This is Genre month here at Wordbitches. Elena spoke about being proud of what you write, which can be really tough when others judge you. I write speculative fiction. Not only that, but I write spec fic for young adults. Some of what I’ve heard…. “When are you going to write a real story? You know a story for adults?” or “Speculative Fiction? You mean vampires? Like Twilight?” or “So you’re writing about vampires? You’re not? But Twilight did well.”
It makes me laugh now, but when I first started writing these types of conversations made me question myself. Not about whether I should be writing vampires, but about whether I should be writing about something serious. Something adult. Something contemporary and relevant. Something that could win awards, like the Giller or the Man Booker or the… (gasp) Nobel. Could I even call myself a serious writer if all my stories were slightly weird?
Speculative fiction is the same as any fiction (hero encounters obstacles on way to goal), but spec fic also has a little, or a lot, of weirdness in it. It’s an umbrella term that encompasses science fiction, dystopian novels, horror, urban fantasy and fantasy. (yes, I know there are a gazillion genre labels, but I really can’t name them all. I just put down a mild range.) It took me a long time to realize, but spec fic is an amazing thing to write. Not only is your imagination the only limit to your story, but spec fic can also cover huge controversial issues the same as normal fiction can. (Just think of the movie District 9 about aparteid, and Avatar about Imperialism and enviromental destruction.)
I love Spec Fic. And almost everyone has had it touch their lives, whether you’re a geek like me or not. From the fables and fairy tales of childhood, to superhero movies, to ghost stories around a campfire, we all have been influenced by the weird. ;) Writing stories like these are thrilling to me, and while there aren’t many rules to Writing the Weird, there are three that you must follow.
3 Rules to Writing the Weird
1. Tell the Reader Only What They Need to Know: This rule is to stop info-dumps. Yes, readers need to be grounded in a scene, but if the writer overwhelms them with details then it becomes more of a lecture than a story and we lose the reader. As spec fic writers, we sometimes make up entire worlds with histories, cultures and magic/technology. It can be hard not to show off everything we’ve dreamed up. But we must rein in our excitement. Tell the reader only what they need to know to keep them grounded in the scene and moving forward with the story.
2. No Magic Saves: This is an important rule for the climax of your story. The hero must save himself through his own wit, courage, determination, and willpower. He can’t be saved because he turns invisible and gets away. If magic (or technology) is used to save the day, rather than the hero’s own inner strength, then the reader will feel cheated. Not a good way to end your story.
3. Follow Your World’s Rules: All magic and technology must have limits. Respect them in your world. If your heroine suddenly gets herself into a mess, don’t suddenly have her able to fly when she couldn’t before (unless of course the story is about her flying – see what I mean about anything goes?). A better example is from the series Walking Dead. In the first season, the zombies have a good sense of smell and you can’t hide near them. In the second season the writers changed this rule so that the zombies didn’t smell the characters hiding near them and the characters could survive. It made many fans ask WTF? Or maybe the zombies had sinus issues that day? Either way, it’s cheating and changing your world’s rules mid story is a sure way to get the reader to throw your book across the room.
Anyone else out there Write the Weird? Any favourite weird books? Any rules you think I missed? I’d love to hear from you.