As I’m sure you know by now, Miss Snark has announced her retirement from blogging, and I’d like to extend my own appreciation of her talents and service to the publishing community. Miss Snark singlehandedly transformed this blog from a dusty Internet watering hole into a slightly less dusty Internet watering hole with a mere passing mention, and the resulting epic deluge of queries sapped all of my free time for two months. She will be missed.
So now you’re probably feeling the bitter taste of ennui, you’ve lost a friend, your sense of disillusionment with the world has been piqued, and your color palette is trending toward blue. Life sucks, man. (That is, until you remember that the Bachelor finale is tonight). If you’re feeling on the down and outs, I have a message for you: write about it at your own risk.
Perhaps the single most common query I receive is for what I call the ennui novel: a protagonist, usually a man, is stuck in a boring job, upset with the world, realizing that he’s not going to be a movie star/rock star/literary star, and fed up with his life. So he either a) goes on a crazy road trip, b) engages in some CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES-style lunacy or c) stays in his state of ennui and broods until he is shaken out of his stupor by a quirky but utterly charming female character who falls for him despite the fact that he has no prospects and is pissed off a lot (think Natalie Portman in… well, pretty much every role she’s ever played).
If this sounds like your novel…… don’t give up hope! (Ha, tricked you. Also, this is totally awesome, but there are footprints on just about every ceiling. No, serious, you’d be surprised how many times you’ll see footprints on ceilings. Ha! Tricked you again!!) The ennui novel is the source of some of the greatest works in literature, and will continue to be a source of great inspiration. ULYSSES, THE SUN ALSO RISES, CATCHER IN THE RYE, FIGHT CLUB… you name it. There are some pissed off, depressed men out there, and darn it if they don’t make good protagonists.
But here’s the thing about ennui novels — they are common (at least in my inbox), they tend toward the boring, and they are often used as a vehicle to explore the vagaries and eccentricity of life, man. In other words, they tend to be plotless.
Starting with someone who is feeling a deep sense of ennui is not a plot. You have to find a completely unique spin on the genre, and let me tell you, you’re up against a whoooooolllle lot of competition. There’s even more pressure to come up with something really really good, and really really unique. Like a fight club. But that one’s taken.
So yeah, write about ennui at your own risk. And while you’re at it, you might want to get to work cleaning those footprints off of your ceiling.