Are You Writing A Saga?

Secretarial Wars still shotWhen I self-published my first novel, Secretarial Wars, in 2003, the industry was less advanced than it is now, and both readers and reviewers were hard to find. Only a few were willing to take on my fairly long and complicated tale, inspired by my own secretarial experiences, friendships, and romances when I was a twenty-something in Washington, DC. The story focuses on three women, aged 24 to 35, with 27-year-old Miriam as the viewpoint character. There are numerous secondary characters, especially gossipy office colleagues and troublesome boyfriends.

I was fortunate enough to attract a thoughtful, if rather brutal review from a reader based in England. She did say, encouragingly, that she “enjoyed the banter between the three friends and wanted to know what would happen to them.” But that was somewhat negated by “lack of pace and over-complexity of plot.” In short, I was accused of writing a saga when the chicklit-style story didn’t support it.

The three friends, I must admit, are rather bumbling, as the reviewer said. She complained of too many details about “American football matches” that the girls take in, mostly for the purpose of trying to meet players after the games. Nobody can say the women aren’t ambitious in their own ways, yet the reviewer accused them of lacking “gumption.” Miriam, for example, wants to write an exposé that would blow her own government agency out of the water, yet fails for months to uncover the corruption simmering at her workplace. Perhaps overly cautious, she can’t afford to lose her job for the sake of investigative journalism.

The reviewer complains that “there are far too many characters for a story that is neither a saga nor a blockbuster.” But how, exactly, does a story qualify as a saga? Does it have to be multi-generational, like The Forsyte Saga, or about a family caught up in historic conflicts, like War And Peace? Can’t my story be a mini-saga, since the girls do manage to shake up their own little corners of the nation’s capital?

Maybe the places where they hang out are just too seedy. At their favorite night club, which one of the girls co-manages, they get to hobnob with a second-tier elite, including a faded football star and an underground newspaper editor. The climactic scene of the story features a fundraiser held at the club for a long-shot Mayoral candidate. Things get out of hand, and the girls end up spending the night in jail. Through all their tribulations, they don’t really resolve anything, except to grow up a bit. So how often do we start out writing stories that feel like epics/sagas/blockbusters at first, only to fall a little short?

5 thoughts on “Are You Writing A Saga?

  1. Saga? Blockbuster? Does it really matter? I’m intrigued. I’m going to have to read it. Oh, and I don’t do brutal reviews (so you’re safe enough there). Hope you’re enjoying both Baseball and writing. Best wishes from the UK.

    1. Glad you don’t do brutal reviews, Marcus. There are already enough of those! Still enjoying both baseball and writing, although my team went down in flames (and even fisticuffs!) Best wishes right back at you.

  2. It’s almost unfashionable to admit that you are writing a saga, hoping for a blockbuster (eventually), and have learned everything out there about how to make a novel a ‘big book’ – and are following the instructions fatithfully.

    Thanks for asking the question – I think the disappearance of the ‘mainstream’ category on sites like Amazon has led to a dearth of good books in this category, and indies writing them.

    I am writing the books I want to write (and read) anyway; but marketing has been a bear!

    1. I love long, leisurely novels full of sub-plots and complex characters, such as Gail Godwin’s “Southern Family” and most of Pat Conroy’s novels. It’s a shame that it’s so difficult for self-publishing authors to pursue this style.

      1. (waving frantically) Try me!!!

        That’s exactly what I write, the ‘big book’ designed for men and women of all ages over 13.

        Which has no category on Amazon.

        Though I may try saga – which unfortunately has the connotation of multi-generational. You can’t win.

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