1.20.2005

Here's One Rule

Gwenda Bond points to Janni Simner who says there are no rules. There may be no anal-retentive rules (i.e. you must write stream-of-conscious, you must write in third person limited, you must not rhyme or rhythm or iambic pentameter your plays at important points of the narrative, you must write likeable characters (likeable to whom?)), but there is no game without rules of play. The rules are bendable but not scrap-able. The rules are simple in theory but not simplistic and not always simple in practice. The game for some writers is to bend the rules to different effects and try to still create a sense of wholeness.

Here's one rule I was reminded of when I listened to a creative writing classmate discuss why he/she didn't like a character because it wasn't something he/she would do. This is an example of a too-inflexible rule. True, who hasn't watched a movie of absolute idiots where, say, they wander about a haunted house with a murdering ghost chasing after them? If a character weren't too stupid to just step outside the realm of the ghost's territory, you'd have no plot.

But if you hold too fast to this rule, which is actually part of another more legitimate rule, you'll reject respectable works of literature, such as Lolita, the story of a pedopile, because you would not molest a child. But a few will and do, so how do we account for them? Truth be told, you probably have an interest in something that makes no sense to the majority of the public. Maybe you like feet or shoes or large noses. These quirks are what make you you. It's natural because it exists in nature. Nature has created some beautiful, some strange, some hideous traits in its long life. That's the nature of nature. Any trait in nature should be free game for fiction.

However, each person has a personality or rules for his life, which make him him. Those rules either include or exclude pedophilia. They may include or exclude a shoe fetish. They may include or exclude passion for fish foods. All that matters is that the character must be consistent. You cannot have a pedophile on one page and magically transform him into something else the next. You can transition or alter the character so long as it falls within the boundaries of his rules for living. Rules are encoded genetically or environmentally or both (found via twin studies). If you're going to write about living creatures we know and understand, you have to follow their rules. If they don't follow their own rules, they fall apart.

Going back to the haunted house story whose plot falls apart if the characters walk outside, you can still create a good story by forcing genetic rules upon the character(s): Maybe the character(s) are bold thrill-seekers or death-seekers. But if you have a protagonist of average intelligence and predilection for living life in safety, you'll have to come up with an external or environmental reason for him being stuck in the house: cops may be sniffing the character(s) out for murder, a living murderer has chased our protagonist inside but is afraid to go in himself.

But this isn't the only rule of the game.