Be the Evel Knievel of Writing

Let’s talk about risk taking.

For a long while now I have been soliciting a Dexter-type YA manuscript, something risky, something daring. Well. I missed that boat. And that boat is called Barry Lyga’s I HUNT KILLERS, “a dark thriller pitched as Dexter meets The Silence of the Lambs for teens, about a teen boy who uses his killer instinct, inherited from his serial killer father, to help solve a series of gruesome murders.” Well played, Barry. I absolutely cannot wait to read this.

Lately, I’ve been noticing a lot of seemingly risky manuscripts (usually in the form of something paranormal) that when broken down to their basic elements, are not really risky at all. Denis Waitley said, “Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.”

I love that sentiment. But I’m changing it to this: “Writing is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of writing without risk.”

Bree’s Rules for Risky Writing:

1. Place real people with real problems in a risky/unusual/daring/dangerous setting, and make the story about the people, not the setting. I.e., Rot & Ruin.

2. Utilize drastic non-linear storytelling. I.e., Invisible Monsters.

3. If you are going to have obsession, make sure it involves legitimate turmoil, not teenage angst. I.e., Wuthering Heights.

4. Try this: the not-so-happily-ever-after. I.e., Identity Crisis.

5. Or this: the unsure ending. Are they happy? Who knows. Who cares. That’s life. I.e., How To Be Good.

6. One word: Historical. One more word: Dazzling. I.e., Bright Young Things.

7. Get rid of angst, try the extreme opposite: sociopathic nonchalance. I.e., Darkly Dreaming Dexter.

8. Incorporate unusually dark themes in an otherwise normal world. I.e., Nevermore.

9. Write real. I.e., The Duff.

10. Do your research, know the exact feelings of the people you are writing about and writing for. Those real feelings are probably a lot scarier than your imagination can come up with. I.e., Go Ask Alice

I’ve said it many times and I will say it again: I know it’s not the easy path to be a risk taker in writing, but these risks are what set you apart in this ridiculously competitive marketplace.

“Creative people who can’t help but explore other mental territories are at greater risk, just as someone who climbs a mountain is more at risk than someone who just walks along a village lane.” -R.D. Laing


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6 thoughts on “Be the Evel Knievel of Writing

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Be the Evel Knievel of Writing « this literary life -- Topsy.com

  2. This is a truly awesome post, Bree! I’m eager to sample the titles you provide as examples.

    Writing truly is a risky business, filled with the thrills of bumping up against what we are capable of and staring fear right in the face.

    One of my brothers, who loved loved loved Evel Knievel and used to do tricks on a three-wheeler that should have made my parents more nervous, now is a competitive cyclocross racer.

    ~ Lisa

  3. Refreshing, because it doesn’t seem like risk is sought after in the publishing arena as much as I hoped. Sadly the average “wishlist” is far from risky – falling somewhere between predictable and stale. Here is my take…

    Risk taking could make you a star, but first you have to weed out the squares. (I’m on a mission to bring back the term “square” by the way)

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