Literary fidelity, is it really a thing?

First, let me start by clearing something up: What on Earth do I mean with literary fidelity? I suppose there are several ways of understanding this phrase:

a) It could refer to that age old discussion on whether art should imitate life, i.e. represent life as it is, you know… realism. Wiser men (and women, of course) with much more impressive beards than my own (I suppose some of those women too…) tried to answer questions on whether art, and literature and an artistic form of expression, should strive to imitate life or to show what reality COULD/SHOULD be. I am not going to get into that (though I support the second view).

b) Literary fidelity could also refer to loyalty to a certain genre or style. From a reader’s point of view that might sound boring (imagine reading only one genre your entire life… oy vey…), but from an author’s perspective, it just… feels natural. A writer writes what a writer writes, right? Well, sort of. It is inevitable to develop a certain style and staying true to it through your career, it’s like talking, everyone develops their own idiosyncrasies, it’s unavoidable. It is possible, however, to develop that style over time and improve it, adapt it to your narrative and overall message; even when you are writing int he same genre. Of course, many writers, especially the really good ones, also “jump genres” or play with genre conventions. Take Stephen King, he didn’t only write IT and the Shinning, horror novels, but also the Green Mile and the Dark Tower series (according to many, his Magnum Opus). Other writers stick to something they know, which is fine, and play with it a little. Terry Pratchett, about whom I talk rather a lot here, started out with science fiction, moved to fantasy (both of which are in the fantastical literature umbrella genre) and even went as far as contemporary fantasy (like New Omens, which is getting a series staring David Tennant! How exciting). My own opinion is that writers should be free to jump genre, change style (hopefully for the better, as this will keep them fresh and relevant) as a way to express themselves. But frankly, that isn’t my business what they do in this department and this is not what I mean.

So what do I mean with literary fidelity here? Well, very simple, staying loyal to your story; is that a thing? I set out last November to write my first ever historical novel, and I am at around 120,000 words and almost done, but it took forever. My original plan was to finish it by June, so… six months ago. I kept getting distracted by things. Besides other, more personal things, it was also other stories. Short stories, a new novel idea, stuff in general kept distracting me, and my historical novel starting looking a bit neglected. I abandoned my own rules about how to get back to it and simply left it for younger, more attractive projects, and that was bad. Now I find it rather hard to resume where I left off and I wonder if I should have shown more loyalty to my story, i.e. fidelity.

So that is the question of the day, should I have abandoned those new ideas and kept my head down and written this novel? Or was it a good thing to branch out and pursue different ideas? In the long run, who knows. All I know is that when a new idea comes to me, I get an irresistible urge to fill it with words. A new idea and inspiration comes in the form of not only an outline, but as what it could mean, as wording (mostly clever) and that excites me. I get distracted by the potential of that new idea.

I believe that might be a weakness every creative person faces. Creativity is something that sparks your mind and enables you to see things differently, and sometimes you need to give into it and let it guide you. It may sound silly and a bit like a cliche, but there is a lot to it. I really believe in every thing I put to paper, which motivates me to pursue every idea and every new direction my mind comes up with, in part, out of fear of it disappearing before I could get to writing it. Of course, one thing that does get lost is the original thing, even to the point that I thought about giving up on it (but after 100,000 words… it would be easier to just push through).

If you are like me and do get distracted, I just want to remind you of my points from a few months ago:

  • Set a daily, or weekly, goal. This could also be overall goals (before September, up to June…). You should also write them down, even in the form of a step-wise plan (first this has to happen, after that, in the next chapter…). This would make long pauses between writing sessions less of a hindrance.
  • Moderate your distractions. Yes, this includes other stories. If you have eight different ideas all at once, maybe start writing one (the best one) and just jot down the other seven in a notebook somewhere and get back to them when you are done with other things.
  • Start your writing session by rereading the last bit of your writing.  When the distraction is over, you need to get back to it, and this will certainly help you get back to where you left off.
  • Take notes. The human brain has a limited storage capacity for stuff. This is seven times more true for really cool stuff. So if you get ideas about your current, long story, write them down, because you might find that this story will be in hiatus at some point and that cool plot point you thought of three months ago is all but gone from your head.

Also look at what I wrote in June about “Getting back in the metaphorical saddle”.


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