How to Drift in the Current of Literary Trends

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Linday Cassidy Lewis asked in her blog post earlier today,

So I want to know: how are all these other writers clued in [to novel trends]?

From what I’ve heard and seen, it’s not a conspiracy but a natural phenomenon. The interests of a genre’s readers will shift in roughly the same directions, guided by what does and doesn’t work in the season’s published stories. Some of the genre’s readers are writers, who aren’t immune to the unconscious shifts. Stories pop up from the current flowing through writers’ minds.

Already you have a bunch of people writing to a trend they don’t know is forming. That’s happening now. It’s always happening.

The first writer to submit a uniquely captivating novel (let’s call it The Hot Novel of the Season) carves the way for others. Editors start looking through their piles for stories that are similar to THNS. Chances are, they’ll see plenty and choose the best of the shortlist.

So then, how do writers enter or stay in the current that flows through trends?

Read. Read the novels that started the genre, read the novels that won awards and clung to the bestsellers lists in the past few years, and read novels just now coming out.

Study. Successful novels contain the answers to what captivates readers and how new writers can do the same.

Write quickly. Tell your inner editor to shut up until the editing phase, trust your instincts, and write at every opportunity.

That’s my game plan. Though I don’t always follow it, I do believe it works.

Note: “Genre” in this post refers to works published by like-minded editors and read by like-minded readers.

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7 thoughts on “How to Drift in the Current of Literary Trends

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful response to my question. I’m going to respond here and on my blog.

    You said: “The interests of a genre’s readers will shift in roughly the same directions, guided by what does and doesn’t work in the season’s published stories.”

    This is what I don’t understand. I understand how a trend or event in society can inspire similar works in numerous writers, but I don’t understand how numerous writers simultaneously have the same idea for a new angle just from reading.

    However, you bring up the idea of speedy writing, which I’ve observed with a particular friend who writes YA fantasy. It seems to me that if you’re a true genre writer, you have a sort of formula you follow, which makes it easier to finish a book in time to cash in on the latest trend.

    1. Here’s my stab at an explanation.

      As we read, we store exciting bits in our brains (or wherever humans actually store information). Those bits float in the open spaces, occasionally blending with bits from other sources–novels, movies, and news that were also absorbed by people like us. When we need inspiration, we collect some of the floating bits.

      We then blend and interpret the bits how people with similar interests and personal histories do.

      And so, people absorb the same ideas, process the ideas in the same way, and then have the same new ideas. The whole thing takes place mainly in the subconscious.

      By the way, that means people who analyze past and current trends and try to predict the next trends without relying on intuition will always lag behind.

    2. As for formulas, I’m not sure they are genre-specific. For example, epic fantasies tend to closely follow one or another variation of the Hero’s Journey, but each of an author’s epic fantasies may follow a different variation.

      Some writers swear by a three-act structure; or a five-act structure; or the basic plot of introduce problem, introduce MC’s special ability, escalate problem while developing special ability, then solve problem with special ability; or some other formula. However, those formulas work in multiple genres, including the let’s-not-call-it-genre stuff that’s placed in the Literature section of libraries and bookstores.

      Personally, I try to combine the scene-sequel and motivation-feeling-reaction-action formulas on a warped three-act backdrop. If I were better trained in my approach, then I bet I could write faster.

      It’s fearless practice that allows people to write faster, I’m thinking.

  2. Great post. It’s still amazing to me when I ask writers what they’re reading and their reply is “No time.” How can you not learn if you don’t read the best out there in your genre? Good advice.

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