Writing Challenge

(This article was first published on zacharybonelli.com on January 1, 2015. It has been revised with only minor editorial changes.)

Yesterday, I finished my first draft of Schrödinger’s City, just in time meet my 2014 deadline for myself.

The genesis of that novel involved a confluence of two events: 1) A friend noticed that my first three novels tended to involve the viewpoints of a lot of gay, male programmers in their teens or early twenties, and while it was great to push genre boundaries, I was perhaps beginning to repeat myself somewhat. 2) I read Perdido Street Station by China Miéville, which was a watershed moment for me. Within that novel, many of the rules of writing, as defined by many writing groups I participated it and the many blogs I frequented, were summarily ignored throughout. And yet the novel was beyond a shadow of a doubt successful, a thoroughly engaging work of literary art. This caused me to question every writing rule I had ever been exposed to, especially the ones I had never had much respect for in the first place.

And so I sat down and wrote a novel with roughly twenty point of view characters, all of varying genders, ages, backgrounds, cognitive strengths, weaknesses, fears, worldviews, etc. I even wrote my villains’ points of view, albeit briefly. Even the writer (especially the writer) could only tolerate them for so long.

I like my draft. A lot. Editing it will be hell, but editing has always been hell, regardless of how much I like a work.

This brings me to my challenge for other writers. Once you know what a rule is and why it exists and how to follow it, then break it, and then ask yourself how that feels.

I have met developing writers who have admitted to me that they don’t understand, conceptually, what point of view (PoV) is. They can’t read a piece of writing and say to themselves, “clearly the PoV is Mary,” and neither can they hold a PoV in their own writing because they can’t comprehend what it is. Such writing will, without a doubt, be painful to read.

However, once a writer can read someone else’s scene and say immediately, “the PoV was Bob,” and once a writer can write a scene herself and hold a PoV on purpose, then the writer needs to start practicing breaking the rule, if only to find out what effect breaking the rule has.

And never let another author tell you how to write, especially if his reason is, “I really hate reading authors who do X.” Screw him. He has a valid point with regard to people who are doing it blindly, but what about the people who understand how that feels and explicitly want to evoke that feeling?

Science fiction is supposed to be the literature of new ideas. We are supposed to revel in pushing boundaries, in getting people to conceive of new things. If so, why do we blindly follow rules? Ours should be the literature that elegantly breaks every last one of them.

This year, I will become more experimental. I will try even more new things. I will explore even more types of characters and attempt stylistic constructions that will drive purists into a fiery rage.

And I will enjoy every minute of it. I encourage you to try the same.