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Standards? Maybe Not

By Nancy Ellen Hird

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot-various books and back issues of writers’ magazines. (Have you read Eats, Shoots & Leaves? Who knew that punctuation could be such fun?) Anyway, some themes began emerging in the how-to-write-fiction articles. Some “standards” were touted. Sorry, but I’m questioning “authority.”

Does a book need to be a cliff-hanger to be a page-turner?

If it’s in the genre of mystery/suspense, yes. But are those the only good reads? Some years ago I read a series where the books were not thrillers, but they were page-turners. I kept turning the pages (and so did a lot of other people, judging by the sales) because I liked the people in the story and I liked the town in which they lived. I liked their small disagreements and their larger reconciliations. I wanted to know them and know what was happening with them in the same way that I like knowing what’s happening with my friends. Don’t get me wrong. I like mystery/suspense. I write mystery/suspense. But I don’t think that to be successful all stories need to be plotted as high drama.

Do characters have to be quirky?

God made individuals. We want our characters to feel like life, but if we aim for quirky, couldn’t we easily end up with peculiar at best or fake at worst? An article that made quirky a requirement had some suggestions. Trouble was, those quirky characters have become (yawn) clichés. I think we need instead to do the hard work of studying life around us and, with God’s guidance, find protagonists that intrigue us. We then can, with imagination and again God’s help, dig into their souls and build their world. What kind of friends would they attract and keep? What kind of enemies/adversaries would they encounter in reaching for their goals?

Is deus ex machina bad writing?

This Greek term refers to a time in a play when the “gods” would be lowered to earth to solve the problems of humanity. I can understand why people dislike this kind of plot device. Who would invite Greek gods into their lives? Having those gods show up could get you blamed for a major war or chained to rocks while your liver was devoured by an eagle. The gods of the Greeks were often fickle, selfish, and exploitive. They are not God Almighty who loves us, guides us, and gave His life for us.

Yet today’s general market fiction rarely wants God to show up. It wants man to always be the hero, the savior. I think that’s hubris. God doesn’t need to be front and center in every story told, but our culture is removing Him and His ways from sight. We need to be careful that we don’t just go along.

Aren’t the “standards” in the articles I read really just the preferences of some people? I think we can choose differently and still be writing well. Yes?

I get a ClueNancy Ellen Hird’s latest book is I Get a Clue-from My Edinburgh Files, a mystery for girls, ages 10-13, http://desertfirespress.com. Currently, she is working on a new mystery about Libby and her friends. Nancy is the team leader for the blog, Books 4 Christian Kids, http://nancyellenhird.wordpress.com.

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