Sunday, September 19, 2004

Contemporary Fiction: Genres and Beyond

Contemporary Fiction
Writing fiction is an art, and although I am probably not the right person to talk about contemporary fiction since I currently only write non-fiction, any constructive comments or advice on the subject will be welcomed at this blog.

Now that my stand on the subject of fiction writing has been explained, I wish to add that although I am not an expert in the fields of fiction writing, I am however academically trained in the subjects of Contemporary Fiction and Authorship and Writing. Over the past few years, months, and days, I have the opportunity to read a number of fiction novels as part of my academic curriculum. The many novels and genres I have been tasked to read and analyze include Oranges by Jeanette Winterson, Psycho by Robert Bloch, Nice Work by David Lodge, The Memoirs of a Survivor by Doris Lessing, On the Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin, Guerrillas by V.S. Naipaul, The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, and Beloved by Toni Morrision.

The novels mentioned above are writings consisting of many different genres, and although these are not the usual types of books that I would have preferred to read, an important lesson learnt from all these readings is to be a good fiction writer, one must read more than these and understand the many different genres of writings.

Analyzing literary is not exactly an easy task and to comprehend the many different genres and then categorize each type of writing content is only for the purpose of identifying the different kinds of writings represented. The pitfall of this is the generalization of different genres in writings and the assumption that all writings fall under a certain type of category. Unfortunately, this approach is not always correct, since there may be multiple genres represented in a single writing.

For example, an author may choose to include humor and suspense in a romance novel. To categorize the novel under romance alone will mean limiting the audience's perception of what the novel represents as a whole. If a reader is only interested in books of thriller or sci-fi, what are the chances of the reader entering a bookstore and going to a section selling books on fantasy or folklore instead?

There are of course many areas of fiction writing apart from genres and these include setting, characterization, plot, point of view, style, target audience, historical and literary background, narrative and narrator.

In the area of style, the writer may wish to consider content such as dualities, binaries, layered meanings, connotations, reminiscence, reflections, rhetoric, metaphors, folklore, and others. Examples of these are the dualities and binaries of academia versus industry in Nice Work, the layered meanings and connotative resentment of enlistment to fight the war, the reminiscence and reflections of events in the past in On the Black Hill, and the metaphors in Memoirs of a Survivor.

In a story setting, aspects such as historical background, constructed society, realism, context of past, present and future may be considered. Experiential content such as historical events that happened in the life of the author may be used to add constructed realism to associate the content in the story that readers may identify. Examples of story setting are the association of colonialism in the writings of Guerrillas, the depiction of societal chaos and the future in Memoirs of a Survivor, the folklore of telepathy of twins in On the Black Hill, and the classical example of Ben-Hur in the times of Jesus.

To write a fiction book or novel for a large audience in the international market, the author must explain or eliminate aspects of writings that contain associated content that is confined to a local context. These will include aspects of language, culture, words and literary terminologies.

For guides on modern language and literary writings, visit the web site of the Modern Language Association at for more details.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Feature Writing

Feature Writing
Sam lost his job two years ago due to the economy downturn. Believing it to be only temporary, he actively seeks employment while upgrading his skills through short-term courses. Today, he is still unemployed. Now at the age of 41, he is forced to consider self-employment and entrepreneurship but is hesitant because he has been an employee his entire working life.

The introduction above is an anecdote that kicks off a news feature story on entrepreneurship. When writing a feature, there are usually four components to be considered. These components are: anecdotes, quotes, facts, and statements of theme.

For writers who are new to feature writing, a common mistake is to pen an anecdote from a first or second person's points of view. For example, when writing the story mentioned above using 'I' or 'you':

You have been an employee your entire working life. Two years ago, you lost your job due to the economy downturn. Believing the downturn to be only temporary, you actively seek employment while upgrading your skills through short-term courses. Today, you are still unemployed.
To write an anecdote, the story must be written by a third party or a third person narrator. The purpose is to use content 'pull' technique to attract readers to a sense of reading a novel or a storybook. For a feature story to be successful, at least one anecdote should be included to help readers visualize the 'reality' of a situation or the life of the person being told in the anecdote.

A feature should also include facts and quotes for angles of human interest. Facts may be research finding that quantify the content of the story, official statistical figures, or actual events witnessed by people:

According to official figures from the manpower department, unemployment is now at 4.5 per cent.
Quotes are actual account of events by witnesses or spoken comments of people interviewed. Quotes can be direct or indirect. For a feature story to be credible and interesting, both direct and indirect quotes will be necessary.

A direct quote is the actual spoken words by persons interviewed:

"I have been an employee my entire working life," said Sam Doe, 41, a retrenched worker.
An indirect quote is a paraphrased or rephrased writing of actual words spoken by persons interviewed:

Sam Doe, 41, said he has been an employee his entire working life.
Statements of theme are sentences that links original theme of the story to various parts of the feature. This is especially useful when there are multiple sections or story points that need to be expanded in different areas of the feature. The objective of statements of theme is to draw the readers back to the main theme of the story.

The feature story is usually written with each paragraph pulling the readers forward to read on to the point of closure or a conclusion or instructions to proceed further. It is usual to end the story by drawing the readers' attention back to the points being told at the lead paragraph, but with added knowledge on the subject.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004


One of the less glorifying works that a writer can do for a living is ghostwriting. Ghostwriting, as the name implies, is about writing a piece of work on behalf of someone else. The writer is the ghost and the person who hires the writer is the owner and author credited for the written book.

As a ghostwriter, one does not get the satisfaction of seeing his or her name in print. What is seen is someone else claiming authorship to the written work, which is an experience that can be painful for one who has put in many hours of work and in some ways, degrading. However, ghostwriters are often well compensated in monetary returns in disclaiming association to the written work, and this in itself may provide consolation to the writer.

Ghostwriting entails many areas of considerations in practice and this article hopes to detail some of the guidelines that will be useful in understanding the procedures that may be necessary for providing this service.

For starters, the ghostwriter should understand that it is usually someone who wants to publish a book under his or her own name that will contact the ghostwriter for the assignment. Once contacted, the task of the ghostwriter will be to first estimate the time and cost required to complete the desired writings, computed in dependency to the complexity of content and the need for research. A book project will normally completes within four months of the start date, but this is dependent in part on the ghostwriter's availability, the length of writings required, and the topic.

The hirer of the ghostwriting service will first provide the story or ideas in a two to three pages sample in draft or outline format, and the ghostwriter will then produce a custom sample for the hirer to evaluate the style of writing before the hirer officially invest and hires the ghostwriter for the work. A precise quotation of the price will accompany the sample so that the hirer can know exactly what is entailed in the complete investment.

If the hirer accepts the sample and wish to proceed with the project, he or she will make a 25 per cent deposit of the project cost which will be non-refundable once approval to commence is given. The ghostwriter will begin writing and send chapters along the way for approval, in which any number of revisions will be permitted at no additional cost. The only time revisions become an additional cost is when acceptance of the individual chapters have been confirmed and approved, as any revisions at that point will affect the remainder of the story.

When the book is halfway through completion, another 50 per cent deposit will be requested and on receipt of payment the writings will continue as per normal. Upon reaching 100 per cent satisfaction with the completed book, a final payment will be collected.

The remainder tasks upon completion will be the actual production and publication of the book, and these are not included in the cost quoted for ghostwriting. A reasonable price to charge the hirer for the service will depend on the market price in the country of service provided. This can differ very widely, depending on familiarity to the topic of writing, the research requirements and others. As a ghostwriter usually requires 'full time' concentration for a few months on the project, a good guideline for pricing will be to calculate the opportunity cost and opportunities lost as a result of taking up the project. In addition, the price should also include goodwill for 'selling' one's right to authorship.

With all these aspects considered, it is ultimately up to the writer to decide whether he or she is willing to participate in this less glorifying role of writing as a ghost. If monetary returns are important, then ghostwriting may be the ways to go, depending on its demand.