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  • Writer's pictureR.N. Jackson

How I broke the writers code #1 and #2

#1 Always show and never tell. #2 Never include backstory in the first 10 pages of your novel.

I recently sent out fifty copies of 'Jewel Island.'

Before I did, I added a chapter called 'Since what Happened'

It's only two pages long...

...But it breaks at least two of the sacred writing rules.

1. Esta straight up tells us about the mysterious circumstances surrounding her father's disappearance. And

2 She does it as early as Chapter Two.

So... why break the rules and risk the wrath of critiquing groups everywhere?

Couldn't I have spent several chapters subtly dropping in hints along the way? What about creating intrigue and mystery early on, then reveal the back story on page 30... or page 50 perhaps?

Maybe that would have satisfied the writers 'code'.

But I was guided by three great minds. And they will be my witnesses for the defence.

No.1 George Lucas...

a) When there's this much going on... you just get to the point.

The Star Wars Crawl comes (I'm told) from the old Buck Rogers TV shows that used the device to get the viewer up to speed in case they'd missed the previous episode.

In Jewel Island I wanted to get the reader up to speed quickly. I wanted to set up the stakes. Express Esta's central problem and need up front, before the tension for Chapter 3.

b) The crawl at the start of Star Wars makes us feel like we are coming in, in the middle of a much wider, sprawling epic.

Now, I don't want to give too much away, but Jewel Island is - just like 'A new Hope' - designed to be book 1 of... (take a deep breath) ... the middle trilogy of a trilogy of trilogies.

In other words, you could say it's episode 4 of the Tulku Saga. (clue's in the name... saga = sprawling epic territory)

(If you know what a Tulku is... then it won't surprise you that this story is bound to have begun before page one of Jewel Island.)

So... does that justify my own chapter 2 crawl? Star wars is basically a big budget B movie. What about the writer's code?!

Witness No. 2: Jesus Christ*

When Jesus healed a blind man on the Sabbath, the pharisees condemned him for breaking the fourth commandment (of keeping the sabbath day holy). Jesus responded with:

'The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.'

(*disclaimer... I am not comparing myself to Jesus by the way... more like the next guy)

No. 3 Captain Barbossa

And I think Barbossa sums up my point quite nicely...

So... what do you think? If you've begun to read Jewel Island, does the back story in chapter two stifle the action? Does it draw you out of the narrative?

Are some rules to important to bend?

Get in touch... I'd love to know... because... maybe rules are there for a reason.

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