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I want to write a novel about [something or other] and now I wonder if it is possible to do [this or that].

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    This is a question that this site actually needs. Too many questions revolve around it. +1 – Daniel Cann Jan 3 '17 at 18:41
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GLENDOWER 
I can call spirits from the vasty deep. 

HOTSPUR 
Why, so can I, or so can any man; 
But will they come when you do call for them?

-- Henry IV, part 1 | Act 3, Scene 1

In other words, "Can I do ..." is always the wrong question. "Will anyone want to read ..." is the right question.

And if you can't think of a dozen widely read books where the author does [something or other] then the answer is no.

Storytelling is the most ancient of arts. It neither needs nor rewards innovation. It is all about excellence of execution. If you are spending your time and energy on anything else, you are wasting your time.

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    Good answer, Mark, but yes and no. There is writing to reach a mainstream audience, and there is writing to titillate the avant-garde; there is writing to make money, and there is writing to fulfill a personal vision; there is writing as a job, and there is art. And some writing manages to be both, to surprise readers, and become a new standard. Storytelling has changed fundamentally from Homer to advertising and video games. But for what I write, and for what I believe this site is about – which, I think, is marketable writing –, I agree with your answer. – user5645 Jan 3 '17 at 19:07
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    So true, @what. I think writing is about creation rather than consumption. Write what you like, even if nobody else is doing it. (I think that's unlikely, but...) If you write something unique, and write it well, then you'll have readers. No, wait. Who cares about having readers? You'll be a different person after writing a novel, regardless of whether it's ever read. – Ken Mohnkern Jan 3 '17 at 19:12
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    But it is worth pointing out that both the act of writing and the act of storytelling are inherently transitive. They are acts of communication. So in fact you cannot do these acts purely for yourself. If you are not thinking of a reader, you are not communicating. You are doing something else with words, but it is not writing. In other words, it is masturbation, not love. – Mark Baker Jan 3 '17 at 19:27
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    "But for those people this question is nonsensical" - As one of those people, I disagree. I do experience doubt about my writing style and do care about its quality and accessibility even if few will read it. – Kevin Jan 4 '17 at 3:21
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    Mark, I agree with your general approach, but I think your bottom line is problematic. Not everything has been done before (and writers don't always know it if it has). "Can I write a vampire story, but the vampires glitter?" "Can I write a survival story, but on Mars?" "Can I write a movie where all the scenes are in reverse order?" Innovation just in order to innovate is usually a drag, but good innovation on a firm base can be great. That's a long way from saying "you can't do those things" or "nobody will like it." – Standback Jan 4 '17 at 19:57
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You almost certainly can. At very least, if this is a project that appeals to you, then you can try, and see how it goes.

There have been stories and novels written in second-person future tense, written without the letter 'e', written in the form of a series of exercise and relaxation tapes, written from the viewpoint of a sentient pregnancy test. There is probably nothing quite so outlandish or restrictive that it could not possibly be written well.

The question is not "Can it be done." The questions are:

  • Why do you want to?
  • Is it worth the effort?
  • What will you do to make it work?
  • Does it work?

Why do you want to?

There are a few main reasons to try to do something very unusual:

  • Because you want an unusual result. That's fine. This means you're experimenting, and deliberately creating something odd. The question isn't "can it be done," it's an experiment. It may not work out, or the unusual result may not turn out to be a good piece of fiction -- but you're not going to write unusual fiction without spending some time writing weird stuff and seeing what works.
  • Because it sounds like a challenge. That's fine. Just bear in mind that the fact that something is challenging to write, doesn't mean it's interesting to read. Try it, see if it gets your creative juices flowing or if the challenge is enjoyable to you, and if it's not doing that, you can stop.
  • Because it's necessary for the specific story you want to tell. These can be very challenging to write, but what helps is that you have a specific goal in mind. Knowing where you're headed goes a long way towards helping you overcome the difficulties you've taken on; it gives you a way to constantly check yourself, see that the story is doing what you want it to be doing, even if what you want it to be doing is fairly unusual.

Is it worth the effort?

Once you know why you're trying to do [this or that], you can make up your mind on whether it's actually worth your time and effort.

If you're doing it just because it sounds hard, you are the sole arbiter of how hard you want your writing to be, and how hard for you doing [this or that] actually is.

If this is some huge constraint imposed by your story, you're the only one who really understands what it is you're trying to accomplish, and how the story might work even under such constraints.

And so forth.

What will you do to make it work?

This is going to be the really tough one. Because you've made up your mind, made your choice, and now you're trying to write something very unusual.

OK. That's fine. It's a hard problem. Maybe you've cut yourself off from some easy answers.

The point is, deal with specific difficulties, concrete individual phrases or characters or plot points you can grapple with. Don't leave it at "Doing [this-or-that] sounds hard". It's not a yes/no question; it's a series of "How do I solve this?".

Does it work?

A lot of the time, there's no real way to tell if you're doing well until you're done.

That's when you can look at the story or the novel as a whole, and see if, as a whole, you've managed to make the hard thing work well.

You can look at it. Beta readers can look at it. You can get meaningful feedback and opinions, based on how well you did the hard thing.

And then you can adjust. If you didn't get it right, maybe with the entire thing in hand, you can tweak and edit now so that it does work. Or, maybe now you come to the conclusion that you don't know how to make it work. That's fine too; plenty of stories and books come out poorly, even the ones that weren't Herculean tasks. Having written something that doesn't work is not a failure, unless you're already under contract. You stretched yourself; you tried something new; you experimented. That's how you get better, and find interesting stuff.


And that, I think, is as close to an answer as you'll get.

Nothing is impossible to write. Lots of things are hard to write. (Almost anything, really.) You may or may not have the skill, at this point, to write something really difficult that you want to write.

Weigh your options. Be aware of the choices you are making. Accept that some of writing is experimenting, and it's absolutely fine if plenty of it doesn't come out very well.

And good luck. :)

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    You simply must tell me about this sentient pregnancy test story. – Lauren Ipsum Jan 3 '17 at 22:15
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    @LaurenIpsum : "Foetal Attractions," by James Burr. I swear I could not make this up if I tried. My review on Goodreads... – Standback Jan 3 '17 at 22:45
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    WAIT WAIT I JUST FOUND IT ON GOOGLE BOOKS HERE IT IS – Standback Jan 3 '17 at 22:54
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You can write anything you please.

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    I'd add that you can, but it may not accomplish [goal]. – Jake Jan 3 '17 at 20:55
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    This answer, due to it's length, would be better suited as a comment. Would you be interested in [doing thing X] that would result in [improvement Y]? – Neil Fein Jan 5 '17 at 4:34
  • @NeilFein I believe the answer to my question is "yes". I only expanded on that because SE does not allow three-letter answers. – user5645 Jan 5 '17 at 9:37
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    [Heart-felt defense of the site's specs] followed by [admits Stack Exchange has issues by an attempt to appeal to a specific, narrow Q&A mindset]. [Barely-relevant joke goes here] – Neil Fein Jan 7 '17 at 17:50
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I'd be surprised if it was impossible to write something.

You've just got to write it. See how it goes.

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Sure, why not? Get it on paper, kick it around a bit, and then hand it off to an editor to see if it worked.

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    As other answers mention, there's no inherent link between writting a novel and having it published. – Pierre Arlaud Jan 4 '17 at 10:25
  • @PierreArlaud You can still edit a work for yourself. It's nearly impossible to see all the flaws in your own writing; you almost have to have an outside perspective. That's what an editor is for. – Lauren Ipsum Jan 4 '17 at 11:23
  • I just meant that being published is not a goal in itself. You might write a book for your kids or just as a way to develop yourself, in which case the answer is "write whatever you want". There are no rules and being published isn't one. – Pierre Arlaud Jan 4 '17 at 12:40
  • @PierreArlaud I agree... so why did you add a comment about being published to my answer, which doesn't mention being published? – Lauren Ipsum Jan 4 '17 at 13:02
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    @PierreArlaud Um, yes? Kevin notes above that he would do just that. If you're writing for yourself, why wouldn't you want to learn how to improve your work for yourself? Why settle for crap? – Lauren Ipsum Jan 4 '17 at 14:58
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You may write a novel. I'm not sure if you can or will though. :)

If you do write a novel -- a fiction of an acceptable length to be considered a novel -- no one truly has the authority to tell you it is wrong or bad.

For a novel is anything fiction of a certain length that someone considers a novel. So if you'll simply consider it a novel yourself, you will be successful.

And, if it's really out there but a publisher picks it up then you can say you've created art.

Like House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski - amazon link :)

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