I’ve recently gotten a lot more strict about writing, especially fiction.
Part of that is a Story Code I’ve developed (and I’m still developing, in that philosophical, mental gymnastics way) for Prose and Prosody. I got the idea, funnily enough, from Capes- and its mention of the “Comics Code” that was common in the Silver Age of American Comics. It is basically a set of boundaries and rules for writing stories which agree with me and my brand of fiction.
Following it has, thus far, helped me to stay true to some messages I want my work to convey. As an added benefit, it has gotten me past some of the more abstract parts of pre-writing without too much thought: I’ve already decided on this or that, thanks to the Code, and instead I just need to define it in the context of this specific story. But, I have not committed to it 100% (at least for the second, softer, half). Doing so would stunt my ability to push boundaries, which is something I like to do on occasion.
Anyway, I thought I would elucidate a few of the points from the Code in greater detail here.
Beauty is Mundane. / Real Life is Magical.
One of those was this point, which has only become more important to me as I have grown older. (The others I will talk about in another essay).
Anyone can say that Prince Charming was handsome. Anyone can assume that Gandalf is not a conjurer of cheap tricks. Anyone can see that a learned wizard can do a lot of good (or bad) in the world. And anyone can see imperfections in anyone else.
But what their books showed me was amazing: A world where magic can be worked by learning a language, spinning some thread, asking nicely, or cooking a meal. A world where people are different from one another: Shorter, taller, fatter, thinner, male, female, young, old. People of different ethnicities, from all over the place, have different cultures, skin colors, and personalities- not because they are different races, but because they are different people.
And people have imperfections: Moles, skin tags, freckles, dimples, freckles, mottling, stretchmarks, scars, ticks, habits, accents, prejudices, issues, histories, affectations… These are the very things that make us human, and they can be shown in a character without compromising their worth.
That is something I want to show in my work, too.
Everyone can be Anything.
Does anyone else remember the movie Ratatouille?
It’s memorable to me for a few reasons (A big one being it was the first movie I snuck into during a date, story for another time) but the important one here is the moral presented at the climax of the story:
“Not everyone can become a great artist; But a great artist can come from anywhere”. - Anton Ego, Ratatouille (2007)
This is basically the reasoning behind this part of my Code.
A lot of stories are cast with deliberate tropes assigned to their characters: The Damsel in Distress, the Quirky and Manic Girl, the Tsundere. I respect those tropes for what they are, but I do find the idea that they are mostly constants in the storytelling world to be tiresome at best.
A good book that defies common tropes rather obliquely (and that I am currently reading) is “Fire Logic“ by Laurie J Marks. I’ll talk more about that in another post, but I wanted to recommend it here anyway, since a lot of my reasoning right now will come from my reading that book.
You being a boy doesn’t mean You like sports or beer or violence. You being a girl doesn’t mean You like crafts or clothes or wine. You being young doesn’t mean You want acceptance or thrills or handouts. You being old doesn’t mean You are wise or polite or out of touch. You living on a space station doesn’t mean You have any interest in space any more than someone living on Earth has in interest in the Earth.
And a man and a woman are working together on something or hanging out doesn’t mean they are going to fall in love, have sex, or otherwise deepen some aspect of their relationship. (This one gets on my nerves a lot).
I actually have noticed I build my Pathfinder characters with this whole idea in mind, too (Kind of anti-power-gaming). I had a Fighter who was geared towards disabling, a Witch who was built on Constitution, a Bard who didn’t use spells or his sword nearly as much as his Feats, Items and Tricks… A lot of my concepts were defied tropey ideas about what a character should do or be able to do in a situation.
Of course, some of my best concepts didn’t, too… Which is why this is a Soft Rule.
Every Aspect of Life is Beautiful, but Don’t Stop and Stare.
This is perhaps the one I feel I’ve represented the worst on that page, and the one which made me want to do this in the first place.
People change clothes. Sleep naked. Take baths. Use toilets. Some have breasts, others don’t. Most have nipples. People have sex. Fight. Bump into each other. Hit each other. Many people menstruate regularly. Some get pregnant. Some give birth. Some wish they could but can’t. Some wish they couldn’t but can.
Some people are plump. Skinny. Muscular. Rail-thin. Some have bigger butts, chests, penises, bellies, noses, ears, chins. Some have smaller ones. Some have smooth skin. Loose skin. Rough skin. Some are hairy, some are not.
In other words, people are people. And those moments of humanity represented above: Being nude, using the bathroom, having sex, rough housing, seeing ourselves in passing glimpses where the mask of ‘decency’ falls for but a moment… Those are real. Part of the experience.
And I do not feel like they should be absent from a fictional character’s life.
That said, focusing too much on one of these things, especially for no other reason than the fact that it is happening, is not something that should be in my work. There is a difference between acknowledging and including the real and human parts of life and dwelling on them. Obsessing about any single part of something is (at best) boring or (at worst) vulgar and obscene.
In short: I don’t want to clean up my characters. They are real (if exceptional) fictional people, who live real fictional lives. And removing those parts of their lives that might upset some people because of their existence is not something I am willing to do.
The Story Code is still very much a work in progress, and is subject to change at my own whim and fancy. It exists, not only to help me in writing, but as a quick set of agreements my readers should understand about my work. I hope I have defined them a bit clearer here. What do You think?