What Rules?

Synesthesia, an immersive exhibit by Factory Obscura

It would seem easier to be a writer after gaining some reputation or a devoted group of followers. But, at that point the writer has to make the decision, “Should I keep producing what readers expect of me or allow myself to experiment. Perhaps if I create something different, it will not do as well.”

Experimentation means ignoring rules and dabbling in areas that new writers are is told to avoid.

1) Telling the story rather than writing it in scenes

New writers often find themselves in this predicament. They have a good idea and simply want to explain what happens. Then, they are prodded, sometimes roughly, into showing not telling. This translates into creating scenes occurring in specific locations and within a time limit. It also translates into more words because showing, by its very nature, is more descriptive. However, exposition can cover more ground in a story very rapidly and may work with complex situations. Exposition also allows the writer to reveal important truths about life and/or the universe in a novel.

2) Starting a story based on a vague idea rather than a well-formed plot

Famous authors have written books starting with the barest of concepts and writing to see what happens without knowing the ending. They cannot break the story into scenes because they have no summary. Events just pop into their head and they record them. This kind of book normally will take much longer to write. Suddenly the plot takes a wrong turn forcing the author into a dead-end which requires backtracking and restarting. Extensive editing is often required. This would be enough to stop an inexperienced author, but one who has the confidence gained by completing a well-received work may try this tactic anyway.

3) Creating a one-sided or flat main character

An author usually cannot get away with a too perfect character. Also, readers do not see a difficult, stubborn, and ruthless person as “strong” simply because that is what the author calls him. They expect some realism that they can relate to and admire, well-rounded characters with both strengths and obvious flaws. Characters should change and grow or devolve, and there should be reasons for this improvement or worsening. Both the protagonist and antagonist (if it is a person) should eventually suffer the consequences or reap the reward of their actions. However, a flat, one-sided character can make a point about the society in a story simply because of their extreme consistency.

4) Too much action, or almost no action instead of well-defined arcs in action

There is a wide range of pacing as far as action that works depending on the author’s style. The more poetic the words are, the less action is needed. The reader can enjoy the poignant prose as much as a fast-paced plot. However, we often repeat to new writers the idea that there must be a conflict and the main character needs to struggle to overcome this problem. If this kills the protagonist, the story is a tragedy. On the other hand, repeating similar actions—such as winning a fight by sheer strength—gets very repetitive unless that is the point of the story. It takes skill to have less than well-defined arcs, but it can be done.

5) Making the plot too implausible

Initially writers should consider the logic of each action and result, even for characters driven by emotion. In a fantasy world, the author lays down rules on how society runs and sticks with them but does not have to specify these rules for the readers. There should be an obvious pattern to what can and cannot happen in the fantasy realm. Throwing logic to the wind is a bold move that may catch the reader’s attention. However, maintaining this attention takes skill. Building a story based on the implausible that offers no excuses or explanation is the very root of a satire. 

So, are you ready to take the plunge and experiment with some technique that you have been warned to avoid?

This entry was posted in Characters, Creativity, Literary devices, Novels, Style and voice, Writer's resource, Writing trends and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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