Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Maxey on Keeping Your Fiction Fresh

James Maxey, author of Bitterwood and Dragonforge, discusses how to keep your fiction fresh. Excerpts:
When you are a novice, experimentation is a useful tool for growth. Once you are established, however, experimentation is more likely to produce failure than success. You've created expectations for your work, and deviating from these expectations to try something new carries the risk that you will write stories you can't sell, or, if they do sell, stories that will disappoint your existing fan base.

But there's a competing truth: It's seldom a compliment to call a work of art "formulaic." If you rely on formula to produce your fiction, you may produce technically flawless stories completely devoid of passion or heart.

I've written and sold stories based on formula rather than passion. I'm not going to single them out; I doubt that the casual reader of my work could spot which of my stories were labors of love versus which ones I built from my insta-fiction toolkit. That's another danger that awaits artists: Your audience may not be able to tell the difference between work you are passionate about versus work you simply got paid for. Why bother with the passion if it adds no economic value?

I would argue that it's this very same logic that leads some people into becoming prostitutes.
Read the whole thing. Of all Maxey's suggestions, the one I find most useful is to cultivate an awareness of your personal techniques and tropes. So often we unconsciously write within private comfort zones, and those can easily become boring and provincial. Understanding the ruts in which we run is the first step toward evaluating whether or not they give our readers a smooth ride -- and if we need to pop out of them.

(Picture: CC 2009 by
Ted and Jen)


B. Nagel said...

Last line of your excerpt is awesome.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Oh, excellent. I get stuck in ruts all the time, and it's a great thing to experiment once in awhile and think outside the box. Seems like there's two ideas here - to stay within the box and step outside the box. I think there's a time for each, and the key to writing something great is knowing yourself and your audience really well.

Loren Eaton said...


Yeah, Maxey has a great sense of humor, doesn't he?

Loren Eaton said...


Aren't ruts addicting? I find myself stuck in them all the time. It's challenging to know exactly when we should ignore or accept them.

Unknown said...

I always try to make a conscious effort to do something new and different, but then when I look at what I wrote, it's another freaking externalized psychodrama, generally revolving around choices and freedom.

I'm starting to get paranoid, frankly.

Loren Eaton said...

Are you like me in thinking that themes get a pass while narrative techniques don't? I mean, we all have a few intellecutal (or moral) areas that fascinate us, and I don't see the problem with returning to them regularly. Now, hopefully we can do it in different ways, though.