My Semi-Fictional Life #123 (How I Write, or All Left Turns)

Hello peeps. Today is not a piece of writing advice, but it is about writing. Or at least how I do things. I have two mottos I’ve used over the course of my career: the most popular one is “Shut the fuck up and write.” Love that. It’s probably the only advice I still give to this day. The second motto is a secret weapon, of a fashion. I never talk about it. But today is the day I break that silence. Here you go, the big reveal…

“All left turns.”

Years ago, UPS, as in the brown package-truck company, released a statement discussing their plan to have their fleet take only right turns. The thought process behind this was simple: less time in traffic. I have no idea if they still practice “All Right Turns”, but they’re who I stole my motto from. I’d been working this way before I put a name to it, but it seemed to get even easier to do after I had a name for what I was doing.

“All left turns” is another way of saying I will always choose to fight traffic. In writing terms it means I will kill the main character halfway through the novel in the attempt to destroy how you perceive the main character archetype, or sweep a comfortable rug out from under your feet and send you reeling. There you are, humming along, following someone you’re sure will live at least until the end, and I’ve killed them on page 300 of a 600 page novel. It means placing the twist somewhere in the middle of the book instead of at the end. It’s sleight of hand. Look over here and become comfortable while I rotate the house and place it down on its roof. Simply put, I never want you to be comfortable while reading my work.

So what do I consider “right turns” in fiction? There are too many to list, but suffice it to say that a “right turn” in fiction is anything that makes the reader think “I’ve been here before” or that they know what is going to happen. Anything that makes you comfortable I try to cut out of my stories. I want you asking, “Wait… what? Now where the fuck is he going to take me?”

An example of a “left turn” would be the inclusion of Jude Lance in the Bay’s End story line; or in Fog Warning, when Brent takes his fateful bike ride at the halfway mark of the novella; or the landmine in Cruelty.

But, over time, even right turns can be left turns. Most fans of mine know not to expect anyone to live in my books. Because of this, I can now pull a right turn every so often and it will feel like a left turn because they’re expecting the twist. Sometimes having no twist is a big enough twist for a reader. You have them on edge, waiting for their favorite character to bite the big one, when… the final page reveals then riding off into the sunset.

I love that shit, dude. This is a fun gig, especially for an attention whore like myself. I love seeing your reactions in Goodreads updates and book reviews. The last thing I want to do is bore you. Even if you hate me or my work, that’s still a reaction, and I’m happy to take it. But a feeling of indifference… I mean, what do you do with something that is wholly unremarkable? Is there a bigger bummer than a feeling of utter meh? In my opinion, I have yet to fall into the dark abyss of indifference, but if I do, I’ll be sure to report back.

Do left turns piss you off? Do you enjoy left turns? Do you prefer the comfort of authors who follow the unwritten rules of plot progression and main-character safety? Lemme know in the comments, wherever this post might find you.

See you tomorrow,


Pic of the Day



4 thoughts on “My Semi-Fictional Life #123 (How I Write, or All Left Turns)

  1. That fucking burro. e.e

    With my writing, i feel like I take a lot of right turns, but once in awhile, I like to throw a quirk in there that doesn’t -quite- fit, just to the point that it breaks up any slow points in my project. I try to make sure that when I am writing my novels, that each chapter has something of importance to it, or some event that helps shape the story or make it interesting. One of my biggest complaints about novels are when they have page after page of nothing.

    I love fantasy, but I once tried to read a fantasy novel that everyone had raved about. I did not finish it, but the only thing that I can recall from the book is the main character just walking constantly. That’s the only thing. And a lot of pointless dialogue.

    Now, as a writer, I love dialogue, but I like it to be snappy or emotive. I’d rather the characters explain themselves than let me do it. They talk, they fight, they complain, but you see their personalities, and I’ve been told that dialogue is where I am at my best.

    I didn’t mean to get sidetracked, but yeah. 🙂

  2. The funny thing about left turns are that some authors can pull them off and some can’t. I think a major twist for the sake of a twist doesn’t do much for a story. For instance, I read The Butterfly Garden last year and was really into it. Then came the left turn. Ruined the whole f’n thing. Gone Girl, same thing. When it works it can make all the difference and when it doesn’t it can turn a potentially fine read to poo.

    1. I think my most polarizing story is CRAWL. So many people expect something from that book that isn’t there, and that novelette is probably one of the best pieces I’ve written, just based on how varied the reactions to it have been.

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