Not everything should be reduced to a 'top ten' list. Lots of things can be, lots of things should be, some topics wouldn't even make it to ten, but some things need thinking about. With your indulgence, I am going to resist reducing my take on writing an unreal novel in an all too real world to a top ten list. If you are harbouring a hope to write a book yourself, you will find much of what follows helpful, at least I hope so.
Let's start with a famous quote.
If you write literarily about philosophy and ideas and you are not already famous for doing so, no-one's ever going to hear of you. …Author unknown.
This is a truism that all writers whose ambitions include writing about ideas and who choose fiction as their preferred platform, are faced with before they write the first word of their novel. So if it is fame and fortune you are seeking then writing a novel which is an attempted literary think-piece on life and the everlasting troubles of being a human being, female or male, is most likely not going to result in anything like fame and fortune. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be attempted.
In my novel Doing Life in Paradise, I have boldly, if perhaps stupidly, gone where very few dare to go these days, in this frighteningly fast 'real' world where 'real' is stupefying superficiality and hyper-speed is the default. I have tried to write a literary book that elicits active participation from the reader. It discusses ideas and presents them through the prism of characters who are deliberately 'unreal' and whose trajectories do not align with the usual 'Hollywood' hero's journey. DLIP is not a book where 'boy meets girl, boy and girl get into a pickle, boy gets pickle into girl' to borrow a Hollywoodism. This novel does not follow the usual three-act formula, or even the Shakespearean structure of five acts. The characters are not 'realistic' in the usual sense of this description. The novel's themes are nonetheless universal, and include the discussion of the absurdity of life, and the human reliance on hope.
So back to the question of 'why write an un-real book in an all too real world?' Well, because it is the job of would-be-serious writers to continue the journey of examining the examined life (however there may be no unexamined lives left in this world). This world is so agonisingly and astonishingly real that we can't get away from it. It is relentlessly incoming, with blanket social media bombarding us, controlling us, telling us who we are, what we must do and how we should be, think and feel-if we are still capable of feeling.
Perhaps novels like Doing Life in Paradise offer something in short supply in today's noisy world, perhaps what it offers is 'quiet contemplation' or a chance to sit in a corner and indulge the act of reading and thinking. DLIP promotes this moment of escape, but not the usual 'escapism' of fantasy, or murder mystery, or love story, or action adventure, which are often merely exaggerated extensions to the streaming relentlessness of our real life. DLIP is none of these generic forms; it deliberately points out that some things don't make sense, and this is one of the greatest components of life, and our lives. We must celebrate the opportunities of the 'unrealness' explaining the 'real', after all we are no better off understanding ourselves, or our lives, or more urgently, our place in life, from the constant attachment and unnatural reliance on social media and twenty-four hour rolling news coverage. So this novel, which eschews formulaic story telling, tells a story and explains this story by the use of micro-stories. It is in effect a story which prefers to think rather than act, or think first at least, and might just offer for those who like to think, and I am hoping there are still some of those about, the quiet contemplation of an imagination working - theirs and mine.
For me, writing is about getting every single word and grammatical flourish right, however impossible this is. Everything on the page is intended to justify its presence by doing a lot of work; it must serve the themes, and the ideas in some material way. It isn't sufficient to just be there (like us), everything needs to tell a story as well as combine to tell the story. In DLIP I try very hard to achieve this outcome. I want my reader to take their time and savour the moment, the words and in doing so, discover the moment, even argue and disagree but above all, I want to make it worth their while to stay off the grid and enjoy their thinking time. Of course no doubt in all this I have failed, but I have not failed to try and neither should you. If you have a story to tell then tell it for the sake of the story, not for the prospect of possible fame and fortune. If you have things to say, thoughts to prosecute, things about life, about coping with life, then say it, there will always be readers who will applaud your bravery. I will be first among them.
Gary N. Lines, author of Doing Life in Paradise.