Friday, April 4, 2014

No Rule is Absolute

If I have to read one more line about hearts in throats, I'm going to scream.

I've probably seen tweets along those lines from editors lately as much as I've seen passages about hearts in throats. And with good reason, I'm sure! Often, in an effort to show instead of tell, writers will lean more heavily on physical descriptors so the protagonist isn't just telling the reader how s/he feels. It's a crutch, to be certain, to the point where certain physical reactions - hearts in throats, knots in stomachs, and so on - become a cliche.

But on the other hand, I'm a horror writer. And most of us, at one point or another, have experienced the visceral physicality of intense fear. The body's fight or flight response brings with it a litany of powerful, unmistakable sensations.

When tackling my current manuscript, I had to wonder: how could I address those sensations without tipping into overused tropes? My protagonist's emotions were so heavily suppressed, after all, that physical reactions were the strongest signifiers of her fear. And eventually, I did find the tone that worked for me. I was able to work out reactions that were completely specific to my protagonist, with an uncomfortably close focus in the narrative that made my squeamish side twitch. Gothic horror is particularly good for that!

Publishing has a stronger presence than ever on social media, and with it comes tweet upon tweet of advice from industry pros. But there's one important thing to keep in mind when reading those tweets: writing advice is not one size fits all. It's important to listen to that advice, and to be aware of those crutches and cliches that editors see every day. But maybe you can turn that cliche on its head, or spin it in a way that would be absolutely perfect for your story. And even if it doesn't work, you can only benefit by trying. Taking risks doesn't just make us better writers - it's also really fun. (Even when it makes you want to tear your hair out.)

Happy writing this weekend, OAers! And if you feel so inclined, tell me in the comments: when is the last time you tried turning an overused trope on its head? And did it work?


  1. My top eye-roller right now is men and/or their body parts resembling Greek Gods. Enough already! LOL

  2. "Taking risks doesn't just make us better writers - it's also really fun. (Even when it makes you want to tear your hair out.)"

    Haha, some Truth there!


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