it's a great life, if you don't weaken (matociquala) wrote,
it's a great life, if you don't weaken
matociquala

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with a red hat that doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.

Things I have learned about telling stories, by Elizabeth Bear

These are not hard and fast rules. I do not believe in rules. However, it's a list of auctorial tricks that have annoyed me recently, and made me want to stop reading something I might otherwise have enjoyed.


1) I hereby do solemnly resolve that if I introduce a likeable character on page one of the novel and then kill her off on page thirty, only to resume the story decades or centuries later with a far-less-interesting character, I will have a damned good reason for doing it. But generally, you know what? I think I will just not do that.

I reserve the right to kill off likable characters, mind you. But I will not make them likable, give them a primary (even introductory) POV, and introduce them into the book for the sole purpose of snuffing them.

Also, I will not kill off a character just because the audience likes him better than my protagonist. That's tacky and petulant, and won't make anybody like the protagonist any better.

You have to work hard enough to bridge the gap between reader and character. Should you happen to accomplish it, it's stupid to throw it away out of spite.


2) I do hereby solemnly resolve to eschew intentionally obfuscated Serial Killer POV. This is when the author is going through insane gymnastics to hide the identity of the killer so we can get long generic passages of exposition about how the terrorists are plotting their attack or the serial killer is stalking his prey.

An acceptable use of this technique, however, is to illuminate character. Which is why Thomas Harris got away with it in Red Dragon, back when he could still write.


3) Yes, I know Chuck Palahniuk and Dennis Lehane got away with it, but in most cases, the schizophrenic or dissociative or otherwise completely unreliable/out of touch with reality narrator is played, and also a cheap trick. And if you are going to try it, for the love of Mike, play fair. I hereby vow to avoid pointlessly unreliable narrators, or narrators who are unreliable on account of the author wanting to set up some kind of last-page plot twist.

Also, I will not write withholding narrators. I will not write withholding narrators. I will not write withholding narrators. (This also ties in with #2, above.) Unless there is an in-character reason for them to be withholding, which is to say, they are far more often going to be withholding about their own emotional states or history, rather than their identity and agenda.)


4) Murder mysteries in which the protagonist notices a clue to which not only was the audience not made privy, but which the author intentionally skipped over in describing the scene. Elizabeth George, I'm looking at you. You're dead to me.


5) Dream sequences are not plot. Especially dream sequences that are first presented as real life and then turn into "Bobby's in the Shower." Really. No. Just stoppit, SFF.

Repeat after me: Much like the serial killer POV and the sacrificial prologue narrator, dream sequences are not any better when I write them than when anybody else writes them.

And I say this as somebody who just last month opened a story with a *&%$&%^ dream sequence. Which is to say, an enormous hypocrite. But at least the second word in the story is "dream." (The first word is "the.")

Caveat: because this is SFF, and we do an awful lot of wandering around in dreamworlds, I except dream sequences that take place in dream-lands from this portion of the plaint. Also I except dream sequences for backstory, as long as they're not too transparently manipulative. Yeah, I used the nightmare-backstory trick in Carnival, but only because my editor made me. (The fact that people tell me they like that sequence does not alleviate my own dislike of it, but it does make me accept that my editor was right.)


My job as a writer is to manipulate people. It's what stories do. However, my job as a writer is to make them collaborate with and enjoy being part of the manipulation, not feel like I'm jerking their chain.


...okay, time to go soak my head take my shower, I think, now that I've gotten that out of my system.
Tags: auctorial fetishes, writing craft wank
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