[last updated Sept. 12, 2021]
(a list I put together... of lists I did not put together)
Here it is! The most fun post I will ever make.
For those interested in techniques and genres that are outside of the mainstream market in the West/Americas, here's a post of resources you can refer to for inspiration, research, or quiet support.
I believe there is no One Right Way to write a novel, and no one right way to present it either. Niche genres do exist, after all, and writing is an art form. Remember that writing “rules” are not a one-size-fits-all deal.
DISCLAIMER !! : Note there will be some overlap and you don’t have to like or agree with anything here. Also, while you may come across books by diverse authors, a lot of the ones listed are old and probably written by white people (mostly white men), but BIPOC can and should be allowed to experiment with these, too. If content doesn’t interest you then maybe form will. More on diverse narratives in the future.
but first, some recommended reading
Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative by Jane Alison - in this book, the author explores form and pattern through close readings of various (niche/unconventional) novels. What I like about this book is Alison’s appreciation for details that most people would probably overlook or not care for. I’ve read it several times already because it presents a positive, interesting, and enthusiastic way of examining books that play with form.
What is Postmodernism in Literature? - a brief Youtube video presented by Dr. Masood Raja (Postcolonialism channel); simple yet informative.
Wikipedia articles - antinovel | verse novel | defamiliarization | metafiction | digression (literary) | fragmentary novel | weird fiction | new weird | slipstream | experimental literature | postmodern literature | interactive novel | hypertext fiction | LitRPG | cybertext | New Sincerity |
Of course there’s more! This is just a starting point and I can’t possibly cover everything, but I’ll continue to update this post over time or write up more.
No rules, no problems. Take all the tropes and conventions of the typical novel and bastardize them through chaos. Or throw them out and make your own.
Goodreads: list of 100+
Barnes & Noble: flex your reading muscles
Millions article: long live the anti-novel, built from scratch
a review of Subimal Misra’s work This Could Have Become Ramayan Chamar’s Tale: Two Anti-Novels
bizarre, weird fiction
If you ever wanted to read or write about cat men on Mars, or a bear who talks and plays the saxophone, or people with blue butts... Well, you can.
Book Riot: 100 strange and unusual novels
Bustle: 13 super strange books
Goodreads: Monster/Erotica books
Owlcation: 10 of the weirdest novels ever written
blog post by Z. Burns ft. 7 more weird books
Hard to define but generally more about form than content. Maybe you want half your story told in footnotes. Maybe your paragraphs are separated from the main body of text and dispersed all over the page. Maybe some of it is upside-down.
Bustle: 10 experimental novels that aren’t hard to read
Standout Books: 5 experimental novels that will inspire any writer
(preview) Experimental Fiction: An Introduction for Readers and Writers Julie Armstrong
sparse plot / low conflict
Very basically, a plot is a sequence of events affected through cause-and-effect. In the West, audiences often expect there to be a linear series of conflicts that ultimately leads to a big “showdown”. This is not a universal narrative structure, and personally I would love to see more “cozy” fantasy novels that aren’t about saving the world or destroying an oppressive government.
Book Riot: in praise of plotless books
(blog) mundane and slice-of-life SFF recommendations
sketch story (wikipedia) | literary sketch (britannica)
“I would like to read a novel that is composed of numerous very interesting facts, but which nonetheless fails to cohere for me as a book.”
● source: (blog): I would like to read a dull plotless novel...
Well, I know plenty of writers here who could write an entire book on their lore and world-building, and I would give them my money.
List Challenges: novels with no plot whatsoever
Reddit thread on slice-of-life/mundane speculative fiction
the significance of plot without conflict - an excellent post on the kishotenketsu structure, which is influenced by East Asian values such as unity and harmony over conflict and resolution.
what is iyashikei and why should you care? - often found in anime and manga, the purpose of this genre is to provide healing
Novels composed mostly or entirely of dialogue.
article on The Rumpus (recommended)
A popular example that comes to mind is The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. Fragmented novels are novels that are made up of fragments, vignettes, etc. that can be read on their own or as part of the whole book. In some cases a fragmentary novel might be an anthology of short stories, or a composite novel (e.g., the Wayside School series), or an epistolary novel.
fractiousfiction: reading list of 50+ books
seven fragmentary novels that aren’t The Pale King
Bomb Magazine article on Mary Robison’s Why Did I Ever?
how fragmented novels can be fulfilling reading
fragmented narratives are broken, independent, and honest
novels in verse / verse novel
A novel told through poetry rather than prose. It differs from epic poems in that a verse novel generally must have both poetic elements (verse form, imagery, lyricism, figurative language) and novelistic conventions (such as character development, conflict and resolution, etc.).
Book Riot list
Epic Reads: poetry books and novels in verse
Riveted Lit: 17 books in verse you need to read
Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough (thank you @ellatholmes for recommending this to me!) - inspired by the life of Artemisia Gentileschi, whose paintings many people recognize.
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai - (Vietnamese author) - based on Lai’s first year as an immigrant in the United States, Kim Hà and her family move to the US to escape the Vietnam War.
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo - (Dominican author) - a coming-of-age story about a girl named Xiomara, who explores her feelings and experiences through poetry.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds - (Black author) - as Will rides down the elevator, he has sixty seconds to decide if he’s going to kill his brother’s murderer.
The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan - a class of 5th grade students writes poetry journals before their school gets demolished.
oddly specific FAQ that I anticipate:
“I mostly love world-building and just want my characters to talk about it.” Then do it. Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities might inspire you.
“What if I want to write an entire novel using headlines or lists?” That’s exactly what Dorthe Nors did with Minna Needs Rehearsal Space, and Days. Sample here.
“What if I want my chapters to be out of order?” Check out Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar. It comes with reading instructions that state, “In its own way, this book consists of many books, but two books above all.”
“What if I want to make a weird, confusing, playful experience of my book and write sideways, upside-down, use lots of footnotes, and make my readers jump all over the book to figure out what’s going on? Look inside of House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. Like Hopscotch, this novel is an example of ergodic literature but taken to the extreme. It is spectacular in form. Another example would be S. by Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams.
“But kly, most of these lean literary and I want to write genre fiction. I can’t write a fragmented fantasy anti-novel, it just wouldn’t work for fantasy’s conventions.” YOU CAN IF YOU MUSTER UP THE COURAGE AND FIND A WAY TO DO IT. Writers genre-bend all the time! Throw out conventions that don’t work and bring in ones that do. Creating is the only thing we have control over. Do it your own way.
“What if I’m writing a novel with 15 different plotlines and a million characters, and I want every paragraph to be from a different POV??” alsdjf well Fritz Leiber did that with The Wanderer (which happens to be sci-fi), and despite receiving the criticisms you’d expect, it still won a Hugo Award.
If you’d like to support me while I write stories with plots reserved for gardens and/or dead bodies, consider buying me a ko-fi. Thanks!
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So here’s the thing: this is gonna be the last book before my hiatus. So, I thought I’d be a little self-indulgent and finally post a list I’ve been excited about for a long time. I’ve had this idea since we first started doing themed lists and I’ve done a ton of research to prepare these books.
“Unconventional” is a somewhat different theme. It’s a collection of books that break the mould, experiment with new formats, or approach story telling in a different way. Before each book I’ll explain what’s so unconventional about it.
While doing research for this book list I discovered many other unconventional novels that I couldn’t include here. My tbr list grew so much longer! If anyone’s as interested in this concept as I am, let me know and I’ll share some of the other books that caught my attention.
Okay, enough blabbering! Here’s the list:
Our first book takes the form of a commentary on a poem, “Pale Fire”, by a deceased poet. The writer of this commentary has a tendency to go off on tangents and talk a little too much. And thus, a story is told within footnotes and comments. This concept really appealed to me, especially since I loved the footnotes in one of our earlier reads, A Gentleman in Moscow, so much.
Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nobokov
The American poet John Shade is dead. His last poem, 'Pale Fire', is put into a book, together with a preface, a lengthy commentary and notes by Shade's editor, Charles Kinbote. Known on campus as the 'Great Beaver', Kinbote is haughty, inquisitive, intolerant, but is he also mad, bad - and even dangerous? As his wildly eccentric annotations slide into the personal and the fantastical, Kinbote reveals perhaps more than he should be.
Nabokov's darkly witty, richly inventive masterpiece is a suspenseful whodunit, a story of one-upmanship and dubious penmanship, and a glorious literary conundrum.
This next book is comprised of two sections, each with their own symbols--one a camera and the other an eye. When the book was printed, there were two verions: Camera first, Eye second and Eye first, Camera second. Ultimately, people end up reading the exact same words, just in a different order. This seemed like such a fun concept, especially if half of us read it one way and the other half read it the other way. We could compare how the order affected our experience with the novel.
How to Be Both, by Ali Smith
How to be both is a novel all about art’s versatility. Borrowing from painting’s fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, it’s a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions. There’s a Renaissance artist of the 1460s. There’s the child of a child of the 1960s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real—and all life’s givens get given a second chance.
Our next book also plays with the order in which it’s read. At the beginning of the book, the author offers the reader a choice. Either they read the book as normal, starting with the first chapter and continuing in chronological order. Or they take the “hopscotch” approach, jumping through an alternate sequence of chapters. For some reason, the idea of being given permission to read a book out of order really excites me! Warning though, this book is 560 pages long, making it slightly longer than what we normally read.
Hopscotch, by Julio Cortazar
Horacio Oliveira is an Argentinian writer who lives in Paris with his mistress, La Maga, surrounded by a loose-knit circle of bohemian friends who call themselves "the Club." A child's death and La Maga's disappearance put an end to his life of empty pleasures and intellectual acrobatics, and prompt Oliveira to return to Buenos Aires, where he works by turns as a salesman, a keeper of a circus cat which can truly count, and an attendant in an insane asylum. Hopscotch is the dazzling, freewheeling account of Oliveira's astonishing adventures.
This next book is told through the second person, and that’s not all! It tells the story of “you”, someone who is desperately trying to read the book. The problem is, every time the story starts something prevents “you” from finishing it. It’s a story with many beginnings, but supposedly no ending. And one in which “you” are the protagonist. Now that’s unconventional!
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, by Italo Calvino
Italo Calvino's masterpiece combines a love story and a detective story into an exhilarating allegory of reading, in which the reader of the book becomes the book's central character.
Based on a witty analogy between the reader's desire to finish the story and the lover's desire to consummate his or her passion, If on a Winter's Night a Traveller is the tale of two bemused readers whose attempts to reach the end of the same book, If on a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino, of course, are constantly and comically frustrated. In between chasing missing chapters of the book, the hapless readers tangle with an international conspiracy, a rogue translator, an elusive novelist, a disintegrating publishing house, and several oppressive governments. The result is a literary labyrinth of storylines that interrupt one another - an Arabian Nights of the postmodern age.
Our final book is told solely through dialogue between a woman on a hospital bed and a child. The story does not always makes sense, as reality and fantasy start to blend. It’s supposed to be a little incoherent, like a fever dream. Apparently, it feels a lot more like a nightmare. Quite scary and very intriguing.
Fever Dream, by Samantha Schweblin
Experience the blazing, surreal sensation of a fever dream…
A young woman named Amanda lies dying in a rural hospital clinic. A boy named David sits beside her. She’s not his mother. He’s not her child. Together, they tell a haunting story of broken souls, toxins, and the power and desperation of family.
Fever Dream is a nightmare come to life, a ghost story for the real world, a love story and a cautionary tale. One of the freshest new voices to come out of the Spanish language and translated into English for the first time, Samanta Schweblin creates an aura of strange psychological menace and otherworldly reality in this absorbing, unsettling, taut novel.
Thank you for getting this far! As always vote for which one we should read here.
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