Editor’s note — I first encountered independent Authors International founder Scott Bury while trolling the web for writing tips. His blog Written Words is a rich repository of reviews, observations on the art, craft and business of writing and much more — all from the perspective of a man who is both a professional writer and one of us — an indie.
You might think a professional journalist and indie author of two novels would be all about the rules of writing. Scott knows ’em. He just doesn’t always follow ’em.
Why do I break rules?
By Scott Bury
I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the little kid in me, but my immediate reaction upon hearing about a rule, a restriction or a closed door is “oh, yeah? Let’s see what happens when you cross this. What is anyone gonna do?”
One of my goals for my writing is to break down the boundaries between genres, and both my published works (so far) do that. The Bones of the Earth is a historical fantasy, so it fits into at least two genres: fantasy and historical fiction. Set in a real time and place—sixth-century eastern Europe, the darkest of the Dark Age—it incorporates elements common in high epic fantasy, like vampires, witches, some magic spells and three dragons. But it’s also based on solid historical research into climate change, the Roman Empire, migration of peoples and ancient cultures.
It also includes a love story. Hey, there has to be a love story!
My second book, One Shade of Red, began as a send-up of the inexplicable bestseller, Fifty Shades blah blah blah. But it grew into something else during the writing. It crosses lines between erotica, romance and a coming-of-age story.
The rules about breaking rules
My next two books will also cross genre boundaries. The project closest to publication, tentatively titled Marching in Broken Boots, is a combination of a memoir and a novel, incorporating some military action, too. And the next one, Dark Clouds, will combine spy thriller and paranormal romance.
You’re not supposed to do these things in genre fiction, according to some self-appointed experts. Guns and high tech in a contemporary story about a witch? Did you see any witches or vampires in “24?”
I always do two things before I break a rule:
• I know what the rule is
• I break it to achieve something.
When I started writing The Bones of the Earth, I looked at the rules of fantasy. Some of them make sense. Many of the better fantasies draw upon ancient myths. This is important, because these myths speak to something very deep within readers — in all of us. They help make that vital connection between author and audience.
But many of the others exist just because some writers copy other writers, especially Tolkien and Martin. “Hey, if you liked Lord of the Rings, you’ll love my book. It’s the same thing, only different!”
This is the same phenomenon that sparked so many books (and movies, and TV shows, and graphic novels …) about sexy, sparkly and friendly vampires. How long until the “Hunger Games’ rip-off? Oh, yes, “Divergent.”
No, I set out to break some rules, bend others until they snapped, and perforate the boundaries of the genre to allow elements from other genres to invade. But there is one rule that I held to: I made sure it was still a story, a story about real people that interests readers.
Win free stuff
Everyone loves free stuff, so I’ll give away electronic copies of the winner’s choice of books to anyone who can describe three of the tropes, conventions or clichés I exploded in The Bones of the Earth or One Shade of Red.
To make it easier, you can read some excerpts:
• Chapter 1 of The Bones of the Earth on my blog.
Samples from One Shade of Red, also on my blog:
Scott Bury is a journalist, editor and novelist based in Ottawa, Canada. He has written for magazines in Canada, the US, the UK and Australia.
He is author of The Bones of the Earth, a fantasy set in the real time and place of eastern Europe of the sixth century; One Shade of Red, a humorous erotic romance;
a children’s short story, Sam, the Strawb Part (proceeds of which are donated to an autism charity), and other stories.
He is now working on the true story of a Canadian drafted into the Red Army during the Second World War, his escape from a German POW camp and his journey home. It’s tentatively titled Broken Boots.
Scott Bury lives in Ottawa with his lovely, supportive and long-suffering wife, two mighty sons and two pesky cats.
# # #