Thursday, 19 September 2013

my rules. for me. (you too, if you want)

Scott Nicolay's Dogme 2011 outlines how weird fiction can move beyond Lovecraftian pastiche, and escape simply becoming another subgenre. When I first read it, I expected to disagree, but I found that I was already following most of its principles (I did once write a zombie story).

Re-reading it recently made me wonder if I could enumerate a list of my own self-imposed rules of writing a good weird short story. These rules are specific to me. Some relate to content and others relate to process, so I am dividing them into two lists.

Process
1. If it isn't done in three days, abandon it.
2. Get back to it after a respectable amount of time has elapsed. Resume writing it, or start again if you prfer, applying rule 1 once more.
3. Rinse and repeat. Don't worry if this goes on for years. You are working on other stories too, aren't you?
4. If you think someone else has had the same idea, they probably have. Fuck that. If you aren't imaginative enough to write an original story with an unoriginal idea you should stop writing.
5. If tense and voice start shifting as you write, just run with it. This is one of those things you fix later.
6. When it comes to productivity, find what works for you but be willing to improvise. If you can manage 6 short stories a year, so be it. If you can write a novel every 6 months, they're probably crap unless your name is Simenon, but go ahead. Just be prepared to buckle up and punch out 10K+ words a day once in a while. It may come in handy.

Content
2. Remember, no list of rules is complete.
3. Be very wary of portraying evil. Be even warier of portraying good. This is not a morality play. It's more interesting than that.
4. If your premise can be described in punchy, high-concept elevator-pitch terms, ditch it.
5. Ghosts are always with us; we are all someone's ghosts. Any other stock supernatural entity can be safely given the ditch.
7. Write about places you know. Write about people you know. Steal from life. Research is for non-fiction writers.
8. Read a lot of non-fiction. Don't read to learn, or for background research; read to creatively misunderstand.

10. Don't try to explain everything. Even if it all makes sense to you, don't put all the connections and clues into your story.
11. Keep a dream diary. Refer to it for ideas.
12. Keep a diary. Refer to it for ideas.
13. Copyright isn't an imposition preventing you from playing with other people's creations; it is a much needed barrier that forces you to play with your own creations instead.
14. Don't waste time giving them what they expect.
15. Despite rule 7, there is one kind of research you must engage in: be a flaneur. Be the invisible man. Walk around your city, or any place you happen to find yourself in. Look at things. Don't try to remember everything, but pay attention to the things you do remember.
16. Places are characters. People are scenery. Dialogue is optional. Description is not.
17. Language is an end, not a means.
(This list is a work in progress. I'm still trying to make up my mind about rule 9)

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