The Rules - A Contrarian View

      I wasn't always a contrarian. As a child, I tried very hard to follow the rules and to do what was expected of me. In many ways, I'm still a rule follower. Now I just ferret out the rules that make sense to me. Is it my fault those rules often go against what the crowd will tell you is so?

That's why I was so delighted to discover Patricia C. Wrede's blog.

I've read Ms. Wrede's fantasy off-and-on for years, and no one has put together anything that remotely competes with her Fantasy World Building Rules. Of course, why would they? There's no sense in reinventing the wheel. And since she's sustained a career as an author for 30 years now, one must assume she knows something about her craft.

What she says about openings delights me:

It has become a truism in writing that one should always open a story with a “hook” - something that grabs the reader and pulls them into the story, forcing them to keep reading. The problem with this is that what “hooks” one reader will annoy or repel another, and this is seldom acknowledged by the advice-givers.

 I'm even more delighted with what she says about  ending every chapter with a cliffhanger

. . .  the cliffhanger - leaving the protagonist in the middle of some dire situation, so that the reader will have to keep reading in order to see how he/she gets out of trouble. This is the equivalent of the “hook” for starting a story, and it’s just as misguided. “How does the hero get out of this situation?” is certainly one possible place to end a chapter, but if every chapter ends with crocodiles snapping at the hero’s heels or a train bearing down on the kidnap victim who’s tied to the tracks, the story starts to look like bad pulp fiction or a cheesy action serial from the 1920s. Which is fine if you want to write cheesy action serials or bad pulp fiction, but not so good if you have other ambitions. 

And when discussing cliches, she makes the same point I've made about how some people want to enshrine "the rules" without any underlying understanding of them.

There are always folks around who have memorized a list of no-nos without understanding the reasons behind them, and they will complain bitterly if they notice you using anything on their list, regardless of what you’ve done with it or why. If this is going to bother you…grow a tougher skin. There is no reason to deny yourself a useful writing tool because some people loudly dislike it. 

It appears I shall be spending some time on her blog, acquainting myself with the specifics of her outlook, because she talks such good sense. Maybe I'll see you there.

Hm. I see she has a post about lightning and lightning bugs . . .


  1. True point, and one I've been struggling with. That opening "hook" is so variable and it's so easy to be swayed every which way by reviewers.

  2. (The problem with this is that what “hooks” one reader will annoy or repel another.) That comment hits home. Like you Rebecca, I found that apparent in the responses from my critique buddies. Some absolutely loved the first scene of my first book, while others begged me to change it. I think as long as you have a fifty percent love rate, you're doing good.