Monday, February 23, 2015

Are You Limiting Yourself?

Photo by Peter Dutton, via Flickr
When it comes to fiction, rules and limits almost always inspire me. And I’m not talking about grammar rules.

My first manuscripts were crime novels written for adults, and I wrote without restriction, free to pepper my dialogue with swear words exactly as I heard them spray from my characters’ mouths.

Then I rediscovered tween/teen and young adult fiction. And, before I knew it, a bubbly teenager stepped into my writer’s brain and rattled off a fantastic story I couldn’t wait to get down on screen. But I’d have to curb the curses if I was writing a book for kids. Easy enough, surely? Except, sixteen-year-old boys don’t go around saying “drat” and “darn” when something goes wrong. It was an interesting writing challenge to imply, but not actually specify, strong language.

Another (self-imposed) limit was that none of the main characters could die. Again, it sounds simple enough – but it removes a lot of easy tension and conflict. More creative writing followed.

This year I have a new challenge. My chosen genre is Steampunk. Setting: Victorian England. That means researching the time period and checking even the smallest detail – would X have been possible/plausible in Victorian times? And the science part of the fiction needs to centre around clockwork or steam power. My mind absolutely churns with the plot possibilities offered by such specific limits.

Because, when you eliminate a vast number of options, you’re left with highly concentrated material to work with. And there’s nothing like concentration to sharpen your focus and stimulate your creative plotting.

Have you tried limiting yourself?

Elle Carter Neal is the author of Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin, a science-fantasy for tweens and teens. She blogs about the craft of writing at HearWriteNow.com

10 comments :

  1. Historical research overwhelms me, and I bow to those who can do it. I think every book has its own set of limitations - length, setting, genre, characters. But that's the fun of writing. Fitting within the confines of the genre while still being creative.

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    1. What overwhelmed me in previous writing was knowing current details of real life settings. But these days I have Google Earth to help me with that. It's refreshing to go back to good old text books and the library for my research.

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  2. I think my mind works a certain way. I'm with Terry about historical research. I don't think it's a matter of limiting myself as much as writing what interests me. I've done a lot of research for the books I write. I know how hackers work or safecrackers crack safes, not that I could do either one. I learned about mythology and mysticism, drug addiction, call girls, disability, and lots of other things that interested me within the parameters of the books I write. The genre might be the same, but my learning experiences changed from book to book. I admire you for stretching. It is fun, isn't it?

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    1. Thanks. Yes it is fun. Those research trips can lead down real rabbit holes, can't they? Amazing what they inspire, too.

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  3. The toughest part about writing the Mythikas Series was limiting myself to what the characters could have seen, heard, and known about in pre-written history Greece. What food would they have had access to? Animals? Fabrics? I wrote in English, not linear A, but had to stringently limit references to things that could not have existed, things we refer to so easily in day to day language, things that have become verbs. I had to come up with insults and curse words that could have been used at the time. Try writing without them! I hated myself for the setting choice after the first draft of the first book. I can't claim perfection, but it was quite the challenge.

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    1. And nothing pulls a reader out of a story like modern vocabulary in a historical setting.

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    2. Wow. Yes, I can imagine such an ancient (real) setting could be really difficult to get just the right feel for.

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  4. Great post. I write scifi and can invent curse words or like you do, imply them. And I think lots of writers for teens don't take into account how real teenagers use bad language a lot.

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    1. Thanks, Susan. Battlestar Galactica did really well with their own swear word ;-)

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  5. Both my first and second novels, although set in current times, required significant research. If I'm editing a book that doesn't ring true, I fix it (or ask the writer to). If I've paid for a book that obviously hasn't been well researched, I'll mark the writer off my favorites list.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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