Demonented Thoughts or, Don’t Give Me Ideas

Ever notice how when some literary power-that-be says something won’t work (or, even better, can’t be done), you experience an instant and insistent desire to prove him wrong?

So I’m reading Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel and come across this challenge: “…the hero’s inner conflict is…usually described as ‘his demons.’ So common is this cliche, when I come across it in an outline or a manuscript, I itch to set the pages aside right then, and frequently do.”

What immediately pops into your mind? What pops into mine is, “Since the untimely and mysterious death of his wife, Lord Harold has wrestled with his inner demons — the blue one, the pink one, and the fire-breathing one with three horns and seven tails. He insists the latter cheated by using its tails to unfair advantage in pinning him to the mat.”

Years ago, when Marion Zimmer Bradley still edited anthologies of Darkover stories for DAW, she published a list of Forbidden Topics — no “Mary Sue” stories, no Free Amazons secretly longing to be dominated by men, no resurrecting Dorilys (Stormqueen!), no snow storms in the Hellers, etc. I took every no-no I could think of, mixed them together in a story, sent Marion to Darkover to straighten things out, and then mailed her the story. Anonymously, of course. I am told by witnesses that it occasioned much merriment.

It goes without saying that was the entire point of the exercise, and I never intended the story for anyone else’s perusal, so don’t try this at home, folks. What’s not so obvious is how important it is to be playful and impertinent and write for your own pleasure, at least occasionally.

Deborah J. Ross has been writing science fiction and fantasy since 1982. Her recent publications include Hastur Lord, a Darkover novel with the late Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Jaydium, available in serialized chapters and ebook here on Book View Cafe.

Find my new and out-of-print books at Powell’s online. Read my essays on the writing life and how to survive reviews in Brewing Fine Fiction.

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Demonented Thoughts or, Don’t Give Me Ideas — 7 Comments

  1. In writing class I tell my pupils that the story should be about important things to the character. We do not want to hear about the hero’s agonies deciding between flavors of dental floss. We want to hear about Luke rejecting Darth Vader and the Dark Side of the Force, or Archie selecting Betty instead of Veronica. Naturally somebody did indeed write a story about dental floss selection — the flavors of floss stood in for the hero’s Betty and Veronica.

  2. I am by nature a contrarian. Tell me I can’t do something and I immediately want to subvert. This has given me some really interesting story prompts (although you do have to be careful not to make it all prompt and no, um, story).

  3. But in fantasy, inner demons can be quite real…just ask Cazaril in CURSE OF CHALION…ok, he was busy with other stuff, too .

    Now trying to think of something clever to do with dental floss…

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