by K.C. Mead-Brewer
Though I love reading all manner of grimoires and guidebooks, there’s something itchy about the idea of “rules for writing.” It makes me antsy. It makes me want to sneak around and break things. Somewhere in high school—I’m looking at you, Ms. Cunningham, Lady of Freshman English—I decided to approach said rules as the rules of a game I was ultimately in charge of; a game I was going to win. In this game, the adults are all gone for the night, the day, the week. Goodbye! Have a great time. It was nice of them to apple-magnet their rules to the fridge so they wouldn’t be lost or forgotten. Too bad that I’m queen now and “queen” means it’s my rules that matter. I can (and will) make them, change them, break them, and deny they ever existed. This makes everything much better. More fun. Less like “rules” and more like playground logic: the ground is lava, I’m a cat, and if you close your eyes, no one can see you.
Here’s how to play:
- Give us a game. All stories should have a game somewhere, somehow, whether it’s a chase, a trickster, a trap, or a bout of lemon-sour passive aggression. We need a game. We love to win.
- Don’t be a jerk. We hate jerks. Characters can be jerks, though, and if there is such a one in your story, let them think they’re winning for a time, and then make them squirm. Then make them cry. Don’t worry if we start crying in the process; this may be for the best. Tears hold magic.
- There must be a nonhuman creature. Maybe your plant(s) and/or animal(s) don’t talk—and that’s a shame, really—but it must be there all the same. A succulent makes for a wonderful button, spindle, or keyhole. A coyote knows where the bodies are buried. Sentient skeletons can fold up small enough to fit inside a backpack. Owls aren’t always wise. Trees aren’t always rooted. Occasionally the ceiling fan looks a bit more like a massive dragonfly. This is nonnegotiable.
- Some spiders have eight eyes, some have twelve, and some have none. Horse hearts can weigh up to ten pounds. Male ostriches roar like lions. Let these things sit inside you for a time. Your story will benefit.
- Other people know, feel, and experience things you don’t, won’t, and can’t. Don’t be weird about this. If you start being weird about this, you’ll be immediately disqualified and locked inside the jungle gym to meditate on how every single one of the gym’s metal triangles has managed to be more interesting and open-minded than yourself.
- Be earnest. Be sincere. We’ll know if you aren’t, and we’ll probably never forgive you. We don’t sharpen our claws for writers who won’t bother to be earnest. We don’t knight them or give them passage through the lava or desire to drink their blood. An insincere writer doesn’t have shoulders for a queen’s sword to tap or any legs or wheels to burn. An insincere writer doesn’t have blood to tempt even the thirstiest among us.
Now, grab a flashlight. Don’t scream. We’re all in this together
K.C. Mead-Brewer lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Her fiction appears or is forthcoming in Carve Magazine, Strange Horizons, Hobart, and elsewhere. As a reader, she loves everything weird—surrealism, sci-fi, horror, all the good stuff that shows change is not only possible, but inevitable. For more information, visit kcmeadbrewer.com and follow her @meadwriter.