How to write an important book!

Hello all, I have a very *ahem* serious post today about how to write some serious fiction! Usual disclaimer: this is for humour purposes and not to target any particular book/author (funnily enough, while I did draw on bits and pieces I don’t like in fiction, writing this actually made me think that *thankfully* most books dubbed “important” do none of these things). Also, a lot of this is based on my own personal likes/dislikes. Thank you for your understanding in this matter 😉 Now, onto the guidelines!

you choose

#1 Choose a suitable genre– your options are: contemporary, historical fiction, dystopia annnnd that’s it.

 

 

opinion toy story meme

#2 Find a topic that’s on trend and run with it! Make sure it matches up to whatever’s on various manuscript wishlists, because you know, this isn’t really about writing your ideas, it’s about parroting whatever *important people* think. *Do not* choose something close to home or write from any personal experience. If you run out of time to publish this grand idea before the trend dies- never fear, you can just recycle it later! For instance, if you were writing important historical fiction a few years ago, you could’ve gone with the secretly sympathetic Nazi trope- but now you may have to adjust that idea to… some seriously sympathetic Stalinists! (just my prediction for the next trend- you’re welcome! 😉)

reading#3 Loosely research this topic. You don’t want to interfere too much with your preconceived ideas, so don’t do actual research or find data that might muddy the waters. Ignore information that may contain nuance or will make readers uncomfortable (for this reason, I seriously recommend not looking into any kind of psychology or history or the like). Go with popular media takes- then you should be safe from criticism, cos all the people who might evaluate the book already hold the same opinions anyway. I recommend using Buzzfeed as your primary source- that should suffice.

strawman

#4 Moralise! This is my favourite step, because it’s so gosh-darn-easy and oh-so-satisfying! This should involve (but is not limited to): strawmen, pointlessly obvious statements (eg “war is bad”), contradictory ideas, invasive authorial intrusions, a heavy dose of nihilism (if you can manage it), irrelevant information and some illogical arguments. Remember, your view (and that of the powerful people you’re parroting) is the only one that matters!

 

 

character conveyor belt#5 Make all your characters walking stereotypes and tokens! This is great, cos you don’t actually have to put in the work to make them seem remotely realistic. On that note…

 

listen to me#6 Characters are merely mouthpieces for the author’s intent– so don’t you forget it! At every opportunity, put your own (stolen) words into their mouths. The more inane, the better!

 

 

 

doesnt matter#7 The more important a book is, the less the plot matters… so don’t bother to have one! I know I just love reading a book and realising that nothing actually happened for 400+ pages- so this is the model you should work with!

 

drama#8 Add plenty of nonsensical melodrama (nothing says serious like melodrama!). Try to have the emotional range and logic of a hyper, high on sugar, possibly caffeinated five-year-old- that should do the trick. Especially since everyone knows unrealistic is better (personally, I love that Hollywood trope where the unarmed plucky rebels run at a group of armed, evil soldiers and miraculously disarm them- peacefully of course!)

 

i'm awesome#9 I had a think about style and came to the conclusion… it doesn’t matter if you use an extreme version of pared down or purple prose- just as long as you tell other writers this is the *only* way to do it! Prescriptive advice is the best and the most important writers are really into it- so you should be too!

 

closing argument#10 Your ending is super important– use this as an opportunity to moralise more and drive home whatever message you were going for!

 

 

I'm offended#11 Get sensitivity readers to check that your work is sensitive enough for every person on the planet– because it is totally possible to write a book that everyone relates to/loves/doesn’t have problems with (and because there has been no case *ever* of a book going through this process and being cancelled anyway… oh wait, that’s the case with most cancelled books, hmmm nevermind! Do this step regardless! Your job is not to think for yourself!)

 

sympathy#12 Write in your acknowledgements about a dead friend/relative/acquaintance whose real-life story you were inspired by– preferably naming them- so that you can milk sympathy on their behalf. This doesn’t look tacky at all!

 

sarcastic sorry#13 Prepare an apology of sorts that you can put in as an introduction to make up for your lack of research. You can also pre-emptively say sorry on twitter for whatever you’ve written, whilst simultaneously self-promoting and virtue signalling! Look at you, killing three birds with one stone! (also, while you’re on twitter, try and destroy someone else’s career- this is both fun and will make people want to buy your books when the time comes! There are only loads of a few cases of this backfiring…)

***Congrats: you’ve written some propaganda an important book***

Now you can sit back and wait for people to admire your genius! You’re welcome!

(And yes, the observant reader will notice this doesn’t involve much writing- that is only for unimportant writers!)

What even is an “important book”?

thoughts orangutan

A while back I was watching a great video by Alexa Donne on how you don’t need to write an important book- which I highly recommend checking out if you need a pep talk. But it made me think: what even is an important book?

At the risk of rehashing a lot of the discussion there, I’d agree that it’s often used in marketing for issues books. And, I’d also go as far as to say, much like the literary fiction label, it’s also a way of slapping a “this is worthy” tag on a book.

My first order of contention with the very idea of an “important book” is how much genre snobbery comes into play here. Because generally speaking, it’s going to be mostly contemporary (and very occasionally historical fiction) that gets this moniker. We might even see a sci fi getting talked about this way… buuut only if it’s dystopia. And my beloved fantasy? Forget about it. Doesn’t matter if it shines a light on the true horror of war or explores deep psychological themes- it’s just never going to be talked about in the same way.

More concerning to me is how this is often framed. As Donne said “what’s important for one person might not be important for another”. And this couldn’t be more true. We all know that books are such a personal experience: a book that touches us and proves important could really fit into any category. Regardless of whether a book covers an important issue, it can become important in someone’s life. On the flipside, a book that covers topical issues can feel irrelevant or be something an individual doesn’t connect with. Claiming a book has “importance” in such a context seems a little meaningless, don’t you think?

However, I also think this goes deeper and touches on a more significant issue. In the vast majority of cases, I see books and stories that are deemed “important” are on the same narrow range of topics. For instance, I have read countless literary books about the struggles of a working or middle class person to fit in with the upper class… which, surprisingly, isn’t super relatable for most working or middle class people, despite how often it’s portrayed in stories 😉 Not that there is a deliberate conspiracy going on- just that, as carefully curated as a list may be, it will always be subject to human decision making and a natural tendency to trend-chase. The problem for me isn’t just that these books are samey or that the topic is “unrelatable” (as I’ve mentioned previously, that doesn’t necessarily matter), it’s that it leaves so much space for *other* important topics that never get discussed. Especially injustices that that may seem hard to package in a palatable way or are too sensitive to be touched. And this is not to say there should be less of a certain kind of story, just that sometimes I think the focus of what is “important” could be broadened a little.

whole world in my hands

And, perhaps most controversially, I’d also say that being “important” or someone’s “magnum opus” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. There’s still that pesky matter of taste to contend with; there’s the possibility it was published to chase a trend. And, worst of all, there’s the potential for it to be tryhard and cringy and moralising… which can all be painful to read! I guess the only positive here is that calling a book “important” doesn’t give you any real hint as to its quality.

So, all in all, I’m not sure how helpful I find the term… even if I’ve used it myself in an offhand way 😉 Obviously, it’d be the pot calling the kettle black if I critiqued every usage- nonetheless I’m finding myself more sceptical by the day about whether any books are more important than others.

What do you think? Do you find the term “important book” useful? If so, why? I want to hear what you think in the comments!