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When Novelists Reach the End of their Stories

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annis
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When Novelists Reach the End of their Stories

Post by annis » Sun February 12th, 2012, 2:57 am

Interesting article in the Guardian by Rick Gekoski considering why novelists' work often falls below par as they age - do authors have a finite number of stories which get used up the time they reach old age? Is literary creativity more affected by the ageing process than say, that of artists? Do writers lose the plot as they lose the plot, so to speak? Having been dismayed by the now elderly PD James' recent outing, Death Comes to Pemberley, I'm wondering if there might be something in it.

When Novelists Reach the End of their Stories
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/fe ... ck-gekoski
Last edited by annis on Sun February 12th, 2012, 3:18 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by SGM » Sun February 12th, 2012, 10:30 am

Well, if Wordsworth is anyone to go by, it's certainly true of poets.
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Post by donroc » Sun February 12th, 2012, 1:24 pm

Speaking for myself, it depends upon lucky sperm and egg aka great DNA and good fortune not to have a debilitating disease or injury. I still have more than two lifetimes of potential novels in my mind.

When you see me in St.Pete for the HNS conference, you may feel free to congratulate me on my June 24 birthday, for I shall be 81 the day after it ends, still writing many hours each day, and thinking about my WIP during each waking hour.
Last edited by donroc on Sun February 12th, 2012, 8:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Bodo the Apostate, a novel set during the reign of Louis the Pious and end of the Carolingian Empire.

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Post by Margaret » Sun February 12th, 2012, 7:14 pm

Interesting. But how many writers, even good writers, are capable of the wonder of writing just one novel as fine as, say, Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex or Alan Gurganus's Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All or Joseph Heller's Catch-22? Just to throw out a few, off the top of my head, that will continue to resonate with me all my life. It's an incredible gift to write a truly outstanding novel even once - it could come at the beginning of a writer's career, somewhere in the middle, or at the end - so I'm not sure it's fair to speak of a writer as being "in decline" if he or she doesn't repeat such a remarkable achievement over and over throughout the course of a career.
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Post by bevgray » Tue February 21st, 2012, 12:18 pm

I've seen this happen to fantasy writers. Several of my favorites reach a certain point where you get the feeling that they're just bored with the entire world, characters, etc. Those who write historical fiction series (such as family sagas) also seem to fall into that trap a little bit where you get the feeling that perhaps the writer is not as sympatico with the third or fourth generation or the era in a later book.

I wonder how much of that is from a creative sense of the writer or from the pressure of publisher/readers to "write the next book". I definitely felt that with J.K. Rowling and the last two books in the Harry Potter series. She was under such artificial pressure to get them out that I suspect it became a pure chore for her and she lost most of her pleasure in writing about Harry and the wizard world.
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Post by Justin Swanton » Tue February 21st, 2012, 5:27 pm

Is is just contemporary readership/publishers that require novelists to write a string of quarter-million-word books about the same characters? In the golden age of the novel Dickens and Sir Walter Scott (and everyone else I can think of) were allowed to start afresh with each book.

I rather admire J K Rowling's courage in pushing out that many words about the same people. I certainly couldn't do it.

On a similar track, Tolkien in his forward mentioned that he was criticised for making LOTR too short. He spend something like 15 years writing it, and had started working on the background mythology of Middle Earth right from the First World War. That enabled him to make the world of LOTR rich, complex and deep. But if he had tried stretching it over a dozen, or two dozen books, I suspect the butter would have started spreading very thin over the toast. A writer really has only so much to say.
Last edited by Justin Swanton on Tue February 21st, 2012, 5:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by bevgray » Tue February 21st, 2012, 6:40 pm

Yes, I suspect that may be the case. Certainly, the later, longer books in Harry Potter got rather muddled for me. In the early books, I enjoyed her cleverness with words and twisting standard fantasy concepts to work in her world (e.g., house-elves, goblins running the bank). However, as the saga became darker, some of the fun just vanished and so much angst began to take over the characters. On the one hand, the children were suffering the usual adolescent growing pains but I wonder how much of that was really necessary to the story. I don't mind long books but not when I feel things are being padded.

Tolkien was a world-builder and his attention to detail added to the richness. He dragged a bit for me in places too, though; rather the way a heavy, rich meal can slow you down. I find I enjoy him far more if I read him in short bursts so that I can savor a scene before moving to the next.
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Post by EC2 » Tue February 21st, 2012, 7:25 pm

I think it absolutely depends on the individual. I suppose you have more energy when you're younger, but less under the belt experience.

I read somewhere a few years ago, that the optimum age for novelists hitting the big time was circa 50. Don't know how true that is or how much research was done and where, but I do recall the article. Strangely enough, I began making a proper full time living from writing just around the time I hit 50!
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Post by Justin Swanton » Wed February 22nd, 2012, 5:27 am

[quote=""EC2""]I think it absolutely depends on the individual. I suppose you have more energy when you're younger, but less under the belt experience.

I read somewhere a few years ago, that the optimum age for novelists hitting the big time was circa 50. Don't know how true that is or how much research was done and where, but I do recall the article. Strangely enough, I began making a proper full time living from writing just around the time I hit 50![/quote]

True - energy will vary from one novelist to the next. My impression, though, is that a novelist can be prolific and good provided he/she starts a fresh story each time. Can you think of any novelists who wrote a good half-dozen or dozen books of which each was a sequel to the previous one, and all were good - including the last ones?

So, novelists are in their prime around 50...good, I've got a few years left to make the big time. ;)
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Post by Shield-of-Dardania » Wed February 22nd, 2012, 7:56 am

[quote=""Justin Swanton""]
Can you think of any novelists who wrote a good half-dozen or dozen books of which each was a sequel to the previous one, and all were good - including the last ones?
[/quote]
The late David Gemmell would be my candidate, even if he might not be everyone's cup of tea. I only became a fan through his Troy trilogy. But he seems to have built up his own fairly sizeable league of admirers through his fantasy works, like the Drenai Series, Rigante Series, Hawk Queen Series etc. David's works have also consistently topped the London Times bestseller list.

At the time of his death at 58 from coronary heart disease, he was 70,000 words into Fall of Kings, the last book in his Troy trilogy, which his wife Stella undertook to complete. I feel that the Troy trilogy is meant to be a gift to HF fans, from someone who had cut his teeth and honed his skills in the genre of fantasy.

[quote=""Justin Swanton""]
So, novelists are in their prime around 50...good, I've got a few years left to make the big time. ;)
[/quote]
Me too. Well, our friend DonRoc is still going strong at 80. So, not to worry.

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