Monday, June 16, 2014

How to Write a Novel with Depth

 Eric here. Unfrequently, I am asked, "Eric, how on earth did you write a science fiction comedy of such depth?" I then don't ask if they mean my last article, and they never say "No, I mean BETA TEST." (Currently only $5.99 for your electronical reading device!) 
Here's the secret of how I created a novel of big ideas. It's something Homer J. Simpson knew years ago: Never Try. 
When I set out to write BETA TEST I had three things:
  • a skeletal premise
  • a corpulent protagonist
  • a desire to write a book that was equal parts funny and scary (well, scary for the very easily scared, at least).
The cover, not featuring the author, though
some people think so.
While I did sit on the idea for a long time—about 15 years in fact—by the time I was pounding keys, I was simply channeling the works of the great Christopher Moore, the voice of Neil Gaiman, and, perhaps most importantly, making up jokes about screaming and farting.
My idea for BETA TEST hinged entirely on a character's search for a higher power. A "God" if you will. And that required a precipitating incident, a disaster of, say, Biblical proportions to set things off. I settled on something totally uncontroversial: the Rapture. (It's not really the Rapture in the book, but it's Rapture-esque.) Then I set about writing the entire book and filling it with over-the-top situations, coupled with explanations for everything from the human soul to alien life to what happened to the dinosaurs.
All of which really is secondary to the fact that I really wanted to have a fat guy hero running about screaming in terror most of the time as he tried to save the world. The adventure—the story—was much more important to me. 
Then, Tom Perrotta's THE LEFTOVERS came out and I wept for a few weeks. There are no original ideas, only execution. Thankfully, Perrotta was too chicken to have a 350-pound protagonist.
Where was I? Adventure...weeping... big ideas.

BETA TEST came out. As I promoted it, I found that readers were plumbing the depths of this book in a way I never thought possible. I thought readers would want to discuss the ridiculous monsters that crop up. Instead, I got invited to speak at a class at my alma mater called "Religion and Science Fiction." (There's a lot of overlap; just ask Ridley Scott.) Turns out my little book was perfect fodder for deep discussions. I spoke on the radio about it, to librarian groups, and have received no death threats, even though I [SPOILER] explain away religion and deities in a way that could have some hardcore types frothing at the mouth. I thought my more religulously-oriented friends might disown me; most of them thought it was hilarious. Or they claim to.
Perhaps BETA TEST makes people think about the big issues. And that's a good thing.  
But it's far more important that everyone walk away from it with a goofy grin on their face. All this depth? It's window dressing for what I hope is a fun, action-packed story, with a lot of screaming in terror. And farting.  
So, if you've got highfalutin hopes for creating a work of art that will get people talking, when writing a novel, my advice is: don't try. Just write the damn thing.
ERIC GRIFFITH is the author of  BETA TEST from Hadley Rille Books and  KALI:THE GHOSTING OF SEPULCHER BAY. He's currently writing about homeless people with super powers. Visit Eric at


Terri-Lynne said...

That is some really great advice, Eric. I have to agree with you. Whenever I'm TRYING to be really clever, I fall flat on my writerly face. It's when I let the story take shape that all the good stuff comes, and then I squiggle with joy and think, "Wow, I AM awesome!" and all is right in my world. :)

Karin Rita Gastreich said...

Eric, I so enjoy your posts! Thanks again for making me think _and_ laugh. :)