There’s an Exception to Every Rule

After writing up and developing various socio-political rules for my current worldbuilding project, I keep finding myself more interested in creating the exceptions to the rules.  If I say, for example, that virtually all of the world’s magicians are members of one of six orders of magic, I get the urge to explore the lives of those, relatively, few who reject the orders.  If I say that the magical government only authorizes one center of learning the magical arts, I get interested in the unauthorized education centers (if any).

This urge is, I think, one common to most writers.  It is often more interesting to look at what breaks the rule than what follows the norm.  Agatha Christie, David Morrell, and innumerable others come to mind here, in mainstream fiction.  Consider, for example, the number of novels about, say, grocery baggers (are there even any baggers anymore?), postmen, or plumbers versus those about glamorized detectives, fictional black ops, and unusual journalists (from other worlds).

Certainly, the common and everyday can be written about and get published.  Several have made a living at just that.  I think of Raymond Carver, Thomas Hardy (to some extent), Charles Dickens (to a certain degree), William Langland (Piers Plowman; admittedly, an allegory).  However, most writers seem to find the exceptions (R.A. Salvatore) or what varies from the common experience (Tim O’Brien) easier to write about and, perhaps, more compelling to read about.

I recall an experience during my senior year as an undergrad, working on a senior thesis (we called it Independent Study or I.S.).  I had decided to do a work of fiction, a series of fantasy short stories linked through a meta-story narrator (a storyteller in a tavern; yes, cliché, I know).  My advisor criticized a few pieces I wanted to include because “they were too hero-y” rather than dealing with normal, everyday people.  In then end, being young, I took his advice . . . but only produced one or two pieces for that project that I’m still happy with today (aside from the narrator).  Admittedly, the project was a lot of fun, but more for the frame narrative and concept than the individual stories.  Looking back, I think there was a major difference in style.  My advisor wrote poetry about everyday events and people (and translated Polish poetry), I was not particularly good at that, and still seem to have problems with it.  I prefer the exceptions, I think I write better when I look at the exceptions, the oddities, the uncommon.  Perhaps that’s why I’m drawn to writing fantasy and dabbling in sci-fi, or mixing the two . . . my attempts at historical fiction and “mainstream” stories are best forgotten.


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