As someone who advocates writing fiction from a context of structure, mission driven elements and aesthetic discipline driven by market standards, I am sometimes pitted against others who advocate “taking risks” with our stories.
As if, somehow, these philosophies are not aligned.
I suppose it depends on how you frame the issue.
Is breaking certain principles and laws in this life a risk… or is it suicide? The question applies to our stories as much as it does anything else.
Is jumping off a bridge onto a freeway a risk, or is it certain death that will appear, to anyone looking in, to be suicide? Because the act violates all the known laws of physics and survival, which is always suicidal.
That analogy, without compromise, accurately frames the question of risk taking in our stories.
Don’t be fooled or seduced.
Those who encourage us to take risks are not suggesting that we write stories that violate the basic tenets of dramatic physics, structural integrity or creative license. Go ahead, write a story with no conflict, lackluster pacing,, zero inherent compelling interest and nobody to root for… then see what happens.
That manuscript lying on the freeway, right next to the guy who just jumped off a bridge? That’s his novel.
No, risk taking, in this context, has everything to do with courage and with bold vision.
It has to do with the bucking of belief systems, social boundaries and the occasional use of creative narration techniques. It relates to the boldness with which an author takes a theme and explodes it into a dramatic framework that challenges, frightens, disturbs and, while doing so, grips and entertains.
The Hunger Games is a prime example of this, as was The Davinci Code.
I’ve heard from some writers waxing outraged about THG, saying that the book is obscene, and that as authors we have a responsiblity to hold our fiction to higher standards. Same with Davinci, people seem to take pride in hating it, as much because they don’t believe Dan Brown is all that good (they’re wrong, based on results, which stem directly from his bold vision) as because their world view has been challenged.
The risk, then, is this: whose standards are they?
Yours? Society’s? Risk comes when we challenge norms, speculate on alternative realities and show consequences, and do so in the full knowledge that it very likely will piss off a certain percentage of the market.
Both Suzanne Collins, who wrote a story about children killing children, and Dan Brown, who wrote a story suggesting that the largest religion in the western world is based on a conspiracy to hide the truth, took significant risks. IF that’s all you see in these stories, then frankly, you didn’t get it. You didn’t get what about 50 million other readers did get.
For Collins and Brown, let’s just agree that the risk they took paid off, at least in terms of commercial success. There are still plenty of haters, the fact of which, I’m assuming, makes both Collins and Brown smile widely from the comfort of their 40,000 square foot homes with a helipad and a killer view.
Neither book, by the way, played the slightest bit casual with story physics.
In fact, both stories are models for it.
It’s gut check time: are you being seduced in the wrong way by the “take-risks-in-your-writing” mantra? Are you tempting fate by jumping off a literary bridge? Or are you framing this properly as a challenge to take your book to new places, with bold ideas that explore relevant themes, and then empower the storythrough a fierce adherence to the very principles that will make it work?
Here’s hoping it’s the latter.
May all your risks turn out to be… survivable, and just possibly, a catalyst for your success.
Last minute Webinar pitch: you really need to consider opting-in for my Writers Digest University webinar, this coming Thursday, June 7, at 1:00 (Eastern/US). Here are a bunch of reasons why.
First, the title: THE ELEMENTS OF STORY: TRANSFORMING YOUR STORY FROM GOOD TO GREAT. Unless you know everything there is to know about how to do that (I know I don’t, but I know a LOT), you”ll find a wealth of insight that may be positively Epiphany-like to your writing career. The workshop clarifies the nature of, need for, and process of rendering and combining an 11-point roster of story forces and requisite elements before a story can be optimized… borfe it will work as well as it possibly can.
When was the last time you attended a workshop that bit off that level of content? It’s the most basic, and challenging, of what we need to understand and implement as storytellers, rarely seen or heard out there… this webinar will put it all on your screen and in your head for you to consider.
Go0d news… I have a DISCOUNT for you, simply for being here on Storyfix. When you register, you’ll go to a SHOPPING CART page to sign up, where you’ll find a DISCOUNT WINDOW. Enter the code — WDS322 — and you’ll get a 15% discount of the regular $89 price.
You’ll also receive, at no additional cost, a critique of a 2-page story summary or pitch, to help ensure that your concept and approach does indeed create a dramatic landscape upon which all these story forces and elements can be fully realized.
You can register HERE, as well as learn more about the workshop. Hope to see you there!