The Kitchen-Sink Story VS. The Rule of Cool

The Kitchen-Sink Story: A story overwhelmed by the inclusion of any and every new idea that occurs to the author in the process of writing it.

The Rule of Cool: Most readers are willing to suspend their disbelief for something that is totally awesome.
-- TV Tropes (intentionally unlinked because I care about you)

Yesterday I posted this on Twitter and Facebook:

Most of the responses were combinations. Steampunk ninjas. Jumper elves. The most common response, though, was all six: elven ninjas with Jumper powers, driving steampunk mecha in a genetically perfect waterworld (possibly fighting dragons).

It sounds great, largely due to the Rule of Cool stated above. Take two cool things, slap them together, and nobody cares how impossible the outcome is BECAUSE IT IS AWESOME!

But the fear, then (well, my fear), is being accused of writing a Kitchen-Sink Story. "You're just throwing in ninjas because you think they're trendy, not because they add anything to the work!" "Mecha don't make sense anyway, but in a world covered entirely in water?!"

At first glance, it sounds like these are two different sets of people: the SF geeks (who love ninjas) vs. the erudite literary heads who Take Fiction Seriously. But the SF geeks who find all this stuff awesome are also the folks who will nitpick your story to death. They want the cool stuff and a world they can dig deeply into (I know, I'm one of them).

Fortunately folks like me are willing to accept any explanation you can give them, provided it's consistent. So I think I'll do what I always do. You can feel free to follow suit:
  1. Ignore those who Take Fiction Seriously. Much as I'd love to win a Hugo, those guys aren't my target audience.
  2. Pick the elements I want, figure out why it makes sense later. It worked with Air Pirates, after all.
  3. Apply the Rule of Cool where necessary. Giant mecha don't make sense, neither tactically nor physically, but who the heck cares? They're awesome.
  4. Ensure whatever I make up follows its own rules. Sufficiently strange technology, or elements that don't exist in the real world, is treated like magic. State the rules, then follow them.
I don't know what I'll actually decide (depends on the story, I guess), but I'm definitely going to lean on the Rule of Cool rather than be afraid of the Kitchen-Sink Story. What do you think?

Oo, KRAKEN! Those are definitely going in the waterworld.


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

You must needs have Kraken. So glad to see that! :)

I'll lean on the Rule of Heine, which states that whatever Heine picks will undoubtedly be cool.

Matthew MacNish said...

This is so cool it makes me want to swear, but I won't. And yes, that cartoon is very apt, because you essentially ruined me by showing my TV tropes. I love you for it. Platonically.

Iliadfan said...

"Much as I'd love to win a Hugo, those guys aren't my target audience."

Thank you for that. I love many award-winning books, but I also love many books that are never going to win an award. Forgetting this can seriously mess with one's writing.

Myrna Foster said...

That cartoon makes me glad I didn't click on your FB link.

And yes, if you're going water, bring on the "KRAKEN."

Adam Heine said...

@Susan: I'm simultaneously flattered and crushed beneath more pressure than you can imagine.

@Matthew: Yeah, that site has ruined me a few times over. I pretty much lost Monday entirely.

@Iliadfan: Agreed. Probably the hardest thing is to write for Other People, but especially for The Market or the aforementioned literary heads. Gotta write for you.

@Myrna: TV Tropes is awesome, but well, make sure you've got a significant chunk of time set aside for it.

crazymixedupgirl said...

Your book just became even more awesome! Bring in the Kraken!!

On a more serious note, I have read many a Hugo winner and thought to myself, "I don't get it. I hate this. This sucks." So, forget the Hugos. Write something you'd want to read. (Which is what you concluded anyway.)

Adam Heine said...

Well, The Graveyard Book, Dune, and Ender's Game were all Hugo winners too. But yeah, a lot of books on the list of winners aren't really my bag, SF or not.

Stainless Steel Kitchen Sink said...

I Like the Kitchen Sink Story better.

Stainless Steel Kitchen Sinks said...

:) Kitchen Sink

Dr. Cheryl Carvajal said...

Kraken make every story better. Then again, I like water mixed in with everything, too. Mermaids, ETs that need to live in water to survive, drownings, almost-drownings, shipwrecks, pirate shipwrecks, pirate-caused shipwrecks...

BTW, does the "kitchen sink" story mean the same thing as the "kitchen sink" drama? I write for theatre, and that is usually a specification in play contests: no kitchen sink drama. I wonder...

Adam Heine said...

You sound like my kind of story-teller, Shakespeare :-) I don't know for sure if the term is the same in theater, but it wouldn't surprise me. It's essentially any story with a hundred random elements thrown in just because the writer thought of them.