Anyone for some “innovative fiction”?

So far, I’ve posted essays, reviews and poems on my blog. Now it’s time for some fiction! There is one catch. First of all, it’s not quite finished. And secondly – two catches then – I’ll be entering it into a competition, and so I won’t be uploading it here for a few months. However, I will gladly email the story to anyone who wishes to read it. If you would like to take a look, just “like” this post (if you have contact information in your Gravatar profile) or send me an email here, and I’ll send you the pdf just as soon as I finish it (31st March at the very latest).

However, if you wish to know more before deciding, and who could blame you, then read on… The competition in question is run by the American literary magazine Diagram, and this particular brief is for “Innovative Fiction“. Apart from a limit of 10,000 words, that is the only instruction. Hardly much of a constraint. My response has been to write a somewhat intellectual, detective story, containing multiple levels of narration, each of which raises philosophical questions about the effectiveness of those narratives and the limits of language itself.

In an earlier draft of the story I had also included an element which questioned the very possibility of writing innovative fiction (since removed to accommodate other plot developments). The question this previous version raised was this: what is innovation in fiction? More specifically, if one introduced an innovative form in a story, could its reuse ever be considered innovative? Or is the fact that it has been used once before enough to rob it of all claims to innovation, even if it were very far from the literary norms.

In one sense, any good book is innovative, if by that we mean, it contains original characters, plot, ideas etc. Trashy genre fiction aside, all books can be considered to be prototypes that break some sort of new ground. And to what extent is this merely a question of fashion or timing? One very innovative novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne, was published from 1759 onwards, but for a long while after this the form of novels became more conservative. At some point in the past, a return to Sterne’s form and style would have been considered a break with the norm, even innovative, except for the fact that it had already been done. Therefore, for how long does an idea need to remain dormant before its reactivation is considered novel?

Perhaps it’s a fools errand to worry excessively about this. Given the vast quantity of literature – too much for even an army of men to read, and in many languages at that, so too much even for a multi-national peacekeeping force – it might be impossible to make any definitive pronouncements. One culture’s innovation could be another’s standard, if not, cliched form.

An inherent problem with attempting to create these kind of groundbreaking artworks is that they are more difficult to write, principally due to a lack of training data. Conversely, they are also harder to judge for quality. An even greater quantity of good fortune then is required to meet with a positive reception.

And so back to my own innovative fiction; who knows if it is actually, truly innovative. I think many aspects of it are certainly creative and original, but whether overall it is innovative, I’m not sure. Maybe you can tell me? Then again, probably it doesn’t matter; if it’s interesting to read, then maybe that’s enough. Innovation be damned.

So, what do you think makes a book innovative? Have you read any that seemed particularly innovative to you, and did you feel that this helped or hindered the story-telling? And, once again, do let me know if you are interested in reading my story. Thanks!

6 thoughts on “Anyone for some “innovative fiction”?

  1. Hmm, you’re right, I’m not sure what ‘innovative fiction’ really means. Sure, it’s not one of those romantic novel-by-numbers and it’s not derivative sci-fi serials. But it does seem that it should cover most writing that’s, you know… good! I think that what I’m writing at the moment could probably be seen as innovative… and, to be honest, intentionally so… but it’s a potentially limiting catch-all title for a category.

    Still, I’d love to see what you end up with if you’re happy to share.

    • No problem! I’ll send it over when I’m done. The competition deadline is the 30th March, so I haven’t got long to go.

      One aspect of my story breaks some of the “rules of fiction” that I was taught during creative writing courses. However, I’m doing it intentionally, to achieve a specific effect, and hoping to use other signals to fill-in that missing information. It probably requires a little more work on the part of the reader, but I’m okay with that. Have you felt yourself doing the same with your project? It seems that many of the greatest writers, at least those whom I really admire and enjoy, break many of these supposed rules. It’s something to aspire to I suppose, even if the risk of failure is greater.

      Anyway, I hope you enjoy the story, and I would be really interested to hear your thoughts on it when you’ve finished reading.


  2. It sounds really interesting – looking forward to reading it!

    My project goes against convention in two major ways. Firstly, I’m writing a novella in free verse but am also trying to tell a story that could be seen as a thriller – trying to make it as accessible as it can be. Secondly, I’ve really messed with structure – although I’m still on the first draft so that could yet change. We’ll see how it goes.

    If you want a look some very short excerpts, I’ve posted them on my blog.

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