My Ground Rules for Writing

While the clock ticks down toward the release of the books, I thought I’d take a moment to let you in on part of my process for writing fiction. Specifically, the ground rules I try to follow at all times. These are lines that I will not cross, cliches I try to avoid, or ideals I shoot for.

WritingThis is by no means a complete list of goals I have in my writing, but these are probably my most fundamental rules that I try to keep in mind in any story. If you’re wondering what to expect from my work, this can give you at least a partial idea.

My ground rules are, in no particular order:

1: No rape/pedophilia/sexual violence

I’d like to think the reasoning for this would be plainly apparent. Rape and related forms of sexual abuse are very disturbing to read about, and I’m trying to create stories that people enjoy reading.

I’ll grudgingly grant there can be a place for this sort of thing in fiction, but personally, I do not enjoy reading about it. For whatever reason, it ends up being much more disturbing to me than more mainstream forms of violence.

Official logo for The Books of the World SpectrumI write escapist fiction. Sometimes, it’s very dark escapist fiction, but even when I’m writing about genocide and the apocalypse, I still want people to enjoy the ride. I want to take people away from their troubles. Rape and sexual abuse are just a little too raw, a little too intense for the kind of story I want to tell.

Plus, there seemed to be a trend for a while there that said that every major female character in fantasy needs to get raped at some point, and I got pretty damn sick of it. Maybe I was just picking the wrong books; I don’t know. But it got real old after a while.

2: Avoid animal cruelty wherever possible

The reasoning for this is similar to the above. I don’t think it’s fun to read about horrible things happening to animals, so I avoid it where I can.

Now, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid such things completely, especially when you write in universes where cavalry is a thing. But I try to keep it to a minimum — nothing too graphic or heart-breaking.

Official logo for The Books of the World SpectrumI’ll especially avoid it if the animal has some significance to the story. If a character has a beloved pet in one of my stories, I can guarantee you it will survive — even if no one else does.

Another way of phrasing this rule could be, “If it’s cute, it lives.”

Moving on from things that will scar your soul…

3: No romance for the sake of romance

I’ve long disdained the romance plots that exist in most fantasy novels, but the truth is, I have nothing against romance as a concept. A well-told love story is a beautiful thing.

The trouble is that most of the romance plots I’ve read aren’t well-told. They’re almost entirely formulaic, and they rarely serve any purpose to the greater story. In many cases, certain characters seem to have no reason to exist other than to be so-and-so’s lover. That’s not interesting to me.

Also, maybe this is a false assumption on my part, but I’ve always found it improbable that people would have the time and energy to develop relationships while fighting to save the world. Obviously, your hormones don’t know it’s the apocalypse, but surely your time would be better spent on saving the human race than on talking romantic, moonlit walks with your sweetheart?

Furthermore, I just don’t think I’m very good at writing romance. I’m too young and too inexperienced to really do it justice. So I try to avoid romance where possible simply so I don’t embarrass myself too much.

Official logo for The Books of the World SpectrumThere are love stories in my books — World Spectrum and otherwise — but none of them exist simply because I felt the books needed some romance. They all serve some purpose within the story. If two characters falling in love isn’t going to advance the story in some way, it probably isn’t going to happen.

Similarly, I try to avoid creating characters simply for the sake of their being someone’s love interest. I’m not always successful, but most of the relationships in this series arose spontaneously as I was writing, rather than being planned ahead.

Without giving too much away, I also try to illustrate that falling in love in the middle of a war might not be as easy as doing so with the world at peace.

4: Represent diversity

I’m hesitant to include this one. Of all the rules, this is by far the one I’ve had the least success in following. But I might as well mention it.

I believe very much in the concept of celebrating the rich tapestry of humanity. Infinite diversity in infinite combinations, as the Trekkies say. I believe fiction should show all facets of humanity in equality: gay and straight, male and female, white and black.

This is especially true in fantasy. There’s no reason for an alternate reality to suffer the same prejudices as our world. For instance, it seems to me that much of homophobia — or at least the justifications people offer for it — is rooted in religious taboos. The people of the world spectrum are all atheists, so they wouldn’t have that crutch for their intolerance. If anyone in the world spectrum was homophobic, they would be the ones considered abnormal.

You won’t see this is in the books, though. I’m sorry to say that I don’t walk the walk very well when it comes to diversity.

I may include many different races of humanity in the world spectrum, but they’re mostly all various shades of white. The one major exception would be the Urannans, who are sort of quasi-Asian.

Natoma, guard captain of Nettoh ProvinceIt’s an issue I struggle with. On the one hand, I feel it’s wrong of me to make my worlds so, well, white, but at the same time, it doesn’t feel right to randomly make one of my cultures black (or Hispanic or South Asian or whatever) just to make a point.

At the risk of passing the buck, I do have to place some blame on the history of the fantasy genre. It’s traditionally been dominated by Western European-inspired cultures because the genre is rooted in Western European mythology. It’s just natural to start imagining every fantasy culture from that baseline.

I could write a whole post just on the issue of race in fantasy. I know, because I did.

Similarly, I’ve not included any openly gay characters in my writing to date. Largely because I apply the same rules to gay couples as I do to straight couples: it needs to serve a purpose in the story. Nothing would be worse than to introduce a character just to go, “HEY LOOK AT THIS GAY CHARACTER I MADE. LOOK HOW GAY THEY ARE. GAY-DIDDY-GAY-GAY-GAY! I’M SO PROGRESSIVE. LOLOLOLOLOL.”

I have a plan for a gay couple in a future series that will actually serve the plot in an important way, but you won’t see anything of the sort in the World Spectrum novels.

The one area I have succeeded in is giving both genders a fair shake. Actually, if anything, I may have erred a little too much towards making the females the focus to the exclusion of the men. Didn’t plan it that way, but that’s how it worked out.

Eh, we could all use a few more kick-ass women in our lives, anyway.

5: Make it fun

But ultimately, my one overriding goal as a writer is to make stories people will enjoy reading. It doesn’t matter how high-minded I am, what points I make, or what ideals I embody if people don’t enjoy my books.

If you’re not having fun, I’ve failed. That will always be my first and greatest duty as a writer.

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