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When Novelists Reach the End of their Stories

Got a question/comment about the creative process of writing? Post it here!
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Post by Shield-of-Dardania » Wed February 22nd, 2012, 8:01 am

Do writers lose the plot as they lose the plot, so to speak?
Depends which plot they lose first. ;)

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Post by SarahWoodbury » Mon February 27th, 2012, 6:22 pm

At the same time, certain authors seemed to have saved the best for last. I think Brother Cadfael's Penance was one of Ellis Peters' best books. She died shortly thereafter.

I think Death Comes to Pemberley is a bit of a departure for PD James and while it was a book she always wanted to write, the Jane Austen fad made it possible. Plus, she's in her 80s and maybe felt she could write what she wanted.

I wouldn't say that ALL of her books are great either. Some books are better than others. It just so happens that she wrote this now. Maybe her next book, if she returns to her roots, will be wonderful.

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Post by SGM » Mon February 27th, 2012, 7:22 pm

[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]

When studying Wordsworth there was a saying, which I can't quote exactly now but went along the lines of what the young would do but can't and what the old could do but won't, ie what he had the inspiration and desire to do but not the ability when young, he had the experience to do when old but no longer wanted to.

His poetry did deteriorate with age which goes to show that experience isn't everything.
Currently reading - Emergence of a Nation State by Alan Smith

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Post by Kveto from Prague » Mon February 27th, 2012, 8:28 pm

I'm not a writer, but that's not stopped me from thinking about them.

This is a pretty interesting question that I've pondered before and not only in regards to writing but to any art form (music, art, sport, etc). Is there a finite amount of "material" that anyone has in them? My layman's answer might be yes, that's how it seems for most. And im not talking about any type of old age or anything, i'm just talking about the amount of creative ideas that people are capable of

This goes against our human nature. We've been told our whole lives that we should continue to improve, get better with more practice. And im guessing with writers the actual writing itself might get better with more practice, but i think that gets balanced out by a lessening of truly original ideas. I'm sure every writer wants to say their next book will be the best (unless they are just cashing a paycheck) but the readers are the better judges of that.

Think about how many writers you know whose last book was their "best" book. i really can't think of any offhand. Every writer peaked at some point, usually earlier in their careers. (unless they were clever and only put out one brilliant book that they never tried to follow up, a la Harper Lee and "To kill a mockingbird"). It makes sense when you think about it. Often writers have been planning those early stories for a significant part of their pre-writing lives. After those first stories, they have a much shorter time to come up with something different and original and "better" than their previous work.

But writers must keep telling themselves they are getting better while writing or they'd quit. only when finished writing could they look back and say "that was my best work" which will probably not be the last thing they wrote. Because if the last thing was their best then they probably have more stories in them.

Its a rare artist whose last work is their best. Beethoven is the only one I can think of who went out on top, his final 9th symphony was his best, but thats only an opinion.

Think about poor Mary Shelly who wrote her seminal work Frankenstein at the age of 19, then spent the rest of her days knowing that she'd never write anything that good again.

IMHO, all writers have a finite amount of "story" in them, but you can't tell exactly when they "jump the shark" until they do it.

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Post by The Czar » Thu March 1st, 2012, 3:45 pm

I'd chalk it up to several factors, if such a decline exists at all...

1. Perhaps as an author ages, his work appeals more to other older people, but isn't what speaks to a younger audience anymore.

2. Publisers often seem to pressure a sucessful author not to try new things, but to produce a different version of the same thing that gave them success over and over. This would get dull and uninspiring quickly I think.

3. Obviously, mental decline could play a factor.

4. A successful arthist's first novel was written as a goal. It was a dream, or an escape, or a bid for success... it was reaching for somethign.

His seventh novel is old hat, fulfilling a contract.

5. You see this often with songwriters too. Perhaps years of success insulates you from what speaks to ordinary people?
Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results.
Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli

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