Monday, May 28, 2012

Monday's Musings: Breaking The Rules

Remember the old adage about the rules of writing: Write What You Know? And the tagline to that is: Write Only What You Know. Now, I ask you, why would we confine ourselves to that old saw? Don't we write because we are imaginative? Creative? Speculative? Inquisitive? Curious? Oh, and don't forget just plain ole' nosy! So if we write only about the things we know, things that are absolute, you know what happens? We get boring. We get stale. We get predictable. We get a yawn, a ho hum, an "Oh, she wrote another one of those books, huh" from our readers...who actually aren't our readers any more because we are...boring and stale and predictable.

Let's think about some different ways to break the rules, to stop writing only what you know. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres to write, but many writers don't like it because it takes too much time to do the research. Well, what about Speculative Fiction? Take an historical event or person, or even place, and write a "what if" story about it. Example: What if the South had won the Civil War? How would that have changed the course of history, and changed our society, maybe for all time? What if President John F. Kennedy had not been assassinated? How would the world have changed under another four years of his leadership? There are many events and people in our history that have made an indelible mark upon American society, so why not take one of them and write a speculative fiction novel about it?

What are you afraid of? Seriously. That is not a rhetorical question. Me, I'm afraid of bugs, nasty, stinky, crawly little bugs. And spiders of all kinds, shapes, sizes, and colors. Ditto snakes. Make that Double Ditto snakes. I know nothing about any of the above nasties, don't want to know about them, don't want to see them or read about them, and for heaven's sake, I don't want to watch them on Animal Planet! BUT: The very first non-fiction article I published in a national  magazine for kids age 9 to 14 was about bugs...namely, Dung Beetles. On our ranch, we had horses, horses mean lots of manure ( poop for those of you who prefer colloquialisms), and poop means dung beetles. They clean up the poop ( I won't go into the gory details of how they do this), and help keep both horses and their environment clean. So I wrote about dung beetles. Even though I hate bugs.

The Point? What are YOU afraid of? Bugs, diseases, fire, burglars, strangers on the street? Climb down from that ladder, come out from under the bed, and write about what you fear the most. What does that fear do to you? What kinds of feelings do you have? If your fear is something tangible... bugs, snakes, cancer... do some research, find out what you didn't know or even want to know, and write about it. Use your imagination, your curiosity, and, let's face it, your courage to break a dominant rule of writing. Then, give yourself a HIGH FIVE!

One of the most important ways we have of breaking the rules is to come out of our comfort zone and write about something we don't know and perhaps don't even like. I'm in the process of doing that now. My comfort zone is historical and contemporary fiction. I'm not big on fantasy... some kinds I like, but usually not the kind where it's built around a whole fantasy world that never existed. I don't like science fiction or paranormal. I would never write paranormal stuff, because I don't read it or watch it on TV or the movies. Uh huh. Then how come I'm writing a paranormal novel at this very moment? Well...uh....this character came out of hiding and demanded I write her story. So okay, no problem. Except that she would not fit into my safe little contemporary world that I wanted to put her into. Nope, no box for her. Her story begins in 1940, around a traveling carnival her family owns. She's hears voices, sees images, learns she is the only one who can solve a monstrous murder, and she's only 16. It's really a historical paranormal mystery. How's that for writing out of the box? But, no vampires or werewolves. They are old hat. There are other paranormal creatures, but I won't spoil the story by telling you what they are!

The Point? Sometimes our "comfort zone" can backfire on us, and put us into a rut, in life as well in our work as authors. I think we get lodged into our comfort zones, and we get rusty, we get lazy, we lose creativity, curiosity, and even some of our imagination because we KNOW what we are doing and where we are going, and we are comfortable doing it. So come on, get out of that zone and put a big fence around it. Take a step forward...okay, a baby step at first...and open yourself up to new ideas and new experiences. Go places and do things you've never gone to or done before, let yourself embrace the feelings you get and bring them home with you. Sit down and write. And keep that comfort zone under lock and key for the next millennium, and see what happens!

Until next time,
That's a wrap.