LFS member John Christmas, a Prometheus Best Novel judge for the past decade, has written and published two novels.
Most recently, Christmas co-wrote KGB Banker, a contemporary political thriller recently recognized by Best Thrillers as the “Best Conspiracy Thriller of 2022.”
In this second part of his Prometheus Blog interview, Christmas discusses what he looks for in judging Prometheus nominees, and shares more about what he’s learned about writing fiction and appreciating good fiction.
Q: What have you learned from your years of participation as a Best Novel finalist judge that’s enhanced your understanding of literature?
A: I have learned that different people have different opinions of what makes a good novel. For example, some people prefer lightness combined with sarcastic or absurd events and other people prefer seriousness combined with realistic events. I like either style if done well.
Q: As a Best Novel judge helping to read and discuss each year’s nominees and rank them to select a slate a finalists, what do you look for in a Prometheus nominee?
A: In a Prometheus nominee, I like a story where the protagonist is individualist and the antagonist is collectivist. If nothing like this happens in a novel, then the novel has no point and I’d be better off reading a non-fiction book. In the genre of sci-fi, it’s also important for a novel to include something about science in the future – the more amazing and possible it seems, the better.
A: William Burton McCormick and I co-wrote KGB Banker with the classic ‘three-act structure’ of set-up, confrontation, and resolution. We wanted to keep open the possibility of changing it into a screenplay in the future. However, I don’t think everyone must use that structure. If an author believes that he can develop his novel with a different structure which better suits what he is trying to communicate, then I say go ahead.
Writing hasn’t always been the same in the past and won’t always be the same in the future. For example, my books are both written in past tense, as most novels are. Is that the best way to do it?
Maybe yes or maybe no.
Neal Stephenson wrote his 1992 breakthrough novel Snow Crash in present tense and wowed readers. Many authors since then prefer present tense.
Turns out different techniques work better for different novels, again depending on what the author is trying to communicate.
Q: How important are good characters to a novel?
A: Regarding characters and suspense, I can say it’s impossible to build suspense without having good characters. If there is a character developed such that the reader gets drawn in and becomes emotionally connected, then putting that character in danger creates suspense.
Conversely, a properly constructed villain must anger or offend the reader so that the reader feels the urgency of defeating this character. The reader is in fear when the villain’s power is growing, and the reader is relieved when the villain in defeated.
Q: How important is it to incorporate romantic elements in a story?
A: Can the author set up a romance so that readers really care? If the author sets up the romance in the beginning, then breaks the romance apart, then reunites the lovers at the end are the readers going to feel emotion?
If the characters are engaging to the reader then this is possible. However, if the characters seem fake then the reader won’t care what happens. Whether they fall in love and become happy or they get blown up by a space laser won’t make a difference.
Read the recently posted first part of the John Christmas interview here.
Note: Look for the third and final part of the John Christmas interview, coming up soon on the Prometheus Blog.
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Libertarian futurists believe that culture matters! We understand that the arts and literature can be vital, and in some ways even more powerful than politics in the long run, by sparking innovation, better ideas, positive social change, and mutual respect for each other’s rights and differences.
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