Subverting the ‘norm’ of writing?

There’s this interesting concept in modern literature: subversion. Essentially it’s the idea of challenging the ‘norm’ in writing. You see it in popular fantasy for instance, which is a genre I do read plenty of, whereby new authors attempt to make their work stand out by subverting common archetypes in new and varying ways.  There is this idea however that writing in subversive ways is somehow equivalent to strong writing. Yet this is not necessarily the case.

It’s an amusing concept because every so often there are fantasy books that come out where a whole bunch of readers go ‘oh that’s new and different’ because of one key fantasy trope or archetype that is subverted. Yet these subversions do not equal a great novel in and of themselves. If they did then all anyone would need to do to write a great novel is research all the common archetypes and write a novel that does precisely the opposite.

There are novels which subvert common ideas in their genre which are terrible. There are novels which have also subverted these common ideas and become terrific. The one thing which separated these novels was the quality of the writing and the storytelling. Novels like The Lord of the Rings, Mistborn and The Name of the Wind all follow a kind of ‘hero’s journey’ archetype in a sense, even where they subvert the tropes. What makes those novels stand out is the fact that they all were beautifully written or told a story in a manner which was so thrilling or enticing. What readers want is not some superficial ‘new idea’ that will hold them for all of twenty seconds, they want depth to a story, something to hold onto and remember.

The key then as a writer is this: know your target audience and write a good strong, enticing story. If the story cannot be enjoyed by individuals outside of your target audience the question must be asked ‘is this a strong story?’ If the story is too fixated on one particular idea, again is it the best story that it can be? However, if the story has heart, soul, a great plot and characters that people will care about then you are onto something. This is the first of many blog posts which will continue to explore the ideas of writing, and hopefully provide insights into the mind of a developing writer.

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