Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Kids Come Through Again for Me!

Wow! Maybe this is so obvious everyone else has already gotten over it, but it just occurred to me.

Had a short, spirited discussion about writing with the classroom kids after today's reading (1900 words today) and I made the so, so prosaic observation that there are no rules about how to write, just as there are no rules about what to write. There are things a lot of writers do (write on a schedule, etc.) that may improve your chances to be successful. But no rule that says if you don't write 840 words between 9 a.m. and noon at least five days a week you're not a writer.

Well, on the way home I was thinking about the other half – no rules about what to write – and it suddenly hit me. You can write about anything, in any kind of world past or present, but the question you need to ask yourself is: How is writing a teen age love story, for example, different if they live in a world where there are zombies, travel between planets, or no cell phones or four hundred years ago. Why does setting the story in one kind of world make it different than in another? Why does setting the story among a tribe of cavemen different than setting it in a middle school in 1986? That's what you need to focus on, what are the things that make that world special, and which then make your story special?

Because it seems that if there's really no difference – if having a world just like today but all the teachers are vampires doesn't make a difference in the actual story you're telling, then you're just wasting your time and the readers. There has to be something about that setting without which your story couldn't work. If the story doesn't work, just arbitrarily adding some vampires won't fix it.

If it could work just any old place, then the setting is no more than stage dressing and you're really kind of cheating. Aren't you?

I immediately applied that observation to my two completed pirate novels,
Chance and The Wreck of the Gladys B, and breathed a sigh of relief. There really is something about those stories that you couldn't tell, or couldn't tell as well, in a modern, prosaic setting.

is set in today. I suspect I could tell it in another world as easily, but it wouldn’t change anything important about the story so I'm glad I didn't bother.

Anyway, that's probably ho-hum, no big deal observation and I'm sorry if I bored anyone. (As if anyone but me is reading this.) Everyone but me already knew that and now I do too.

But I never really thought about it in quite that way. The setting has to be integral to the story or you've missed something important.

See? I told you I probably get more out of reading the work in progress to Tori's class then they get from it. Those kids have done it again!


  1. Sorry...but i Did read this (not that i'm 'anyone') and did NOT find it boring!>

    i think reading with the kids is a wonderfully brave thing to do. Letting them have a part in your creative process is fantastic for them, for You, and i think in the long run ... for the rest of us who are looking forward to the new books publishing.

    Keep up the good work Ye ol' Pirate! The tradewinds are fair!

  2. On a related note - one of the things I've always liked about Terry Pratchett's and Barbara Hambly's books are that the people in the story are real even if they are werewolves, trolls, vampires, etc. In Pratchett's books the different species and locations serve as a vehicle for satire without all the baggage that comes with using realworld races, cultures and countries.

    Agreed, if you've got a crummy story then adding decoration in the form of mermaids, etc isn't going to fix it. But if you've got a good story I don't think non-necessary decoration will hurt it either. I liked the Firefly series. For the most part it was a western with space decoration. The space decoration wasn't essential (except when it came to people turning into Reavers) but it sure added to the story.

    I think the decoration also serves to attract readers. Essentially is there much story/character differences between westerns, cop stuff, and action (movie) books? They all fit the same mythos -- lone, misunderstood hero who doesn't really want to slaughter everyone but has to. But they often attract different audiences.

    Besides. I like stories with ladies who get to wear pretty dresses and launch fireballs at people who piss them off. It give me something to think about when someone cuts me off on the freeway.

    Great blog post -- it gave me a lot to think about.