First, your return to shore was not part of our negotiations nor our agreement so I must do nothing. And secondly, you must be a pirate for the pirate’s code to apply and you’re not. And thirdly, the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules. Welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner.
–Captain Barbossa, Pirates of the Caribbean
Remember back in grade school when your teachers told you to color inside the lines? We had seasonal cute pictures, often coinciding with the upcoming holiday. (I’ve always been looking forward to the next holiday!) One specific example comes to mind. My followers that aren’t in the US will have to put on your imagination caps here, but I think you’ll get the gist. The teacher passed out pages of turkey feathers to color just before Thanksgiving. The pieces were numbered, and each little space was numbered, corresponding to a color.
The exercise was about following instructions. The turkey feathers were supposed to be brown, yellow, orange, and red in a graduated scale. I wasn’t a good rule follower even back then. No, in 2nd grade my turkey was black. Everything was black. I even stole my friend’s black crayon because I ran out of my black. What can I say? It was an angry time of my life. They didn’t send us to the counselor to see why we didn’t follow the rules. They didn’t ask what was going on at home, or why I was rebellious. We were expected to be good little boys and girls regardless of how dysfunctional our family was, and abuse was something that was swept under the rug not talked about with your teachers. I lost my recess and had to stay in to redo my peacock. Oh yeah, it was supposed to be a turkey. Therefore, I had to miss more recesses.
The teacher never cared to find out why I didn’t want my turkey to look like everyone elses. My 2nd edition was more or less a peacock with brilliant blues, greens, and pinks. I even cut its wattle off to make it look more ‘peacocky’. By the third time I had decided the teacher was just mean, and I was tired of missing recess. I scribbled as fast as I could and colored each segment its appropriate color, cut them out and glued them together in record speed. I still got an F. I believe the note to my parents was something to the effect that I refuse to follow directions. Whatever!
Fast forward a couple of years, we had our turkey pictures with more details. This time we were expected to follow the general guidelines, and color our turkey in a realistic fashion. Apparently grade school teachers are not fans of surrealism, or even abstract art. Such narrow views in life encourage rebellion in the hearts of troubled kids. Trust me, I know!
I personally thought my turkey rocked, but the teacher was of a different opinion. “Why can’t you simply follow the rules like everyone else?” The exaggerated sighs of her frustration did little to soothe my rebellious nature. Of course my smart mouth got me in even more trouble, when I stated that my turkey was unique.
It wasn’t like I was really a trouble kid. I got straight A’s. I just didn’t conform to the general consensus. One of the times I had to miss recess, my 4th grade teacher actually asked me why I was angry. I didn’t answer, and when she came over to my desk and saw that I was crying she backed down her tone. Mrs. Williamson was the first teacher to ever look past bad behavior to see a hurting child inside. There are often reasons behind the behavior.
Fast fast forward to the present and there are still guidelines. As adults we aren’t graded on what color our turkey is, or if our turkey is cut exactly on the lines or not. As a cartographer I had to have precise lines, and follow SOPs (standard operating procedures) that were in a document nearly the size of the federal budget. When you’re charting the geo-coordinates for missiles, you must have pinpoint accuracy. As you can imagine, it was restrictive to my creative nature.
As a writer I can flex my creativity and dash the rules as I see fit. Grammar rules always seem to have exceptions. I will admit, that as I’ve gotten older my rebellious nature has been channelled into specific areas. In real life I’m a rather conservative law-abiding citizen. I believe in playing by the rules of life, with the exception of speed limits.
In my fiction however, there is only one rule that is hard and fast, and that is with suspension of disbelief! I can believe there are ancient mages that can weave powerful magic. I can believe that there are shape-shifting dragons. I can even believe that a magical mirror exists that can transport someone back in time. What I can’t believe is an independent strong female character that puts up with a cheater repeatedly, allows herself to remain in an abusive situation, or one that surrenders herself to a complete jerk.
I just read a paranormal romance, set in modern times and the female lead was supposedly a strong-willed independent woman. By the tenth chapter, she caught her man with two other women in the act. Really? I know people in real life are cads, but in a romance we read to escape. Lose his sorry butt and move on lady, there are better men out there. This was one of the few books I did not finish.
I’ve already stretched my reader’s imagination by creating a world of dragons and magic. But even non human characters tend to display human characteristics. Believable characters have good points as well as bad points. For instance most strong-willed people are natural leaders, but they aren’t good listeners. They see their own goals but often don’t weigh the consequences of their decisions. A strong-willed independent woman is not going to put up with a cheating liar!
She also wouldn’t be content to just let him walk away without extracting the pound of flesh due to her. The manner in which she would extract her revenge can be quite interesting. He’ll pay, you can be certain of that.
In real life we have to choose our battles. I choose to follow the laws and stay out of jail. I choose to cut myself some slack for not being supermodel thin. I choose who I give my affections to. In a fictional world, we can break the rules and never get caught. We can extract our pound of flesh from the liars and cheaters, and the ones who have crossed our characters.
In real life we have to deal with nosy neighbors, judgmental peers, and backstabbing coworkers and wait on karma to pay them back.
There are certain aspects of life that have to be flexible, more like guidelines. I plan my grocery shopping from a list which is made from a planned menu. Just because it says we are having fajitas on Thursday doesn’t mean we are actually having fajitas on Thursday. One day between Sunday and Saturday, fajitas will be served because I bought stuff to make fajitas. It’s a guideline. This logic is fuzzy for my logical thinking husband. It creates chaos in his supposed well-ordered life.
HA! Which proves my theory: boxes are bad. Even rule followers yearn to get outside the lines and experience freedom.
Are you a rebel or a rule follower? Are you selective in which rules are guidelines? Let me know what you think.
Write on my friends, write on!