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Amber Paulen

10 Things I Learned about Writing from the Culture Show's New Novelists Episode

15 September 2011


1. Comedy — Readers like funny books! LOL! Books are entertainment competing with TV, movies and the thousand other distractions in a day.

2. Language — Confident use of language is essential.

3. Playfulness — Contemporary novelists are playing with old formats in a single book: third to first person narration, present to past to future tense, magic realism, surrealism, realism, genre-switching, etc. The “conventional” novel has become irrelevant.

4. Style — Lots of new novelists favor stylization.

5. Don’t underestimate the power of a list — When Granta published its first list of “Best Young British Novelists” in 1983, it put writers in the public spotlight for the first time. Since then such lists have become common place, but thirty years ago, the list was a big deal.

6. The status of the novelist has changed — Writers are no longer hunched over dusty books in antiquated libraries. They are social, cultural icons. (See also #5: The power of the list.)

7. The promotional responsibilities of the novelist has changed — The writer is now expected to get out there (there=readings, social media, etc.), to put a face (even a reluctant one) on the books he/she has written.

8. Fragmentation — Almost no contemporary novel follows the 19th century third-person omniscient narration cleanly from beginning to end. Fragmentation could be an influence of film and TV. (See also #3: Playfulness.)

9. Creative Writing Courses — Creative writing courses have had a huge impact. When considering the state of literary fiction it is impossible to overlook the courses’ “imposed influence.” The panel of readers on the Culture Show agreed that the novels of those first-time published writers who graduated from creative writing courses, shared a similar structure (or lack of structure, see #10 below).

10. The novel is shape-shifting — The novel has more structural possibilities than it ever has. Readers are looking for books that push new boundaries that have not been defined yet, to create new characters who speak words that have not been invented yet. Far from the novel falling into crisis, it seems to be kicking with healthy vitality.



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