On writing

Don’t write a fantasy novel just because fantasy films are big right now

I went to the movies today—we saw Ratatouille, which I enjoyed, but so many people had oohed and aahed over this movie that I went in with very high expectations.

At the theatre every second poster seemed to be advertising fantasy movies. Beowulf, Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, The Golden Compass, Stardust.

I think most people would agree that this current rush of fantasy movies began with the success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Harry Potter. I think most of us would also agree that we’re probably at the end of the cycle. [By fantasy here I’m talking traditional fantasy that started with J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and continued with through to the J. K. Rowlings, not the Shreks or the Toy Stories of Pixar.]

I’m enjoying it, going to every fantasy movie I can while the boom is on. I know that after the feast comes the famine. But at least there will always be books. Or I hope there will always be books, anyway.

One thing I do know is that after a run of films like this, a lot of people are going to be inspired to write fantasy novels.

Some of these people may even sell their books, but many of them will not. Some of these people may ‘discover’ fantasy from these films and go on to read and love it as a genre. Unfortunately, that still leaves a lot of people writing in the genre because it is popular, and they think that therefore it will be easier to sell their book.

That’s the wrong reason to be writing a novel, particularly if you are an unpublished author.

Fashions in films and novels come and go, but in most cases you are going to spend at least one year, maybe more, working on this thing. It shouldn’t be a chore. It should be enjoyable. We all know the stats. How many writers get published, how little most of them get paid.

Writing is one of the few things you choose to do. Okay, some of us might argue that we have to write, we can’t not, and I would be one of those. But that doesn’t mean that you should just write anything. If you are happy to write just anything to order, it’s smarter to become a technical writer or something similar—it’s a form of writing, even if it is writing to order, and compared to the income most novelist make, it’s well paid.

I can’t see any point in devoting all that time and all that effort to work on something you don’t truly love, just because you think you have a better chance of getting published.

Not only that, by the time most people realise that fantasy is a trend —i.e. when the films come out—the trend is waning.

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