Cast Away the Norm and Survive Outside the Writing Box

Last night I watched Cast Away with my three boys. This classic movie incited tears and general wailing by Youngest at Wilson’s epic final scene and renewed Middle’s fear of flying. It also sparked an interesting conversation. Who, among us on the couch, would survive a four-year stint on a deserted island?

Hands down, Eldest won.

Surviving with next to nothing means a whole lot of ingenuity. We decided that his dyslexia–which translates into the fact that his whole world is outside the box in how he perceives things–sets him up nicely to excel with a handful of random objects.

In Cast Away, ice skates became knives and dental appliances. A little bit of blood and a ball became a best friend.

These are the kinds of innovations necessary to survive outside the normal conditions we call life. Some of us are more prepared to do so than others.

The same is true in writing. It is easy to get hooked into writing the norm. Some novels are very formulaic. Some very trendy. Some are very every day.

A handful of novels, however, thumb their noses at the norm and jump out of the airplane before it ever crashes. They want to survive in the wilds with a unique character and a few random objects.

There is a fine line, however, between surviving and committing suicide. Publishers may be afraid of taking on outside-the-box books, and readers may not quite be ready for a castaway novel to grace their beloved book shelves.

One of my very astute, successful and prolific writer friends recently said that she loves the freedom to write what she wants. But, she’s noticed a definite connection between her book sales and her willingness to toe the line. The further her books veer from the standard expectations, the less sales they get.

Until–or unless–a novel breaks away from tradition and creates a whole new norm. Hunger Games, anyone?

So, how can we tell the difference between just edgy enough and too edgy? How can we ensure that the twist we give our novels will help it swim rather than sink? What tips do you have for walking the line, toeing it or stepping over it into unchartered lands?

Curious minds want to know.


4 responses to “Cast Away the Norm and Survive Outside the Writing Box

  1. You woke my brain up! Toeing that line is a challenge, but well worth exploring.

  2. I tend to want to challenge the norms. For example with my deafness, I could have chosen to allow it to box me into everyone else’s expectations of what deaf should be. I broke the box and created a whole new definition. The same goes for my writing. If I’m given a set of constraints *shrugs* my writing tends to feel confined and lack the emotional bang. What that means for me is, I have to learn to be myself, yet write in such a way I pull my readers in with a heavy dose of believability. (Hugs) Indigo

    • Indigo, you’ve done beautifully stepping outside that box. I love your writing and the eloquent grace you show the world. I think you’re amazing.

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