away at the word processor until 2:00 a.m., and always going to bed feeling like I had achieved something marvelous. For me, there has always been a great satisfaction in writing; a feeling like I had just unburdened myself of something profound. But it was a great effort, even then. Now, I get tired just thinking about it.
Giles, you should keep writing. The experience you describe makes it sounds like you’re a writer. Writers should write, even if no one is reading their stuff or even if it’s bad. You don’t have to have a perfect novel. Most novels have some bad parts, even the ones that are considered great novels. You will get better at writing, as you’ve seen reviewing your past work. The only reason you think it’s bad now is because you’re a better writer.
You can publish what you’ve written as an e-book, even if it’s just a short story, or even if you think it’s bad. If you think it’s really terrible, you don’t have to use your real name. I costs next to nothing. Just the cost of a cover, which you can get for ~$30 USD. I can help you with the technical details. It’s very satisfying to know people are reading your stuff, even if all you see are the downloads, a few sales, and (if you’re lucky) a review or two.
Don’t worry about length too much. You can publish shorts as ebooks, as short as a few thousand words. My sweet spot lately seems to be about 10k words. I can do a 10k story in a few weeks, or sometimes a month or two. I have done novels, but as you say, it’s hard work and I can struggle for close to a year.
I too thought Macdonald was very good indeed, and I think they make a great model if you can translate them forward to a more modern and progressive sensibility than was available back in the 50s.
I haven’t read most of his short stories, but in their way RM’s novels are better structurally crafted than the Chandler novels they are otherwise quite similar to. Chandler was IMO a better literary writer and stylist, but he pantsed his stories and sometimes went astray in terms of plot, while I’d say Macdonald handled his plots better, if that makes sense.
Anyway there’s always room for new noir, both in short stories and novels. And short stories are useful for improving craft and are somewhat easier to sell. It’s just that the former go to magazines that take a year to respond and pay very little, which is kind of depressing to consider. The mystery short fiction marketplace seems moribund compared to SF and fantasy these days.
Why do I keep forgetting about this as an option? I damn well know it’s an option, but I guess I don’t give it any thought because I don’t even own an electronic device that would display such a thing. I still read exclusively paper. Heh- okay, actually, most of my reading is done on my desktop PC, but a full novel? I need paper for that. I mean, I want paper for that. I’m sure I could read on a Kindle and I’d be fine with it; I just prefer paper.
But thanks for reminding me about e-publishing. And thanks for the encouragement.
That’s exactly what I did. And there are a few modern authors that have cited Macdonald as an influence, and have managed to pull that style into the present day just fine.
If I could, I would love to leave it in the era of the 1940’s and 50’s, but even in my ignorant 20’s, I realized that writing outside of your own experience (and especially time —egad!) would probably not be the smartest place to start.
At this point, I’m not even looking to get paid. I’ve written a lot of stuff, starting in my teens, and all of it sits in one huge box in a closet, like a part of my life that I’ve successfully pushed away into a corner. For me, it’s mostly therapeutic I think. Although when a few select friends and relatives have read some of it, it’s always been gratifying to hear what they thought about it, as I do try to make it enjoyable for others.
I remember back in my late teens, my best friend was over one night for a sleep-over. We’d usually try to sneak out of the house and have adventures, but that night, he had found one of my notebooks, containing part one of my first completed “novel”. He read it, reached the end, and demanded the second notebook, then the third. Finally, I gave him the whole pile of notebooks and went to bed. In the morning, he was still there where I’d left him, into the final notebook. It was incredibly gratifying just knowing he’d stayed up all night to read it.
You may already get this, but just to be clear: I’m not suggesting you create e-books for yourself to read. I’m saying you should publish what you write for others to read. It’s satisfying and a very low bar for entry. Anyone can do it.
EDIT: if you’re saying that you only want to publish to paper, that’s also an option. It just means your readers will have to pony up more money and you’ll get less of it, but it’s no barrier.
For example, it was fun reading the responses I got when I told My Great Trans Am Theft Adventure here a while back. It was terrific fun to finally put it down, but even more fun knowing others were reading.
Does anyone use Scrivener and export to text files? Is there some way i can stop it from exporting my Comments as well? It’s super annoying that the only way i can export to a text file is to delete all my comments.