I Am The King Of The World – or, Following Your Own Rules

130801We can remake the world as we see fit. One of the main joys of writing stories is the ability to rewrite the rules – from giving voice and sensibility to farm animals to reimagining the laws of physics. One minor drawback – we have to follow the new rules we’ve made.

It’s called plausible narrative, or suspension of disbelief, or half a dozen other things, but it all comes down to not losing your reader. Readers love it when a writer comes up with a new take on the world, a subtle or overt twist on reality that allows for all sorts of exciting and impossible possibilities. Strand a boy in a boat with a tiger (Life Of Pi). Have someone go to Nigeria and stick it to the scammers (419). Flatten the world, dose it with everyday magic, and make it look like rural England (the Discworld series). Do whatever the heck you want. Make up any premise, any new rules, go nuts. That’s what creativity is all about.

But it better make sense, down to the last detail.

Aye, there’s the rub. If gravity doesn’t work in your story, don’t have a dropped knife falling down. If the bad guy suddenly breaks down and says he’s sorry at the climax, you’d better have shown some redeeming emotions in him earlier on. Readers catch these things. Readers put books down because of these things. A serious plausibility gaffe can turn a reader off an author forever. So we do not want to do this.

Plausible narratives are built in a few different ways. The first way is through the task of rewriting. Initial drafts are where we build our world, have fun with the new rules, make up the wild, unlikely and interesting combinations of character traits. Rewriting is where we take a sober look at what we’ve done, and ask if it all makes sense. It won’t, but we can fix it. A character’s inexplicable action in chapter 15 can be set up by a few lines about his emotional hot buttons in chapter 3. We can catch many inconsistencies and make them right in retrospect.

First readers are an invaluable resource for catching implausibilities. Quirky rules and situations that we see as fascinating might just be dumb, or hackneyed, or not worthy of the light of day. First readers will catch these for us before the editor or agent inquires after our sanity. Some of our dearest brainchildren need a little reworking in order to prosper. Some premises simply don’t make the cut. Other people have to tell us which is which.

Writing is making stuff up. Rewriting is, in part, making it all make sense. The first part feeds our passion, our wild abandon, our urge to create. The second part is where we cultivate the warm satisfaction of a job well done – both in our own self, and in the reader.

Published in: on August 17, 2014 at 10:42 am  Leave a Comment  
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Deryn Collier Book Review – Louise Penny Of The West

open secretI had the great good fortune to receive an advance reader’s copy of Open Secret by Nelson, BC writer Deryn Collier. This is Deryn’s second book, and it has confirmed what I already suspected – this lady is the Louise Penny of the West.

Open Secret was a delightful read. Deryn’s stories take place in a sleepy, smoky mountain town peopled with a whole collection of characters who wouldn’t fit anywhere else. Bern Fortin, a Rwanda-damaged soldier turned town coroner, has a hunter’s eye and some serious baggage. He is dedicated to speaking for those who can no longer speak for themselves, and in this story he’s kept busy.

Deryn brings to life an isolated village just left of anywhere, where evil comes as a shock and nothing gets in the way of the morning coffee. The story takes you in deep, and a week after finishing the novel I’m still wondering what happened next in the characters’ lives. Just like Louise Penny, who has done wonders for backwoods Quebec in world literature, and is sweeping every writing award in the English world with her work. With these two novels under her belt, Deryn is on her way.

I am a convicted thriller fan, and Open Secret doesn’t have the blood-curdling, run for your life pace of that genre. One or two minor subplots don’t quite get explained. But this isn’t a thriller, it’s a mystery, and it’s also part of a series. I am sure there will be answers, and more questions. I’m definitely waiting.

Open Secret hits the shelves in April, so I am told. If you like a deep dive into a compelling mystery and some uniquely BC characters, pick it up. Then come back here and tell me what you think!

Published in: on February 15, 2014 at 3:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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