I have a confession to make. Most of my life, I’ve been a rule follower. Okay, I don’t always obey the speed limit, but in every other sense of the word, I tend to follow the rules. I don’t know why. Maybe it was my good, wholesome Canadian upbringing.
So when I pitched a story idea in my very first writing class, the pregnant pause that followed felt like an eternity. It seemed to last three hours. I felt like the kid in the class who gave the wrong answer and all I wanted to do was shrink into the floor and disappear.
What came next surprised me.
Three seconds of silence ticked by, and then the room erupted. Ideas exploded from my fellow students like fireworks on the Fourth of July. “Have you ever read this book?” “What if you did this?” “What would happen if you did that?”
The energy of the room electrified me, and in that moment, I thought I had a story worth telling. My story pitched a stereotype on its head—it was about a woman who had a secret life, and when her husband found out about it, everything changed.
So I started writing. Pages piled up on my desk. Chapters crowded my head as characters jostled each other to get out on paper. Page after page, Jill Shannon took shape. The book was coming along swimmingly well, until I started to share it. That’s when I realized I’d broken a few of the cardinal rules of storytelling.
1. Your hero should be nice.
2. The good guys always win.
3. The story needs to be wrapped up in a pretty bow.
we have a problem. Houston
I didn’t set out to be edgy or controversial. I wrote the story that spoke to me. Conforming to the rules would have meant radical changes to Deadly Lies, and in truth if I did that, it would no longer be the book I envisioned.
There is freedom in breaking the rules. Ignoring the boundaries and constraints allows your creativity to flow resulting in something that is new, different, and uniquely yours.
History is full of people who followed their passion, broke the rules, and changed the world around them. Picasso’s work was called “schizophrenic” and practically satanic by one of his early critics. The rock band, Queen, created an unorthodox brand of music theater that defined an entire branch of 70’s rock and roll. Bill Gates quit college and founded his own company.
I’m not saying screw the rules and abandon all reason. That would be anarchy. Story structure exists as a guideline for a reason. Without it, your story could flounder. But I do think there is room in a creative life to color outside the lines and express yourself in a way this is unique.
The world is changing. The rise of independent publishing has opened the door to more innovation. It used to be your book had to fit into a specific genre and conform to certain structural constraints to get published. Your band had to have a certain sound if you want to get signed. This is no longer the case.
Some people feel that this rise in Indie publishing erodes quality standards. There are more typos in books. And while that may be true, as traditional lines get blurred, creativity abounds. There are new and interesting stories out there—stories, like mine, that never would have seen the light of day in a color-inside-the-lines kind of world.
So wear mismatched socks if you like them. Turn you amplifier all the way up to 11 and play loud. A wise man once said if it sounds good, it is good.
Follow your passion. Write your story. And break the rules.
When Chris Patchell isn't hiking in the Cascade Mountains or hanging out with family and friends, she is working at her hi-tech job or writing gritty suspense novels. Writing has been a lifelong passion for Chris. She fell in love with storytelling in the third grade when her half-page creative writing assignment turned into a five-page story on vampires. Even back then Chris had a gift for writing intricate plots that were so good her father refused to believe she didn't steal them from comic books.
Years later, Chris spent long afternoons managing her own independent record store and writing romance novels. After closing the record store and going to college, Chris launched a successful career in hi-tech. She married, had kids but amid all the madness, the itch to write never really went away. So she started writing again. Not romance this time - suspense filled with drama, and angst, speckled with a little bit of blood.
Why suspense? Chris blames her obsession with the dark on two things: watching Stephen King movies as a kid and spending ridiculous amounts of time commuting in Seattle traffic. "My stories are based on scenarios I see every day, distorted through the fictional lens. And my stories come with the added bonus of not having to be restrained by socially acceptable behavior."