The Prompt – What generic ‘rules’ did you abide by when you started writing that have gone out the window?
“Works of art make rules; rules do not make works of art.” – Claude Debussy
“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” – Pablo Picasso
Adverbs are the devil, said is it, blah blah blah. My favorite is Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules for Writing. Of which he said there was an 11th he cut for space, and it is “Throw out all 10 rules if it makes the story better.”
I do not pretend to be a great artist, but I understand the rules. Understood the rules. I got into electronic music, by that I mean as a user not an appreciator, and the “regular” rules went out the window. I know what Picasso was saying. Okay, here’s a canvas and some paint. Here’s a keyboard with black and white keys, knobs and wires. What happens next is not how you trained, but where you use that training to find your voice. And that is the entire discussion of rules. Except for this one.
“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” – Ernest Hemingway
Back to the prompt – I signed up for an online writing class at Stanford. The course was titled “Setting the scene. The building blocks of story.” I assumed, foolishly, that we were to be instructed in the finer mechanics of setting a scene, “rules” for good ones. I have dissected literature since I was 12, I was ready. Let’s get it on. Wrong. It was the elements of fiction for idiots broken out over 12 or 16 weeks. I want that I have my wife’s PowerPoint. I also discovered that student scenes were to be no longer than 750 words. They could be garbage and “everyone’s a winner” rule applied. I raised hell and applied for my $ back. I got it. My final upload to that class, exactly 750 words, is below. It also exists on my site, but here you go. I broke every rule I could think of, the wrong way. Humorously, of course. No offense to anyone writing their memoirs or cookbook mysteries this way.
The Magic Typewriter, by P. Huston
Looking out his window of the house he’d lived in for 54 years, Bob seen a pickup truck. Parked in front of his house. It was his neighbor Darnell again. By golly, Bob thought angrily, today was the day it stopped. Knowing in his mind Darnell, attempting to avoid the heatwave later, would be sitting on his pickup drinking beer.
About one o’clock in the afternoon Bob, walking purposefully across his lawn, was confronting Darnell.
“Darnell, you have to stop parking in front of my house,” Bob said, testily.
“It’s very unattractive and I do not like looking at it,” Bob replied.
“Think of it as sculpture. Modern art.”
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in a long time. I’m not the only one, you know. The Mexican woman across the street is tired of it, too!!!!” Bob proclaimed noisily.
“The one with the little dog that looks like a woman who has sex for money’s bedroom slipper and poops on the sidewalk? I’m awfully tired of seeing that.”
“You wouldn’t see it if you parked in front of your own house,” Bob said, firmly.
“I’ll think on that for a while, Bob. Later. Too gosh darn hot right now.”
Bob, walking away stridently thought Darnell the most boorish person ever to live in the house next door. Slamming his door Bob was walking into the dining room where his mother, dead these 20 years, had kept 183 penguin mementos, acquiring them in her travels as a military nurse. One with sunglasses leaning on a palm tree, one as the handle of a coffee mug. One with a clock in its belly, one…Wait a minute, does anyone really care? No? Sorry. Bob had the cleaning lady dust them once a month never having the heart to box them up.
Well, enough of Darnell. Bob, lifting the lid on mother’s old Remington Travel Riter and sitting and inserting paper and typing he began…
“Darnell, is that beer cold?” his sister Monik hinted, tentatively.
“Could I have a sip?” she asked, hopefully.
“No. It’s my last one.”
“Didn’t Momma teach you any manners?” she demanded, haughtily.
“They wore off.”
Monik walked away huffily in disgust. Well, she thought, Darnell was the worst brother ever but she decided cleverly to walk around the side of the house and hide behind an overgrown boxwood and wait patiently for Darnell to set the beer down and go inside to answer the call of nature knowing he did that regularly.
Sure enough, after a few minutes, Darnell set the Colt 45 Tallboy in the ice chest sitting in the bed of his truck and went inside.
Monik, running to the truck, drank hastily all the remaining beer.
Darnell, returning, tipped the can to his lips expecting beer, then pulling it away, looking down inside it.
“Monik, did you drink my beer?”
“No,” she said, averting her eyes and looking away.
“Yes you did.”
“No I didn’t.”
“Yes you did.”
“Okay, maybe I did. So what?” she retorted hotly, wondering what sort of stupid big brother thing Darnell would do now.
“Girl, I told you it was my last one. It’s 112 degrees and the air conditioner is broke.”
“Get over it,” she said, dismissively. Turning, she was watching Darnell walking to the front, reaching inside, walking back with something in his hand.
“What do you think you’re doing, Darnell?” Monik asked, apprehensively.
“I told you.”
“Darnell –” And she was looking at her brother. Shooting her in the head.
The policeman leading Darnell to the squad car with another policeman, asking him curiously, “Why did you do it? What were you thinking?”
“Ask the idiot who wrote this.”
“Him?” The policemen guffawed immodestly. “We did. He said this was Limited Omniscient. Didn’t you see it? You got no tags, no interiority. Besides, what’s in a man’s head who shoots his sister over a beer?”
“That’s not fair,” Darnell said, blubbering sadly. (ooops)
“Coulda been worse. Coulda been Objective. Or Journalistic. Woulda been over a long time ago.”
“Yeah, and we wouldn’t have gotten any lines!” The two policemen shoving Darnell in the car laughing and laughing, thinking they were the two funniest policemen on Earth.
Bob watching gleefully the tow truck pulling Darnell’s pickup away. Rubbing his hands together briskly, stepping lightly to the table he was snapping the latches on mother’s typewriter, closing the lid gently. Darnell was handled. The Mexican woman’s bedroom slipper pooper would have to wait for another day.
Fact -In the midst of the 1980 heatwave a Houston, Texas man shot and killed his sister for drinking his last cold Colt 45.
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