Isn’t quite what we’re looking for

Your story isn’t quite what we’re looking for right now.

Seen that before? Perhaps, if you’re a writer trying to sell your stuff. It’s an ever present reminder that the editor / publisher takes a gamble each time a new writer is used. I can’t imagine many would share my interest in the business / economic side of publishing – but what about the existential side? Is your work good enough?

Novel Girl bravely confessed to her 5 main fears. I thought it worth repeating those, along with my responses.

1) Your manuscript isn’t good enough.
If you’re ready as a writer, send it out and accumulate those rejections. If you have something to say they won’t stop you from saying it. Otherwise get feedback.

2) You’ll never make it. Why do you try?
You’ll never make it if you don’t try. How much do you want it?

3) I will break Darcie Chan’s record of 100+ agent rejections.
Darcie who? Robert M Pirzig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected 121 times. Seriously, why look at someone’s failure record when you have the power of invention in your hands. How much do you want to express it?

4) You’ll embarrass yourself by publishing your manuscript; there’ll always be holes and errors.
Only if you go off half-cocked.

5) Quit your fantasy and spend your time doing something constructive (money earning).
You get one life. Follow one path and the prize is you get to entertain your audience doing the thing you love. As a bonus you get to leave your footsteps in the sands of time.
Or do nothing; in 100 years you’ll be another nameless statistic.

Where you currently fit in the pyramid of authorial success, isn’t necessarily where you’ll end up. You need to accept growth and be prepared to be harsh on yourself. Having said that, I believe writers should be challenged and not cossetted. Too much writing nowadays is poorly written and derivative. This is particularly true of the genre I grew up in – SF (& Fantasy).
This kind of writing follows the time worn maxim: it worked so let’s have the same again. The only problem is that kind of writing turns me off. I don’t want to write what I’ve already read. Why the feck should I? Why be happy with rehashed plots that I’ve seen thousands of times before? Okay thousands is a slight exaggeration; I’ve probably read not much more than 2,000 SF / Fantasy novels, but you get the drift. Turn that on its head; if the stuff I wanted to read was out there, why would I bother to write? There’s stuff that isn’t written and I’m served up mindless repetitive pap. I blame this all on Brian W Aldiss, Philip K Dick and  Michael Moorcock. How dare they and their New SF crowd (from donkey years ago… Brian never did like the label, and Phil – well he just wrote) make me demand more!

Time for a dig…

What worked?
The literary form.
Literary form?
A formula, which when applied an audience, produces satisfaction.
Oh, sounds mechanical. Who dreamed that up?

Socrates and Plato
Plato articulated the idea of perfect form. Socrates, as his teacher, became the main mouthpiece in his dialogs. He didn’t apply it (perfect form) to writing; back then successful poets and playwrights swayed the passions of their audiences. Socrates and Plato could hardly be enamoured of something that appealed to the irrational in people… which made writing a no-no!

I don’t have a conceptual problem with fiction being a proscribed form, as this circumstance fleshes out the backstory to the role of the artist in totalitarian regimes. As you know, artists in communist regimes, were an adjunct to the state, glorifying its ambitions and making icons of its heroes. (Cult of Personality, anyone?)
They (artists) think the unthinkable; sometimes that thought encompasses the end of the regime in question.

A brief aside
A king of a long forgotten empire, looking at the ruins of a civilisation gone long before his first forefathers gave thought to the building of their empire, reflected on the passage of time, and how by it, the mighty and powerful were each humbled in turn. As he looked, he saw his own empire reduced to rubble, its citizens slaughtered or enslaved and his own works forgotten. In view of this, he asked his wise men to deliberate upon this and suggest to him some magnificent work he might undertake that would endure. In the fullness of time he asked them for the results of their deliberations. He was given a plain gold ring on which was written a simple inscription “This too shall pass.”

That’s an old tale (not mine), however I repeat it here because tales like these fuel my ambition and inspire me. The saying feels true. It communicates to me. Having come into writing via philosophical study, I feel that writing can add something to the world.

Back to literary form.


Aristotle, Plato’s pupil, made sense of what Plato (and, one guesses, Socrates) dismissed. Plays and poetry formed a significant proportion of creative output then. His treatise focuses upon these. Much that is written now is encompassed by his analysis.



In his Poetics (here’s my notes), he takes us through what works and what doesn’t and he places emphasis on plausibility. After a dip into the workings of comedy and tragedy, Aristotle moves over to the epic where he essentially presents a guide to the hazards of writing complex pieces. Inexperienced present-day authors are just as likely as ancient ones to be tripped up on: over-ornamentation, self-plagiary, vague and drab descriptions, plot irrationalities. His analysis offers pointers, still relevant now; e.g. storylines need to be appropriately weighted and authors should aim for poetic justice i.e. where events fit a pattern and occur because of one another. It shouldn’t be predictable or too easy….

Aristotle lived in an age where there were few lengthy narratives. What would he have made of fiction?

Would he appreciate the irony of formulaic fiction churned out for mass markets?

About Terence Park

Board games, US Comic books, SF Paperbacks, Vinyl records; I've plenty of them all. I write SF (the serious sort). I also do spreadsheets.
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