Thursday, October 25, 2012

Following the writing rules

There are certain things in life that always follow the rules. I know for example that when I open my blinds every morning the sun will be there, supposing that I didn't wake up on the other side of the apocalypse. I know when I take the washing out of the washing machine there will always be an odd number of socks. I also know no matter how hard I support 'the other team', Manchester United will always score at the last minute and win the game. When I first self published The Loss of Deference I was faced with all sorts of rules: get a website, write a blog, forum this, and read that. Books it seems are no different.  There are rules for genre, rules for plot, and rules for characters. Some of them are obvious and don't need stating.  For example, making Michael Myers the love interest in the next Bridget Jones instalment is heaving with difficulties. There is suspension of disbelief, and then there is just plain stupid. Some leave us feeling baffled (yes formatting, I'm talking to you) but to avoid them is futile. Others, it seems are like breathing. They are as important as the physical laws of the world, and without them there is a potential for that world, whichever one it is that we as writers have created to simply stop spinning.

I read a review of a horror movie this week. Horror happens to be my movie genre of choice (my second favourite genre would be Matthew Mcconaughey, and there are some great rules in this genre too). So when I read that ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ was a veritable thesis in horror movie creation I was sold.  It did, I will agree follow the rules. It had the young blonde cheerleader type who is too willing and too quick to lose her clothes. It had the jock, the weirdo, the smart underrated cute guy, and the virgin. All dead, and all killed in that order, until of course somebody never really quite died and makes a bloody come back to almost save the day. It also threw in every horror movie ghoul that the sick mind could create. Add in the subtlest pinch of humour and you've got yourself a winner, right? Wrong. Perhaps I missed the point. Perhaps I was supposed to put my tongue in my cheek and get in on the joke. But I didn't. When I went to bed there was no quick check in the cupboards. There was no plan to stay facing the outside of the bed just in case something invisible tried to lift up the sheets. In fact, I haven't thought about it once since I pressed stop/eject.

So what is it that makes a book or a movie that seems to have all of the right ingredients, which follows all of the rules, somehow fails to hit the mark? I think it comes down to the fact that it doesn't matter how many prescriptive tools you adhere to there is something fundamental that no movie or book can do without. It has to come from the story. The creation of plot. How many books have I read, or movies have I watched where generally, they haven't been that well polished. But I finished them. Why? Because I couldn't not finish them. Because I had to know what happened. The story outweighed everything else. Conversely, how many beautiful written books or visually stunning movies have I tired of?  Too many to count.  

So here I am now on the very cusp of writing the first words for book three and I have been trying to work out what genre it is. Trying to consider what elements that sort of book might need. Short of not yet knowing how I will categorise it on Amazon, I'm not sure it matters. What matters is the plot and the characters, and how these elements interact with each other. So before I write anything, I am going over the plot again, and again, and again.  My only rule: make the story kiss ass. The rest of the rules I'm just going to skip.  


  1. Good thoughts! If an element works in the story, why not use it? I tend to blur the lines between genres in my own work, which has made some readers take an interest in genres they otherwise might not have read. Audiences tend to be more complicated than the one or two genre option we, as authors, are told to cram our work into. Personally, I'd love to see Amazon expand those options and branch out into some other categories.

    I've not seen the movie you're referring to, simply because I heard too many similar reports about it. But, if you're looking to combine your two favorite genres of film, I'd recommend Frailty.

  2. Great points Jason. I think a certain amount of blurring is good for the development of the story and enriches it, although travelling through chic flick to horror to court room mystery drama may stretch it! Have just checked out your recommendation and it appears at first sight a fantastic mixing of my preferred genres! I know what I'll gr watching over the weekend.

  3. Some ideas do seem like a stretch, yet one of the best examples I've seen (in film) was The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Clearly a horror movie, yet also a compelling courtroom drama with some fine performances. I agree there are some ideas that likely would not work, but if the audience is willing to trust the author to tell the tale, it makes all the difference in the world. :) Hope you enjoy Frailty!

  4. Yes, I saw that movie and it was very good. A fine example of cross genre combination working excellently together. I hope my audience will trust me with the next book too! Thanks.....I have no doubts that I will enjoy the recommendation :-)

  5. If it turns out they don't trust you, your fourth book could be about an author who invites some of her fans to a weekend retreat... where they begin to disappear one by one. ;)

  6. I might just keep that storyline in mind!