Tag Archives: rules

Rules were made to be broken?

Most writers have heard about the problem of writing a “Mary Sue”, the concept of writing oneself into the story as a means of wish fulfillment. Wikipedia defines a Mary Sue thusly:

A Mary Sue is an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character, a young or low-rank person who saves the day through unrealistic abilities. Often this character is recognized as an author insert or wish-fulfillment.[1] Sometimes the name is reserved only for women, and male Sues are called “Gary Stus” or “Marty Stus”; but more often the name is used for both sexes of offenders.[2][3]

“Mary Sue” today has changed from its original meaning and now carries a generalized, although not universal, connotation of wish-fulfillment and is commonly associated with self-insertion. True self-insertion is a literal and generally undisguised representation of the author; most characters described as “Mary Sues” are not, though they are often called “proxies”[8] for the author. The negative connotation comes from this “wish-fulfillment” implication: the “Mary Sue” is judged as a poorly developed character, too perfect and lacking in realism to be interesting.[9]

So writing yourself into stories, even under an assumed name, is bad. But for every rule there is the exception, right?

I recently picked up Michaelbrent Colling’s book “The Longest Con”, in which Michaelbrent places himself, whole and undisguised, into his own noir-esque novel as the main character, who has been deputized into a secret group protecting the humans at fan conventions from the monsters who also love fan conventions. He also lifts an entire cast of characters from con luminaries.

And I believe he proves the rule that there is an exception to every rule. However, it also proves the corollary that you have to know the rules before you can break them.

As a regular at LTUE and numerous writers panels at countless conventions it’s hard to imagine Michaelbrent doesn’t know about “Mary Sue.” I’m pretty sure I’ve heard him personally warn writers about the trap. So it’s likely safe to assume that he knows the rule. So how does he successfully break it?

  1. His character is no one’s wish fulfillment. He gets no respect from his handlers. He gets little respect from anyone else. And in spite of his training in numerous martial arts, pretty much everyone beats the crap out of him. His character is not unusually talented, either. About all he has going for him is relentless, stubborn determination.
  2. He is continually self-deprecating. He continually talks about all the other writers who make more money than he does. There’s a running gag about how his mother is more popular than he is. Other characters regularly have to bail him out of tight spots.
  3. He’s playing himself, in his own life. Most people who know Michaelbrent know that this is pretty much the life he lives–with the exception of the supernatural elements, perhaps. By choosing to cast himself in a role we already know him in, it’s not so big a stretch. Now if he were to cast himself as a nuclear physicist who must create a particle accelerator in time to save the world from comet impact that would be more questionable. But it’s hard to really accuse him of inserting himself into a story that he’s already living.
  4. He brings along company. By inserting other known creative types like Dave Butler, Blake Casselman, Kevin J. Andersen, Mercedes Lackey, etc., he’s essentially “hanging a lantern on it” that this is wish fulfillment for a lot of people he knows and likes, especially when he makes all of them “cooler” than him.

Like I said, Collings knows the rules, and is willing to gamble in breaking them by placing himself unashamedly at the center of his story, assuming that even with the limitations he places on himself to avoid becoming a Mary Sue, we’ll still find him a likeable, relatable character.

Likewise, there are many rules out there we might be tempted to break. So long as we know what we’re doing, we can break them, too. We should consider a few things first, though, when we set out to break rules:

  1. Why does this rule even exist? We need to know the reason for the rule. In the case of Mary Sue, it’s because stories about such “perfect people” are usually dull reading. They come across as self-indulgent. Knowing that, then, you can then make sure you avoid those elements that the rule is supposed to guard against.
  2. Can we still tell the story while staying true to the rule? If there’s really no reason to break a rule, don’t. If you can make it look like you’re going to break it, but not actually break it, that’s acceptable. That could be what Collings does in bringing other known characters into his book. It could be argued that this approach creates an entirely different type of story (ie. parody), so the fear of Mary Sue isn’t even valid.
  3. Can the rule be only bent? Is there a way to obey the spirit of the rule while not strictly keeping the letter of the rule? For example, a lot of writers don’t strictly adhere to the rule of not using adverbs in dialogue tags (ie. “Don’t go, Joe!” she wailed pathetically.) Many get by using them sparingly. Keeping rules the majority of the time and then breaking them now and then for specific effect is sometimes acceptable.

The rules are there for a reason, and a good writer should know the rules and why they are important. But in knowing the rules we can also know when and how to break them. The trick is knowing how to break them in a way that enhances the story, and not just to avoid having to keep them.

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…

How to Break Writing Rules Right: “Don’t Use Adverbs, Adjectives”

As I promised last time when I talked about using cliches in your writing, today, I’m talking about using adverbs and adjective in your writing. When it comes to breaking the rules for adverbs and adjectives, you’ve got at least five great reasons to do it. 1) The verb or noun you need doesn’t exist in your language. 2) To control pacing. 3) To communicate interesting or unusual situations. 4) To create a specific tone or character voice. 5) The adverb or adjective is doing double duty.

What’s the Rule?

The Rule:

Don’t use adverbs because it weakens your writing. Use adjectives rarely for the same reason.

 

Why it’s a Rule

Take a look at these sentences:

Continue reading How to Break Writing Rules Right: “Don’t Use Adverbs, Adjectives”

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

Fawkes wrote her first story on a whim during a school break when she was seven. Crayon-drawn, poorly spelled, and edited so that it contained huge, fat, blacked-out lines, the story (about chickens seeking water) changed her life. Growing up, she had a very active imagination; one of her best friends accused her of playing Barbies wrong when she turned Ken into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mad scientist love interest. Her passion for stories led to her playing "pretend" longer than is socially acceptable. It was partially a symptom of never wanting to become an adult. Luckily she never did. She became a writer instead.

Fawkes has a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction, but she explores and reads anything well crafted. She has a passion for dissecting stories and likes to learn from a variety of genres, so you may find her discussing classics in one blog post animated shows in anotherTry not to be afraid of either. (And do be sensitive to the fact she never did reach adulthood.)


September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.
She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while (rarely now) critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side, and she even had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City, but mostly she hides out in her room, applies her butt to her chair, and writes. Other than that she reads fiction and books about writing fiction.

She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.  Her main writing project right now is a young adult fantasy novel she plans to publish traditionally.

Some of her favorite things include, but are not limited to, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Les Miserables, The X-Files, The Office, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, rock concerts, Creed, ballet, pugs, cherry blossoms, Ethel M. Chocolates, and anything yellow.

Use Settings to Challenge Characters

Last summer the Writer’s Dig (Writer’s Digest online, 7/21/15) ran a guest column by Kathleen Shoop which talked about ways to “Use Setting to Challenge Your Characters (& Make a Better Story). It happens that I am reworking an historical novel which I researched and wrote parts of (opening, a few chapters, a DREADFUL screenplay) some years ago. I’m hoping it’s finally time to finish the work. The story begins with the early Celtic tribes who rose against the Roman incursions (not to mention Vikings and other marauders) in the first Century, A.D.

So what do I know about the setting? This is 1st Century A.D. I’m talking about.

Shoop wisely noted that a romance, for instance, will be much different if set in today’s New York City, vs. 1905 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Attention to the differences in setting gives a means of character development which will ensure the author an original story, one that leaves readers “attached” to the characters long after the last page is turned. The key all in the infusion of details — meaningful and unexpected — that will help keep the reader turning those pages.

Shoop had several suggestions (each of which needs some explanation):

1. Inside Out

2. Dress Her Up and Make Her Run

3. A Good Night’s Rest

Details, explained:

1. Inside Out – who are your main characters on the inside? Whom do they “pretend” to be? If your Main Character (MC) tries to be something other than what s/he truly is, and that is made clear through the opening of your story, why the pretense? We may sense there is much more beyond the surface than s/he is showing. We may be puzzled by the way s/he acts, especially if we see some change or contradictions between what s/he says and what s/he does. What does s/he claim to dislike, yet allow to happen? Who IS this person? Really. And Deeply — inside. This is a good time to “play” with your reader’s early assumptions, give him/her a few surprises.

My Celtic heroine, a young girl only ten years old, has a twin of smaller build, and more timid demeanor. I could make them both a little reticent to begin with. Then, when my MC steps up to a challenge, she takes everyone (including the reader, I hope) by surprise. Now I have some serious purpose for this girl. What challenges will she accept? How will her demeanor change throughout the opening chapter or two? What about the sister, the twin? Is she also made of sterner stuff?

2. Dress Her Up and Make Her Run – “clothing and accouterments” take on the role of setting just as much as the countryside, the skyscrapers, cars in the street, hidden minuscule gardens in a city setting, etc. Clothing can reveal character traits, hamper (or help) the MC toward her goal. Clothing may impede a walk down the street, make noise in a quiet place, break down in some way: heels can break, straps break or tangle, reveal more than the MC wants during an altercation or accident, etc. Maybe you can choose clothing that is outlandish or which may fail her in a pivotal moment. Shoop suggests you “make the clothes matter in a way that helps change your characters in unique and unforgettable ways.”

My MC will be somewhat hampered on this step. It’s not as if she can step into the nearest boutique and buy something new to impress a handsome warrior. But she can do something different to it: wear a particular flower, tucked into her hair. Keep trinkets attached at the belt which no one else has. What are they? Where did she get them? Why are they always with her? and so on.

3. A Good Night’s Rest – authors put their characters into particular settings to accomplish specific tasks in the story. These places can “confirm their personalities, or challenge them to evolve.” How and where will your characters find respite? Where s/he sleeps “will help to illustrate how s/he has been shaped, destroyed . . . or possibly reborn.” Does your character prefer to sleep in a sheltered place: room, home, lean-to? Or is s/he more comfortable out of doors, where s/he is possibly more free and in control of his/her own destiny? What if that place of respite takes on a dramatic change? How will s/he cope with the change? Is it for the better or worse?

My MC comes from a family of note within one part of their clan, but they are not wealthy. And they are on the move. They will help build the typical Celtic shelter, but it will be a “permanent” building (permanent enough that they are still finding evidences of these circular “huts” in the British Isles). She will be at home in the outdoors, waking or sleeping. But when she marries a man who will become a noted warrior and leader of his Tribe, how will she cotton to being indoors so often, adjust to spending more time indoors than out, maintaining the home and “servants,” constantly having to prepare for guests — welcome or un?

Shoop’s last word of advice: “Play with your manuscript Analyze how you are using [these] aspects of setting to challenge and change your characters. You will love the results as you watch your words come alive on the page, surprising you at every turn.”

Just the thoughts which have come into my head while writing this piece have warped away from some of the things I’ve thought before. Hope it opens your eyes as well, to wider horizons and ways to use these kinds of details to rope your reader into your story and make him/her want to stay!

Using Cliches in Your Writing: Why, When, and How

Continue reading Using Cliches in Your Writing: Why, When, and How

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

Fawkes wrote her first story on a whim during a school break when she was seven. Crayon-drawn, poorly spelled, and edited so that it contained huge, fat, blacked-out lines, the story (about chickens seeking water) changed her life. Growing up, she had a very active imagination; one of her best friends accused her of playing Barbies wrong when she turned Ken into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mad scientist love interest. Her passion for stories led to her playing "pretend" longer than is socially acceptable. It was partially a symptom of never wanting to become an adult. Luckily she never did. She became a writer instead.

Fawkes has a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction, but she explores and reads anything well crafted. She has a passion for dissecting stories and likes to learn from a variety of genres, so you may find her discussing classics in one blog post animated shows in anotherTry not to be afraid of either. (And do be sensitive to the fact she never did reach adulthood.)


September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.
She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while (rarely now) critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side, and she even had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City, but mostly she hides out in her room, applies her butt to her chair, and writes. Other than that she reads fiction and books about writing fiction.

She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.  Her main writing project right now is a young adult fantasy novel she plans to publish traditionally.

Some of her favorite things include, but are not limited to, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Les Miserables, The X-Files, The Office, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, rock concerts, Creed, ballet, pugs, cherry blossoms, Ethel M. Chocolates, and anything yellow.

Breaking Your World’s Rules

Once in one of my college classes, we talked about what constitutes a good fantasy or science fiction novel. One of the qualities is that the story follows its own rules, meaning, if Harry Potter book one states that it’s impossible to magic food into existence, Hermione better not create a bowl of stew out of thin air in book five.

The fantastical universe you’ve created has to follow the rules it sets up for its readers. Otherwise, any deviation feels like a continuity error. The magic doesn’t make sense. Or, in other cases, it feels like the rule was broken out of convenience for the plot and as readers we feel cheated. We’ll probably question the writer’s abilities. The fantasy or science fiction world needs to follow the rules it lays down. . . usually.

There is a right way to break your world’s rules.  And it can kick up the heat of your story, and keep your reader glued to the page.

Last year I watched a show where the magic system was based on alchemy. In it, an alchemist can break down matter and reassemble it into something else. It’s impossible to create a living, functional human being this way.

Or so we think.

But then the protagonists get stuck in a fight with humans who have crazy abilities and discover they were created by alchemy. The main characters are shocked because it’s supposed to be impossible to do. Bam! Rule broken.
Now as the audience, we’re glued to the show, not only did an impossibility suddenly become possible, but this plot turn opens up a bunch of new questions. How exactly are these man-made humans created? Who created them? Someone who must be powerful. Someone who is an enemy? How are the heroes going to defeat them?

So the plot grows thicker.

This plotting trick can be surprisingly simple to do.
1. Set up your worlds rules
2. Break them.
* In order to break them the right way, make sure your characters are just as surprised as your audience about it. Otherwise, it will feel like a mistake. The break needs attention. The characters involved need to be shocked.

The follow up to doing this is that the audience needs to learn something about how the rule was broken. For some stories, the audience will want a very specific explanation (bordering on science) by the end of the book. In other stories, it’s enough to simply know that someone discovered how to do the impossible or that it’s some kind of freak anomaly. Do what is right for the magic system you set up.

Breaking your world’s rules often creates a feeling that we are on the cutting edge of science (or magic). The characters can discover more and more about the magic system, maybe even push it to its limits. This can keep your magic system feeling fresh because there are more mysteries to discover. The magic system can grow and expand.

So if you’re working on speculative fiction, think about how you can set up and break your world’s rules to rein in your readers.

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

Fawkes wrote her first story on a whim during a school break when she was seven. Crayon-drawn, poorly spelled, and edited so that it contained huge, fat, blacked-out lines, the story (about chickens seeking water) changed her life. Growing up, she had a very active imagination; one of her best friends accused her of playing Barbies wrong when she turned Ken into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mad scientist love interest. Her passion for stories led to her playing "pretend" longer than is socially acceptable. It was partially a symptom of never wanting to become an adult. Luckily she never did. She became a writer instead.

Fawkes has a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction, but she explores and reads anything well crafted. She has a passion for dissecting stories and likes to learn from a variety of genres, so you may find her discussing classics in one blog post animated shows in anotherTry not to be afraid of either. (And do be sensitive to the fact she never did reach adulthood.)


September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.
She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while (rarely now) critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side, and she even had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City, but mostly she hides out in her room, applies her butt to her chair, and writes. Other than that she reads fiction and books about writing fiction.

She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.  Her main writing project right now is a young adult fantasy novel she plans to publish traditionally.

Some of her favorite things include, but are not limited to, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Les Miserables, The X-Files, The Office, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, rock concerts, Creed, ballet, pugs, cherry blossoms, Ethel M. Chocolates, and anything yellow.

The So-Called Rules of Writing

This was a post I wTwilight-coverrote a while back for my own blog.It got lots of feedback and I’d like to know your take on it. I am going to start this off by saying that there are no rules to writing. There are rules of grammar and rules of story, but not rules of writing. There are only rules that writers create for other writers. I’ve learned this over the years as I’ve listened to countless authors verbally bash and harshly critique other authors and their decisions when writing.

I noticed this a lot when I was getting my degree in English. The professors would waste, and I mean WASTE, hours of my life to dissect a single paragraph to figure out why this particular author chose to write this particular thing. I don’t know about other writers, but I do not sit in my office and contemplate for hours a paragraph that will boggle the minds of literary experts. I’d like to know who does and ask them to please get a life. This type of thinking ruined my writing for a few years. After I got out of school it took me a really long time to get my creative side going again. I was too concerned on making every sentence and paragraph shine with literary glory. Sometimes I don’t think getting my degree improved my writing, my understanding of the craft maybe, but not my writing.

I remember one instance in my capstone program where we were asked to read sections from Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Stephanie Myer’s Twilight. We were not told what we were to do when we read these just to read them. I thought that we’d be comparing the two and seeing what things Myer took from Stoker’s tale. It turned into an hour and a half bash on Twilight. What was funny is I found myself the only one in a room of twenty authors that stuck up for Myer. I asked why we were wasting time bashing someone who wrote a bestselling novel. Obviously Myer found a way to get people to read her books and we should be discussing that, not how she veered from the rules Stoker created when writing a story about vampires. Instead we focused on the rules that she apparently broke. Rules these fellow writers were setting for her.

I think that writers are too harsh on other writers. imagesThe readers that I know shared with me that they do not analyze the choices a writer made when writing. They do not ask why this particular author chose to veer from the rules set by their peers. They read to read—to enjoy the story that is there. So if our readers are solely focused on the story why are we as writers focused on something else?

I hope that writers can lay off the “rules” and just let others create their art. Yes writing is an art and authors are artists. It’s a creative outlet that should not have constrains and rules. One style may be different but that doesn’t diminish the art in anyway—it is still beautiful to someone. I hope you can remember this and be kind to other writers, and be kind to yourself. Happy Writing!

Mikey Brooks

About Mikey Brooks

Mikey Brooks is a small child masquerading as an adult. On occasion you’ll catch him dancing the funky chicken, singing like a banshee, and pretending to have never grown up. He is an award-winning author of the middle-grade fantasy adventure series The Dream Keeper Chronicles. His other middle-grade books include: The Gates of Atlantis: Battle for Acropolis and The Stone of Valhalla. His picture books include the best-selling ABC Adventures: Magical Creatures, Trouble with Bernie, and Bean’s Dragons. Mikey has a BS degree in English from Utah State University and works fulltime as a freelance illustrator, cover designer, and author. His art can be seen in many forms from picture books to full room murals. He loves to daydream with his three daughters and explore the worlds that only the imagination of children can create. As a member of the Emblazoners, he is one of many authors devoted to ‘writing stories on the hearts of children’ (emblazoners.com). You can find more about him and his books at: www.insidemikeysworld.com.

Learning to Write by Reading

by Brenda Bensch

reading

I don’t know about you, but I’m still reeling from the outpouring of information at the LTUE three-day conference held Feb. 14-26, 2013 (Light, the Universe and Everything, for any who are unfamiliar with it).  I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to thank at least a handful of the participants by sharing my take on what they offered.

An excellent panel on “How to Read to Learn Writing,” consisting of Adam Meyers, Laryssa Waldrom, Emily Sorensen, Christopher Loke, and Tyler Whitesides, reminded me of several points I’d like to share with my students, my blog readers, and all the LTUE participants who just couldn’t make it to every session all three days.  Among other excellent ideas, they proposed the following to improve your own writing:

1.  Don’t read only “your” genre, but expose yourself to other genres.  Specifically go to the originals” of specific genres, and the really old masters like Chaucer, Shakespeare, Ovid, etc.
2.  Read what you’ve already read.
a.  The first time, read as a fan, to find out “what happens.”
b.  The second read through, notice how the author made you feel what you felt.
c.  On the third read, figure out why the author made you feel that way.

3.  Read to examine POV (Point of View).  How is the story told through that POV? Could you replicate such a stance?  If you’re not sure, figure out how you could do the same thing.

4.  Don’t “just” read: rewrite.  Rewrite scenes from “good” books, attempting to copy the style, tone, rhythm, etc., into a scene from your life and/or book.

5.  Read everything you can lay hands on within your sub-genre.  Figure out the “rules” for that type of writing.

6.  Analyze something in a popular genre.  “Rewrite” it into a different genre.  Vampires in one book might become faeries, farmers, skeletons, pirates, horses, or giants in another.

7.  Go to a library or book store and read the first sentence (or even the first paragraph) in many, many, many books, all at once.  What did you learn?

8.  Most importantly, Live in order to write.  Expand your horizons by doing.  Expand by being.  Go to an art show.  A ballet.  A symphony.  An improvisation troupe performance.  Go sky diving.  Brush up your French, Spanish, Latin, whatever.  Hit that bucket list and do five things from it in a week.  ENJOY feeling alive by expanding.

Why are you just sitting there?  Go read something!

BIO: Brenda Bensch, M.A., is a teacher of multiple decades teaching in Utah’s university, college, high school and community ed. classrooms (English, fiction and non-fiction writing, drama, humanities, etc.)  Brenda writes YA fantasy, adult historical, articles, essays, poetry, adaptations, plays and screen plays. She invites you to “Ask The Teacher” at http://BenschWensch.wordpress.com

Brenda Bensch

BenschWensch@yahoo.com

or on The ABC Writers Guild at

www.benschwensch.wordpress.com

About Bonnie Gwyn Johnson

Bonnie Gwyn wrote her first book, about a talking grandfather clock, when she was six – and hasn’t stopped writing since. In fact, she can’t “not write,” and she wouldn’t have it any other way. She hasn’t missed a day of writing in her journal for the past four years!

As a winner in this year’s National Novel Writing Month challenge, Bonnie produced her latest dystopian novel, "Escaping Safety," and is now working on its sequel. She is also close to completing a fantasy romance series, "The Legends of Elldamorae," whose characters have captured her heart and can’t wait to have their stories revealed.

Bonnie’s mantra is, “I write because I believe every story deserves to be told.”

You can learn more about Bonnie, and read her inspirational blog posts, on Where Legends Begin at http://www.bonniegwyn.blogspot.com/

Bonnie Gwyn handles all guest bloggers on this website. Contact her if you would like to volunteer your time to share writing advice for The Authors' Think Tank.

Urban Legends in Writing

Who hasn’t heard the story about the escaped inmate with a hook for a hand who goes after teenagers necking atop a hill—or maybe the one about the man hiding in the backseat of some pretty lady’s car—perhaps the story about the babysitter being phone stocked by a serial killer?  These stories were famous when I was in my early teens and I still find them fascinating to hear.  These are the scary stories that hit too close to home.  They are urban legends.

With so many blockbuster movies based off urban legends I had to try and discover what makes these stories so successful.

Like most story structures there are rules that have to be followed.  The most important rule with urban legends is that it has to be believable.  There’s no suspension of belief here folks.  Urban legends are reality…well, not really, but as writers of them you need to make it so.  That is why most urban legends are told in a specific way.  “Let me tell you a story that happened to my friend’s cousin’s friend one late night in October…” If the story is about someone you know, even long distantly, the story becomes closer.  You don’t even have to have the story about someone you know it could just happen in your own backyard.  Think about the way you feel when you see on the news that some woman was shot to death by her husband on the street just a block away.  So, number one rule: make the story believable and familiar.

This is what makes up an urban legend:

  1. An innocent victim, preferably a female is doing something they ought not (most of the time urban legends are trying to share a morality lesson).  Most of the time they are isolated and alone.  The victim, or victims, is unaware of their surroundings.
  2. An evil attacker, preferably an ambiguous male with a mental instability.
  3. The story needs to play off human fears.
  4. The story normally happens at night and in a rural setting.
  5. A hero, preferable male and in an authoritative position comes in right at the end to save the day—sometimes not.
  6. There is what’s called the rule of three: meaning the same thing happens two times before the final third.  Like in the story of “the Hook” the escaped inmate attempts to open the car door two times before the couple speed off in their car.  The third time the hook is found on the car door.  Remember the rule of three.  The reader is aware something is going to happen, and happen, and BOOM—it happens.

I challenge you to create an urban legend, a story that seems plausible that happened to you or a close friend—perhaps in your neighborhood.  Use the rules above to structure the story and see what happens.  Hope you found this helpful. Happy Writing!

Mikey Brooks

About Mikey Brooks

Mikey Brooks is a small child masquerading as an adult. On occasion you’ll catch him dancing the funky chicken, singing like a banshee, and pretending to have never grown up. He is an award-winning author of the middle-grade fantasy adventure series The Dream Keeper Chronicles. His other middle-grade books include: The Gates of Atlantis: Battle for Acropolis and The Stone of Valhalla. His picture books include the best-selling ABC Adventures: Magical Creatures, Trouble with Bernie, and Bean’s Dragons. Mikey has a BS degree in English from Utah State University and works fulltime as a freelance illustrator, cover designer, and author. His art can be seen in many forms from picture books to full room murals. He loves to daydream with his three daughters and explore the worlds that only the imagination of children can create. As a member of the Emblazoners, he is one of many authors devoted to ‘writing stories on the hearts of children’ (emblazoners.com). You can find more about him and his books at: www.insidemikeysworld.com.