Rules of the Game (Revised)

I brood on things that wouldn’t matter much for the sane and normal. This conclusion is momentous because it’s been a long road of self-denial, binge eating, and rapid cat petting. But now, I’ve accepted that sometimes I get worked up over things that the Universe doesn’t care about. Note the capital U because I have an ongoing relationship with said entity. Right now, we’re not talking much. Most of the time I glare into the void while it pretends I don’t exist. I’m still waiting for something to stare back.

Out of all the things that I think about, one of the most subjects that I keep revisiting is writing. Of course, it is! You shout from the other side of the internet. Get on with it and stop feeding your ego. But this time, I’m talking about how when we think about certain tropes and ideas, we as an audience become judgmental assholes because something has changed to our beloved zombies/vampires/cats/Patrick Johnson. We have some arguments to justify this rigid behavior and it is enough that we can sit back and chortle (who fucking chortles?) and sit back with a glass of cognac.

Can you clarify? You may be asking. Who are you and why are you talking to me on the street? Those are very good questions and I can answer them all. But first, you’ve got to buy me a bunch of drinks and put away your cell phone, the police need not be involved. I want to open ideas and try to get people thinking about diverse ways to approach things. I want to see the new form in The Ginger Collect. Which, by the way, you should be reading our newest issue and not this.

I’m going to refer to two examples and the public’s reactions to said subjects; the Twilight series and Warm Bodies. I said put away your phone, I promise you’re going to like this, especially when we’re six bottles in of some independent beer that you swear is the best. And of course, I’ll agree. But inside I’ll compare the taste to the bottom of my cat’s foot. NOT THAT I WOULD KNOW. For the rest of you, I know that some might immediately hiss and pull away from your screens because reading the word Twilight physically hurts. If (twilight) this (twilight) is (twilight) the (twilight) case (twilight), prepare (twilight) yourselves (twilight). You see what I did there? I just Gertrude Steined that word. Now it doesn’t hurt as much. (twilight) (twilight) (twilight). Maybe.

I’m probably going to writer hell.

We’ll talk about the Twilight series first and the archetypes of the vampire. Keep the swooning down to a minimum when I mention that statuesque Edward Cullen. If I can control myself when talking about that guy, I expect you to do the same.

When we think of vampire (pre-Twilight or PT) some think of Dracula or sweet sweet Louie from Interview with the Vampire. Usually, these lovely creatures of the night used money and seduction to survive in a world that wasn’t made for them. They were mysterious and sexually ambiguous in nature. You could stake them in the heart or just push them out into the sun and they’d get a little crispy. Note: Gingers have the same reactions. Source: I am a ginger.

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Did they look like psychos? Is that what they looked like? They were vampires. Psychos do not explode when sunlight hits them, I don’t give a fuck how crazy they are. -From Dusk till Dawn

As Twilight rose in popularity, there were three reactions that I came across daily. 1.) Love and adoration for Stephanie Meyer and the series. 2.) Hate and disdain because A.) It was poorly written or B.) My vampires don’t glitter. And lastly, reaction 3.) I don’t read.

I’m going to address number two, statement b first because I feel it is the most telling problem when coming to the whole deal of writing and how we sometimes ruin our chances before they even start. If you were going to address number two, why couldn’t you have made it one? You are asking. And my answer is simple: I’m a free soul and I like to complicate things. And something about control or some garbage that a therapist would say.

Why was there this adverse reaction to glittering vampires? Where is it written that vampires, when exposed to sunlight, must explode violently? When combining vampires and glitter it has sent a group of enthusiasts (vampthusians?) into an uproar. Before Twilight, there wasn’t much deviation from this archetype and everyone went along their merry way. Stephanie Meyer brought out a new idea, presented it slowly into her world and stayed consistent through the novel.

This is where you, the reader and writer can learn something. We in both roles, have responsibilities when it comes to world creation. Writers must create a world that the reader can trust, meaning that there will be a set of rules presented within the book that the author promises to follow. Readers are then, expected to accept such rules and expect actions within the parameters set by the author. Only when the reader can accept the ruleset, can they sit back and discuss the variations with their colleagues or, if you’re me, with yourself in the shower while Frank watches on (he’s a cat).

What I’m saying in this jumble of words is that Meyer’s Twilight looks at vampires differently. It creates a new set of rules that she is supposed to follow within her own world. That’s her idea of vampires. And though there will be people that will disagree with me, it isn’t wrong that her vampires glitter so handsomely in the sunlight. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to start a novel where Vampires are only Kentuckians that drink moonshine and feud between one another over squirrel rights.

The new rule we should all accept: there are no rules.

In Warm Bodies we see the beloved zombie transformed into something that no one thought of until then. I want to make it very clear that I have a slight obsession for the rotten rambling things. Right now, if I were to discover a zombie, I would make it my pet and name it Patrick Johnson. Because you know, the more of me the better. (Hence the three children.)

When I first watched Warm Bodies, I had the instinct to scream blasphemy and hurl my trust Zombie Survival Guide at the television and proceed to write a very angry letter. I did none of those things. Maybe a few years back I would have, but now I’m a more mellow (lazy) and just an all-around good (horrible) guy. The kind of guy that you’d want to hang (no) around with (don’t ever show up at my house).

That was the movie that made me realize that we all need to accept these innovative ideas. Allow the archetypes to transform and be reevaluated. The rules of that world are different than any other world. Our world is really the only one that is set in stone, and if you’re living in the same world as I, you know it can be kind of a downer.

So, when you sit down to write, embrace a new idea. It will be worth your time and effort. You’ll find that there are more avenues and ideas that are just waiting to be discovered. Like what if a zombie became a lawyer? How many speech therapy classes would he have to take? Could he overcome the disdain of his peers and win the case? Would he eat the other lawyer’s brains? Bring it all in. Open those weird questions and wander into those dark shadows. If we find anything when we discover our own hatch in the jungle, then we’ll be better for it.

But the writing, you’re shouting, it’s poorly written you red headed bastard! That’s a nice argument and an unfair insult. It’s a broad and safe because according to anyone, anything can be poorly written. I could, like anyone else, go through Twilight with a red pen and make suggestions. I could spend hours extrapolating how the word statuesque seems to always float around Edward Cullen (swooning). Instead, I would like to point something out: there are a lot of poorly written things out there. Hell, look at this post.  If it were a person, it wouldn’t be someone you liked.

We’re in a world where the average reading level is lower than one would think. When I read Twilight I didn’t think about how poorly written it was. I’ll tell you write now, I’m really jealous of how she dealt with the passage of time. Instead of saying “A few months went by” she had a page with the month written on it. I had to flip through those pages to get back to the story. She made the reader feel time shifting. That’s a fancy tool. I hate her for it. I wished I would have thought as something as neat as that.

She succeeded in doing something that many authors before her could not: She had people reading. When I first wrote this for Court Street, she had sold 120 million copies by April 2012. 120 Million people had read her book.

And that’s our aim, isn’t it? We need people reading. Twilight was the first book some of my students ever picked up and they were proud to finish it. And you, as writers, should aim to have those new innovative ideas and keep throwing them out there. Don’t fear rejection; I’m on rejection 198 right now and I keep trying. Because we should have a world full of readers and writers.

Our aim, as a people should be to eradicate response three: I don’t read.

Original post published in 2008 by Court Street Literary Review.

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