Do You Have This In Another Size? : Rules, and When To Break Them

Do you have this in a Slightly Irregular Plot With Digressions?

I think that the second thing a writer ever does—after finding that great idea, the one that shakes you right down to your little cotton socks—is look for advice. How to write. How to write well. What to write, and what sells. Markets, platforms, outlines, rules. And let’s not forget strategies, story arcs, structures, and genres.

But sometimes, when you’re working on something, you find that it just doesn’t fit. The structure is weird. The characters don’t do what they’re supposed to. There’s a prologue, or an epilogue. Or, gods forbid, a fucking flashback. The story you’re working on breaks the rules, as you have been taught them. So, what do you do: change the story so it fits the rules, or say ‘fuck it’ and go your own way?

Thing To Consider #1: The rules exist for a reason. And that reason is not to hamstring your creativity. These rules of fiction exist because people have, at various times, found that they work. Overall, characters talk, and do things. Plots move like this. Dialogue sounds like this. These things are all useful guidelines, especially when you’re learning the craft. Because there is a craft to this, like making furniture or laying bricks. A lot of those techniques and things just plain work, and result in you not making a table that collapses under the weight of a single beer bottle.

Thing To Consider #2: You know your story better than anyone. Or you should. So you should know how it goes. And why you’re writing it. Is it for publication? Is it for your own enjoyment? How much does the intention dictate what rules are necessary? Personally, I feel like punctuation is tremendously useful if I’m ever planning on getting anyone else to read my crap. You might feel differently. You might also be the newest incarnation of James Fucking Joyce, in which case I wish you luck, but I’m not reading your book. Once was enough.

Thing To Consider #3: Are you breaking the rules because the story demands it…or because you demand it? Are you writing the best story you can, as you understand the criteria, or are you just proving what a special snowflake you are? Is this story or ego? Choose honestly and wisely. Because if you’re warping things just to prove how special you are, or because you think all those guidelines are for other people, you’re not telling a story. You’re making noise.

If you have considered the above to your best ability, then make your choice. Sometimes we’re just flouncing because doing things the right way is hard, and we hate hard. Rules and techniques seem like shackles even when they’re what the story needs.

But sometimes you need to chuck every single rule out the window and just go. And if that’s the sort of story you have on your hands, then don’t be afraid to break the rules so hard an entire legion of King’s men and all their goddamn horses won’t be able to put them back together.

So, which way do you need right now?

Entertain Me: Thoughts on the First Person POV

Sherlock Holmes in "The Adventures of She...

You’re a jerk, Holmes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been reading a lot of first person stories lately,. No reason. Just worked out that way with my to-read list. But it did make me think, so here are my entirely unsolicited thoughts on the first person narrative:

1) The narrator has to sound interesting. Not just be interesting. Lots of characters are interesting but that doesn’t mean they’ll make a good narrator. There needs to be a distinctive voice, a manner of speaking* that draws in the reader. Something I’ve noticed: characters that are a little bit cocky make good narrators, at least for me. Especially if they have a sense of humour. But then I don’t like misery memoirs, so I’m not that interested in listening to some sad bastard go on about their life. It’s among the many reasons I never became a therapist.

2) It has to be the right narrator. First person is automatically limiting. The reader can only see what that person sees. Which is why it’s really fucking annoying when a first person story is solved by someone else at some time when the narrator is not present. All you get then is a recap. And I’m left thinking, “Why the hell are we following the story from inside this fucker’s head? Clearly that guy has more of an impact.” It’s like watching a concert from seats behind a pillar. If you had the chance, why the hell wouldn’t you move to another vantage point?

3) The narrator has to be active. They have to have some fucking impact on the story. Otherwise, why bother with their point of view?
However, they don’t have to be the mover. Sometimes the sidekick, like Watson from Sherlock Holmes, works even better than the main character as narrator because the main character is kind of a dick. Or just a character it’s more fun to watch than to understand.

4) They don’t have to be honest. Ambiguity can be good, whether it’s deliberate lying or just faulty memory. The narrator for Stephen King’s Duma Key states that “when it come to the past, we all stack the deck.” So while his story is a good one, there is room for doubt. For the possibility that he is remembering things differently than they happened.

5) But I shouldn’t want them to die in a fire. A narrator that I actively hate? Not a good read. I should not be rooting for the aliens coming down the hall to pull his guts out through his nose. They don’t have to be a prince among narrators, but they shouldn’t be obviously despicable. Or, if they are, they should save that reveal for the end.

That’s what I’ve got so far about first person. What’s your point of view? Do you like first person? Hate it? Tell  me your thoughts so that I may consume them and steal your powers for my own get a new perspective.

*Or thinking or whatever it is that first person narrators are doing. Sometimes it’s clear—Dolores Claiborne is very clearly speaking to someone—but other times it’s not.