Rules and their Malleability

About once a book, I do something that I once swore I would never do.

My teenage years were a bit of a mess, in terms of writing, but that’s nothing particularly uncommon. The cockiness of perpetually favourable English class marks plus a wide range of reading habits including several blogs of writers far more nuanced in their opinions than I gave me a rather black-and-white view of certain things.  Most of my opinions have changed since then, but there are a few ‘rules’ and pet peeves that stuck with me.

A few of them are fairly common to writers on the Internet: No ending a story by finding a loophole that makes the rest of the story have not happened (aka: the Cosmic Reset Button, if you’re a Troper), no killing someone and then resurrecting them in the finale. A general mistrust though not outright rejection of Chosen Ones, prophecies, and Wise Old Mentors of young farmers with magical swords and/or a love of books incongruous with their time period and social status. But some of them are more personal. I don’t tend to like love triangles in fiction, so I don’t really want to write them. For a long time, I told myself I wouldn’t write prologues because they were done too often and too badly in the genre. I would especially never write a prologue in the form of a fairytale or mythological story.

But as these things usually go, the older I got and the more I came up with stories, the more I realised that I’ve broken pretty much every one of those promises to myself. I’m pretty sure I broke the ‘mentor’ thing in the very first book I wrote, young farmer and all, though there was a distinct lack of swords. I’ve killed someone and resurrected them as part of a finale – and I intend to keep that ending in the published product. I’ve written a book with not only a mythological prologue, but a mythological epilogue to bookend it. My latest first draft features a love triangle as a primary conflict in the plot.

Is this a bad thing? My first instinct is to say ‘no’ because I like to think I’ve used these tropes for the right reasons, and in the right way so that they avoid the situations that really drive me up the wall. But that’s an incredibly optimistic view. It’s very hard to read objectively, as after all, you know what you meant. The hardest argument to work around giving critiques is “But it’s different because …!” and they’re even harder when you can see so plainly how your character Isn’t Like Those Other Ones. I also like to think that I have very good reasons for disliking those tropes in other books, and I have evidence that other people feel the same way. If I care about earning money from writing, why would I expect them to give me forbearance for things that I’ve personally put books back on the shelf for mentioning in a blurb?

On the other hand, it’s not good to be too rigid. For instance, I hate the Cosmic Reset Button because it makes everything that came before it seem needless and in vain (especially in those books where, I kid you not, a character just sort of realises they could have done that from the start and solved the plot on page 1), and it seems like a betrayal. I can, however, imagine a story where it was done correctly. It would have to only be able to happen at the end of the story for whatever reason, and it would have to feel like the emotional and thematic culmination of the story, rather than cutting the emotional and thematic threads short with no resolution. If someone could contrive to write a story where that was the case, I could see myself rather enjoying the ending, in a ‘you-magnificent-accursed-human-being’ kind of way. Besides, innovation comes from doing the thing that people say  not to do, and doing it well (leaving aside the fact that I dislike some of those because someone did do them, and did them well, and then a lot of other people did them and did them well, but then people started to do them in the same way as the people before them and then they started to run out of options and do them badly and then the whole thing just sort of stopped being fun).

This has been a rather pointless musing, but I’ll just leave this here: This is reason number Prime One that I always give books to beta readers before the general public. I’m sure one day I’ll write something so awful that I’ll lose a friend over it for that reason, but hopefully they’ll tell me why I messed up before they go.

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