Risingshadow has the honour of publishing a guest post by Kirk Dougal.
Kirk Dougal has had fiction works appear in multiple anthologies and released his debut novel, Dreams of Ivory and Gold in May of 2014 through Angelic Knight Press, with a 2nd edition released in February 2015. His YA/thriller novel, Jacked, leads the launch of Ragnarok Publications' Per Aspera SF imprint in 2016. He is also waiting on the publication of his SF/LitRPG novel, Reset, while completing the sequel to Dreams, Valleys of the Earth.
Kirk is currently working in a corporate position with a group of newspapers after serving as a group publisher and editor-in-chief. He lives in Ohio with his wife and four children. For more information on his writings or just to find out what he has been doing, you can find Kirk at his website, www.kirkdougal.com, or hanging out on Facebook and Twitter.
GUEST POST: Risk Going Too Far by Kirk Dougal
T.S. Eliot once said, “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
Taking a risk is a hard thing to do as a beginning writer. Go to any convention or writer’s workshop and dozens of people will earnestly explain the rules to becoming published to you. The iconic Elmore Leonard had his own ten rules for good writing and they included edicts such as “Never open a book with the weather,” “Avoid prologues,” “Never use a word other than said to carry dialogue,” and “Never use an adverb to modify the word ‘said,’” among others.
But I urge you to think back to some of the most memorable novels and short stories you have ever read, the ones that have stuck in your mind years after the first time you read the story. I venture that many of those took chances with a character, twisting an old trope into a new vision in the genre. Or, perhaps the author took a risk with plot line convention or used a certain POV in order to deliver the most dramatic punch.
Here are some examples of authors who took a risk, went against the rules, to make their stories memorable:
CRYPTONOMICON – Neal Stephenson wrote much of this award-winning novel about Allied code breakers in World War II and modern day computer programmers in present tense.
AFTERMATH: STAR WARS – Chuck Wendig’s first novel in the bridge between the middle trilogy of Star Wars films and the Force Awakens was also written in present tense.
TTYL – Lauren Myracle’s novel about three high school girls growing up together is written entirely in the instant message format.
THE BOOK THIEF – Markus Zusak took a big risk with his novel when he chose to use Death as the narrator.
THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE – Audrey Niffenegger took not one but two risks when she told her tale of a man with a genetic disease that caused him to jump through time. Niffenegger used multiple first person points of view and the present tense.
THE NIGHT CIRCUS – Erin Morgenstern might have stepped the farthest away from convention in this tale about a wandering magical circus in Victorian London when she toyed with readers’ expectations by not revealing to them until 150 pages into the book about the stakes for the main conflict.
All of these were high-stake risks that could have caused the novels to fall flat with readers. So how did they overcome the obstacles and succeed? Because in each circumstance, the choices were made in order to enhance an aspect of the story. Morgenstern did not lose her readers by not revealing the potential costs because she deftly increased the suspense during the first pages. Myracle’s use of instant messaging helped to set the tone for her YA book and put the readers in touch with the main characters. Stephenson and Wendig provided a sense of urgency by using the present tense and Niffenegger used the multiple first person POV to highlight the feelings of the characters, bringing the emotion of the story directly to the readers.
I have also taken risks and broken rules in my own novels. RESET is a science fiction thriller that involves a homicide detective who is addicted to immersed role playing games where the players actually live inside the computers for extended periods of time. When the detective is outside the game in the real world, the story is told in third person but when he is inside the gaming world it changes to first person from only his point of view.
When I sent the story to my beta readers, one of them immediately called me back. They were concerned because the portion of the story told outside the games felt cold and distant while the sections inside of the games felt much more alive, as did the main character. I remained silent and did not answer. After a few seconds this beta reader said, “Oh my god, you did that on purpose! I only cared about what happened to him inside the games!”
And he was correct. I intentionally switched POV in the story—one of those absolute rules that should never be broken—because the main character only felt alive when he was inside the games, merely existing in the real world. That feeling of separation between the two parts of his life was felt in turn by the readers when the story changed for them as well. I had a reason for breaking the rules.
So take a risk, just be sure it makes your story a better read.