If I had a hammer

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” -Abraham


This can apply in so many ways to writing. We get stuck using one approach to outlining, be it the seven point story or the three act approach, one kind of story, or genre, a particular point of view or tense. We have many tools, or at least there are many tools available, even if we haven’t acquired them yet. Certainly building identification with science fiction or fantasy or mystery is all well and good, giving the reader some expectation of the kind of story they’ll read, but it’s also a trap.

Some people denigrate genre fiction as juvenile, simplistic for being caught up in its tropes- being predictable because once you say the word dragon, one assumes giant beast, breathing fire, flying, often with armored scales. While we rely on these tropes, we also need to move beyond them. But really, it’s all about telling stories you couldn’t quite tell about Bob the office worker and Sally the attorney. This is, in part, because ‘mainstream’ fiction comes with its own hammers, its own presets, such as successful businesspeople being underhanded, cutthroat and uncaring, college students being foolish lovebirds or older people having no connection to new technology.

The old argument goes that there are no new stories, but that relies on how far you zoom out the microscope. It might look like the same little green squiggles moving through the same drop of water under the lens, but the more details you can see, the more the real picture emerges. You can see that the green squiggle on the left is actually a fragment of leaf, where the green squiggle on the left is a mass of algae. Saying “It’s all just green stuff.” Is like saying one clump of carbon atoms is the same as the next, when in fact, the first is the graphite from a pencil and the other is a diamond.

Break expectations, mix genre tropes, or throw them out altogether, inventing something entirely new. Put the hammer on the shelf and find a screwdriver, or sewing machine or a paintbrush and see what you can make from that.


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