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April 17, 2012

What Stories *Won’t* You Write?

In my last post, we talked about voice and how we tend to write the same types of characters, premises, and themes over and over.  That’s not a bad thing.  Those stories resonate with us as writers.

Similarly, there are stories we would never write.  Stories might be so against our internal grain that if an idea along those lines occurred to us, we’d immediately try to turn the concept around.  Or the idea would be like a road to nowhere, and we’d dismiss the idea out of hand.

For example, if we’re drawn to strong heroines, we probably wouldn’t write a doormat type.  If we enjoy rooting for the underdogs in stories, it’s doubtful an idea to make a bully into a hero would appeal to us.  Or if we write about the power of love, our muse is unlikely to nag us to start a story where everyone dies miserable and alone.

Just as we can learn about ourselves as writers by studying what stories we tend to write, we can learn about ourselves by figuring out what we won’t write.  Those limits might echo the stories we don’t enjoy reading, or plot points that squick us out, or situations against our moral code, and sometimes, a premise simply doesn’t appeal to us as a writer.

I’ve read countless stories with love triangles, but I’m unlikely to ever write a story with a straightforward triangle of two heroes and one heroine.  In YA, where the young heroine often shouldn’t make long-term commitments, triangles can work.  However, in adult stories, the heroine comes off in too many love triangles as flighty or unable to make up her mind.

Even worse for me are the triangles where a heroine faces off with another woman for the hero’s affection.  I can’t stand reading stories where there’s a feeling of competition between the heroine and any other woman.  Can. Not. Stand. Them.  So writing them?  No, the chances of me writing a story along those lines are nil and none.

By analyzing my “won’t write” boundaries, I learned I have no interest in writing jealousy.  Part of the reason for that has to do with my genre.  I write paranormal romances and paranormal stories with romantic elements.  The hero and heroine are supposed to be perfect for each other, and that doesn’t leave much room for a third party.   Jealousy is angsty, not sexy or romantic.

The other part of the reason has to do with my personal reaction to jealousy.  I hate experiencing such an ugly emotion.  (Yes, I realize the irony of describing my reaction to one negative emotion by embracing “hatred,” another negative emotion.)  So I avoid jealousy at all costs in my life.  The last thing I want to do is explore that emotion for a story.

Sometimes, the things we won’t write can become as much a part of our brand as the things we do write (think about inspirational romance authors).  Readers grow to trust us for our boundaries.  That means if they see an “iffy” element in a back cover description, they might trust that we’ll handle it with intelligence and sensitivity, because they know we wouldn’t write about it any other way.

This goes back to my post about not exploiting our brand in a bad way.  We should recognize what makes up our brand, both in what we do and in what we don’t do.  If we don’t want to lose readers, we have to honor our brand.  We can change the limits of our writing (look at Anne Rice’s many reinventions), but there are risks.

One thing I try to point out with all my posts about branding is to be aware of the impression we create.  If we’re aware of the messages we’re sending, we can ensure they match what we want others to think about those intangible confines of our work.  And if others want to limit us too much, that doesn’t mean we can’t branch out, but maybe it means we have to tweak our message to broaden others’ impression of us.

Are there stories you won’t write?  Why won’t you write them?  Do you avoid reading stories along those lines as well?  Can you think of any authors where you know their boundaries?  Have you ever lost trust in an author because they broke the limits you thought they had?

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What do you think?

65 Comments on "What Stories *Won’t* You Write?"

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Melinda Collins

Great post, Jami! 🙂

Hmm…. I won’t write anything where the heroine is either devoid of emotion, clingy/needy, or like you said, a doormat. I do not like stories with characters like that – they really annoy me. And if I enter into a story not knowing this, I usually toss the book across the room when the frustration gets too much. Well, that was before the e-reader. Now I just toss a few pillows. 😉 Any other topic and/or character I believe I’d pretty much be open to.

I definitely know the boundaries of JR Ward, Thea Harrison and a few other Paranormal Romance authors. None of them, I believe, would ever write a heroine that wasn’t strong on her own, or needed the hero to build her up. Their ladies are just as amazing as the heroes themselves. And I think the only time I stopped reading an author was when Anne Rice reinvented herself and steered clear of the Paranormal genre entirely. I don’t think I’ve honestly purchased any of her books since then.

Paul Anthony Shortt

Glad I’m not the only one with places I won’t go in my writing.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to include themes of sexual assault in my writing. It’s been a sensitive topic for me all my life.

I’m also not a fan of protagonists who are either unlikeable or who are in positions of too much power. I like to root for underdogs and see them rise above their challenges. Similarly, I’m unlikely to write a story where the hero’s only choices for saving the day involve some kind of moral sacrifice.

Carradee

I won’t write something that crosses my convictions. Ergo:

1. I’ll never write an abuse of one of God’s names. (And if a character just so happens to demand it, I’ll use that technique called indirect dialogue.)

2. I’ll never write erotica or erotic romance or a graphic and titillating sex scene. (No offense intended to those of you who do write and/or enjoy such things.) Implied intimacy can be plenty emotionally riveting in itself. (See Chalice by Robin McKinley or Chime by Franny Billingsley.)

3. I’ll never write perfect characters, because only God (the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) is perfect.

4. I’ll never build an urban fantasy world that implies something like “Jesus resurrected after three days because He was a vampire.” *winces just writing that scenario*

Beyond that, I’m not sure I’ll ever write fiction outside the speculative fiction genres. But I’m young—maybe I just haven’t come up with something yet.

When I find myself disliking a specific character type or setup, I actually tend to react differently than you, Jami—I start mulling over the type to come up with a way to use that “disliked” trope in a way that I’d actually enjoy.

Laurie Evans

I’ll never write a heroine who is a doormat, or who whines & simpers. I just can’t stand those kind of characters.

Buffy Armstrong

It’s hard to say what I won’t write. That is awfully definitive. I may find myself changing over the years, but as of right now, I won’t write:
1) Inspiration romance. I don’t believe and it would come across as contrived.
2) Young Adult. I read the occasional Young Adult book, but I have no desire to write one. I didn’t read young adult when I was a young adult. Granted, the YA genre has changed a lot since then!
3) Erotica. There are too many erotica scenarios that ruin the romance.
4) Nicholas Spark type “love story” where someone ends up dead. They make me cry. I won’t do that to a reader. It’s just mean

Sonia G Medeiros

I’m extremely reluctant to write profanity. I realize there might be appropriate use for it but I try to avoid it whenever possible. Often, if it seems reasonable to use profanity in part of a story, I’m more likely to allude to it than to actually use it. I don’t mind some swearing in other writing/movies/shows unless it’s excessive (Deb in Dexter much?).

That’s probably kinda funny to hear since I usually write darker fantasy or horror. *shrug*

I’m also unlikely to write something really gruesome or graphically violent. Again, kinda funny I know because I’ve written about zombies and such. Still, I’m much less likely to focus heavily on the blood, guts and violence. I think the reader can imagine that well enough without me going into lurid detail. That’s not to say I wouldn’t use violence in a story where it seemed a necessary part but I think I tend to focus more on the character’s experience than punches and kicks.

And graphic sex is probably never going to happen in any of my stories. Not that I don’t respect the more heated romance writing but I just don’t feel the urge to write about it myself. LOL

Nancy S. Thompson

I tend to stick with an author when they stick with the same general theme. I like John Grisham’s legal thrillers but not his sports stories. I like Michael Connelly’s legal thrillers, too, but not his Detective mysteries. I’m not sure why that is. Just like I’m not sure why I only write stories about revenge, rigidity, & redemption. Perhaps i have issues with rigidity & revenge. Maybe my heart gravitates towards forgiveness & redemption. But I think once I identify what an author writes, or at least what I like about what they write, I tend to stay loyal to that brand. I read the Twilight series, but Host didn’t interest me. I’m so tuned into my type of brand loyalty that I think I’ll always write stories along the same lines.

Adriana Noir
Adriana Noir

Very interesting blog entry, Jami. I had to think about this one for a while. I find myself all over the place when it comes to genres and topics. There isn’t much at all that I won’t write about or read.

However, I got to mulling that quandry over and realized while the above might be true, there are certain things I wouldn’t publish under my name. I mostly cater to the horror crowd, since that is where my true passion lies. That’s not to say I would never write anything else, but I think this is why some writers use multiple pen names. Sometimes, we just want to break out of that box we’ve created. 😉

What you’ve said is all true, and it’s certainly something for people to ponder. While most of us love pushing boundaries, we certainly don’t want to tromp on any toes!

Riley Murphy

Great post, Jami!
I think this is almost like the part ‘A’ to writing a story. The part ‘B’ is the no control you have when it comes to your publisher’s guidlines. Verbiage, actions and themes are something that they closely look at before they offer for contract. I mention this, because it goes both ways. You may not want to swear while in your hero’s POV, but the editor sends back a revise and resubmit request asking you to butch him up. What do you do? Look for another house to submit to? Presumably, you’ve already done your homework and picked the best place for your work. That said, things change quickly in the industry and most editors bend to accomodate these changes – which could challenge a writer’s list of “No, I’m not going there.”
Interesting…
Thanks for giving me something to think about. 🙂
Riley

Adriana Ryan

Wow, what an awesome post and idea to explore! I don’t think I’ll ever write vampires. To me, they’re just not that interesting a paranormal creature (I know, I am so weird). So, no matter what the trends, I doubt my books will ever be graced by their fanged goodness. 🙂

Amanda

I’m not sure there’s a story I wouldn’t write. I like humans, with all their faults and complications and screwed-up, messy emotions. I like the stupid situations they get themselves into. Even if I came up with an idea that’s not something I’d usually read, I’d give it a shot anyway, because it’ll be a good learning exercise.

Basically, I refuse to pigeon-hole myself. Sure, most of what I’ve written is of the romance and paranormal/UF variety, but my first manuscript isn’t either of those (it’s kind of defying all labels right now, which is actually quite annoying. Makes it hard to pitch). I want to write a story where a lot of stuff blows up. I want to write a story about love that will make you scream and cry and shake your fist at me for keeping the two lovers apart.

In fact, that sounds like a damn good idea. I think I’ll go get started on it right now 🙂

Jennifer Jensen (@jenjensen2)

I know I won’t write erotica or graphic violence or a lot of profanity. Don’t read it, either, so that makes sense. Same goes with slasher horror, and things that carry a deep sense of evil. But beyond that, I don’t think I’d write a story that doesn’t have some hope at the end. Someone special can die, but there still needs to be hope. I doubt I’d write vampire novels, but I wouldn’t cross off other paranormal even though I’m mostly a contemporary/historical real-world writer.

Interesting that some of you don’t like it when an author breaks with their own genre. I think David Baldacci’s suspense is way too graphic, but he wrote a light-hearted Christmas story that I enjoyed. Twilight was okay, but I really liked The Host. And I’m looking forward to reading Stephen King’s historical. And my favorite Anne McCaffery book is The Lady, set in Ireland about horses, not her Dragonrider books.

Coleen Patrick

Great topic Jami!
I can’t see myself every writing fantasy–the kind with major world building. There are elements of fantasy I like, and I could have fun making up interesting names, etc–but it would take me too far from what I really like doing–figuring out my character’s quirks and their relationships. 🙂

Rebekah Loper

I’ve pretty much figured out (when I was plotting out the novel I’ve just started) that there’s not a controversial issue I WON’T touch, lol!

That said, I will rarely point out black and white opinions on things, because our daily lives and choices are never black and white. I will write what God tells me to, and what fits with the characters and the story.

Genre-wise, as out of place as it seems because fantasy and sci-fi seem to go hand-in-hand these days, I hate (with a deep-unending passion) writing science fiction. I love reading it, but I love the flexibility of fantasy – where I can completely make up the rules of the world. Science fiction is too grounded in the real world for me!

Serena
Serena

What I would never (probably never) write about:

—romances with 2 girls 1 guy (I much prefer 2 guys 1 girl, just so the girl is on a “higher social status” than the guy)

—-anything with a sad ending

—–serious angst. I can only tolerate this for a few pages max., and this must be very very mild

—–over the top sex or violence

—–POVs from a murderer, rapist, terrorist, etc

I’ll tell you if I think of any more.

Addy Rae
Addy Rae

I can’t stand awkward. I don’t watch it on TV (which means there is very, very little TV that I can stand to watch without cringing and fleeing the room), I avoid it in real life, and I won’t write it.

I don’t generally write characters that are deliberately hurtful to each other as the point of view character. Secondary, Antagonist, fine, but I don’t really get it, and I’m not comfortable trying to figure out the mindset.

Otherwise…. torture? It’s a squick, and I’m fairly squicky about writing sex. The making out is fine, but not the sex so much. I always feel like my mom is going to peer over my shoulder and be mortified or something!

Roxanne Skelly
Roxanne Skelly

I’m not a big fan of demonizing minority groups (race, culture, sexuality, religion, etc.), so I won’t write that in a positive light (well, I may demonize demons sometimes). Bigotry is a dandy challenge for characters to overcome, though.

Roxanne Skelly
Roxanne Skelly

Oh, and I’ll never never never write anything about a sparkly vampire. Unless it’s satire.

Lynn Kelley

What an interesting post and great comments. I could never write horror. It gives me nightmares. I’m such a big scaredy cat. I never thought I’d end up writing spooky mysteries for kids, but our critique group wanted to collaborate on a spooky mystery for middle grade. I figured what the heck? I’d be stupid to say no, but I knew I’d have to add some humor, too. I just don’t have the heart to scare the heck out of little kids, even if some of them do love it! Take it to the adult level, and it’s too gruesome for me.

It took me years to give in to some of my YA characters swearing, but to be true to the story, I had to add it. I’m keeping it to a minimum. Not that I don’t slip up myself at times!

I love paranormal, contemporary, historical, romance, pretty much all genres but horror. I’m a huge sucker for good time travel stories. I don’t know why I’m fascinated with the idea of time travel, but I am!

Joanna Aislinn

Not sure if I’ll ever write a ‘true’ alpha male. I have no problem with alpha elements, but my guy has to have a bit of beta going on. Guess I have a thing for the nice guy–as long as he’s hot as an alpha, lol.

I’m not into wimpy heroines–or heros–either. At the very least, I like characters whose underlying strength comes through!

Leave it to you, Jami, to come up with such a great perspective! Thanks!

Marcy Kennedy

I love this post 🙂 I’ve thought about my lines a lot both in the past and more recently. Like Sonia said above, I don’t use profanity in what I write and I close the bedroom door before sex actually happens (or skim it in a way that I hope is tasteful). Those are just personal lines for me because I don’t use profanity in real life, I’m very private person about intimacy, and I avoid reading books with a lot of profanity or explicit sex scenes. Thankfully there’s room for all of us along the spectrum 🙂

I’m also a happy ending girl. I like dark and gritty in the middle, but the story needs to end with hope. I feel extremely cheated by a sad or ambiguous ending. I want people to feel better when they walk away from my work rather than adding to the weight I’m sure they’re already carrying from real life. My co-writer is much more comfortable with messy endings, so you can imagine how interesting finding a way to meet in the middle became 🙂

Feo Takahari
Feo Takahari

I tend to break my own rules on this whenever I think of a way that breaking a rule would improve my stories. I suppose what’s illustrative is the ways in which I break my rules.

As an example, I used to have a rule against writing rape. I’ve since written scenes in a science-fictional context that might as well be called rape (for instance, a forced physical transformation portrayed as a bodily violation), and I’m willing to write those scenes in detail. However, when a story called for a realistic rape, I described the act in three lines, then talked in detail about the victim’s mindset afterwards.

(If I do still have a rule, it’s not to write stories that explicitly support moral codes I don’t agree with. I’m willing to write stories in which characters have those moral codes and aren’t openly described as wrong, though.)

Fiona Ingram

I find the idea of zombies, vampires, werewolves and supernatural creatures/horror just ‘not for me’ as a writer. That said, I think Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein superb and eminently readable – maybe because they’re classics and came first in the genre. Dystopian YA also makes me uneasy. I like to write for kids (MG) with a clear, positive, exciting future ahead. Lots of adventure, really bad baddies, narrow odds of survival, minimal chance of success, but the kind of energetic, ambitious vision that MG kids have in a world where they can succeed in the end (wihout killing their friends). In fact, all the books with kids killing each other, or variations on that theme is rather depressing. Call me old-fashioned, but in a world where we face nuclear meltdown, climate change with devastation, financial uncertainties etc, let’s have something positive otherwise we’ll all be slitting our wrists…

Jami's Tech Guy (Jay)

Hi Jami,

So much for asking you to play the triangle in my online band… *sigh* Crazy diva authors…

For me, it’s adultery. Just isn’t going to happen without extremely negative, probably violent consequences.

-Jay
@jaytechdad

Amber

I was about to comment, then I saw Marcy’s. That pretty much describes what I won’t write. It’s not a judgement on those that do – I just find that my protag doesn’t dwell on those things (and I write in first person) so it becomes unnecessary to write in “profanity” or detailed sexual encounters.

Genre-wise, I probably would say “never-say-never” although I probably lean more towards contemporary then fantasy.

Serena Dracis

I never thought in terms what I won’t write before, but now you’ve got me wondering. Thanks for an excellent post, and a way to stretch my writing!

Gene Lempp

Well, let’s see…

No “Slice of Life”. Bill sits on his porch musing about the comings and goings of people that have a life – nope, not the writer for those. Nothing without a point or moral (of the story) – according to a long time friend, I am the reincarnation of Aesop – no point to the story, not writing it. No vanilla anything to major story points – if I can’t find a way to bring the key points to a new place/concept then the story isn’t worth writing (and I would bet most readers would agree).

I don’t think there is a genre I wouldn’t write in IF I could find a way to give it new life. Like Cowboys and Aliens did for their respective genres. It’s all in the mix, which is why homemade cake is better than the stuff from a box. Just my opinion, no throwing cake at me *grins*

Great post, Jami 🙂

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[…] truth was brought home to me (again) by the fantastic comments in my last post about what stories we won’t write.  The answers focused on many different aspects of writing: character traits, plot events, genres, […]

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[…] identifying and strengthening your weaknesses in order to be more productive; Jami Gold asks what stories “won’t” you write, which helps define your brand and style; Kevin Hanrahan explains what NOT to do when you’re […]

Julie Hedlund

Very interesting post. I hadn’t thought about stories I wouldn’t write, but I will now!

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[…] identifying and strengthening your weaknesses in order to be more productive; Jami Gold asks what stories “won’t” you write, which helps define your brand and style; Kevin Hanrahan explains what NOT to do when you’re […]

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