Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Have you read Kurt Vonnegut's Timequake? It's less a novel and more a discourse on things that matter to the author, like his family, war and Kilgore Trout (a fictional sci-fi writer). It's about... well, to me, it's about writing.

If ever a book could encourage me to write, it is this one!

So I do not doubt that Vonnegut is an accomplished writer, a true wordsmith if you like. But I know that many readers and critics would not consider his books (especially Timequake) to be novels. (Vonnegut even writes about the lack of depth to his characters, according to some critics, in Timequake.)

So an atypical novel encourages me to write a novel.

This is interesting because, for the last few years, and particularly this last year, I have been trying to learn how to write a novel. What makes a novel? What are the mechanics of a novel? What are the requirements? Etc. I have read excellent books about novel writing that explained much to me - explained the rules.

I then went to a creative writing course at Arvon to learn more about rules and then to learn that there are, in fact, no rules: "there are no rules to writing". But it's only after reading Timequake that I truly understand what this means.

Here's a quote from the book (and the reason why Vonnegut writes):

"Still and all, why bother? Here's my answer: Many people need desperately to receive this message: "I feel and think as much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people don't care about them. You are not alone."

This is not my motivation for writing, but that's not the point. Vonnegut wants to engage directly with the reader, as I do.

So will my book be a Timequake?

Yes, and no.

I am not Kurt Vonnegut and I have not lived his life so I could never have written Timequake. (I sincerely doubt I can write as well as Vonnegut too, but that's not important.) I can write my book (working title: Boring John) knowing that some of the daft things I want to write about, and some of the strange ways I want to engage my reader have been thought of before, by no less an esteemed writer than Kurt Vonnegut.

So there will be no Kilgore Trout, no reliving the last ten years, no thoughts about the Vietnam war. But there may well be sexual magic numbers, my thoughts about conflict (internal and external) and, of course, my very own answer to Kilgore Trout will definitely be making an appearance: one Boring John.

James N Frey (in How To Write A Damned Good Novel) believes in rules and I don't disagree with the rules he espouses. People like to read what they like to read. Damned good novels have a certain structure and contain certain types of characters and events happen in a certain way. Etc. You only have to look at the movie output of Hollywood to see that formulas work. However, I've always preferred more audacious, more experimental, more intelligent (if you like) film-making, found in independent films like, say, Vonnegut's favourite film of all time: My Life As A Dog.

So I welcome the sound advice found in How To Write A Damned Good Novel; I just know that the first book I write will be more in keeping with Mr Vonnegut than with Mr Frey.

A warning, though: this will be my first book! Timequake is Vonnegut's last (purportedly). So writing Boring John will definitely be running before I can walk. Somehow, though, it's easier this way. "Sometimes it's easier to run up the hill hard, than to run up the hill steady" - Boring John.

So will I be able to pull it off?


PS This means that I don't need to listen that closely to what Nick Daws says in his improbably titled: Write any book in 28 days or less, though I will do the research afterwards as he suggests.

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