Tuesday, April 12, 2011
What Covers Your Literary Bones?
"Rules are a point to build a story around. They are a plain, solid, square foundation. If you stick to that foundation, you get a solid, plain, square building. Nothing wrong with it, but nothing notable either. To make an interesting building, you've got to go beyond that foundation, ignoring it as much as you can without having the building fall apart. The bending of the rules until the story is ready to crumble is what makes a good story--interesting, intriguing, and plausible, but almost ready to burst." --David "Pasha" Morrow
Whether your an outliner or a fly by the seat of your pants kind of writer, there's one basic principle that congeals us all as literary painters: the beginning, the middle and the end. These three elementary principles are the barest of the bare bones in any story. It's at this point that everyone's stories are essentially the same. Every story has a beginning, whether it starts out on the Prairies of The Midwest or 3000 leagues under the sea; a climax, where the proverbial shit hits the fan; and an ending where the protagonist(s) are provided with a resolution to his/her/their conflicts. What makes all the difference in the world is the kind of meat the author chooses to encase their literary bones with.
Sure, chicken is nice, but you can get chicken anywhere. It resides in every grocery store and meat market. Hell, there's even a fast food restaurant devoted to it. Be that as it may, as good as chicken is, it's basic, even boring at times. Eating chicken everyday isn't considered exciting; chicken is not a delicacy. Unfortunately for us lovers of literature, chicken is becoming just as common an occurrence on bookstore shelves as it is on dinner plates across the country. Authors are afraid to take chances, afraid to deviate from a formula that's already been proven successful.
Sadly, one of the major proponents of the poultry movement amongst literature today are literary agents; the very people who claim to have love for the written word and classic literature. Although they'll deny it, literary agents are afraid to try steak and shun filet mignon altogether. Agents want the now; the trends that have been beaten to death so severely that the ink on the pages of their client's novels are black and blue. Why? Because agents know these trends are a security blanket These trends will sell and the agents will risk nothing by publishing them.
I fear the days of Emily Bronte have long since passed. Gone are the days where an author took risks. Sure, in Bronte's day her work was critically panned (Wuthering Heights was widely condemned for its "portrayal of amoral passion"), but look where deviation ultimately landed her. Wuthering Heights is now regarded as one of the 100 best novels of all time. To create is to deviate, but to deviate is to alienate (until those alienated pull their heads out of their asses that is).
To write is to create and creativity should not be hampered by restrictions. Yet, with that said, there should be some rules when it comes to writing. For instance, all books should have a conflict, a clear origin, and a defined resolution (whether vague or an all out slap in the face). Nevertheless, that's where the rules should end. Authors, I implore you to take the basic structure of a novel and renovate it in any and all ways you see fit. As an example, start out with the conflict first. Personally, I'm big on this. Any book that starts out with guns blazing has my undivided attention. If you're brave, start with the resolution first and completely tear down the structure altogether. The bottom line is, don't write the cookie cutter novel just because that's what other people want you to do. Write what's in your heart and write it the way you want to do it. Break the rules of structure. Break them into a million pieces and then fit them back together in whatever way you see fit.
If you stick with chicken your entire life, you'll never experience the juicy taste of filet mignon.