Wednesday, October 13, 2010

When New Isn't as Good as Old

I'd planned today's word to be vicissitude, and even had a whole post scheduled about it. Mostly it centered on how much my mind has turned to soggy oatmeal these past two months. But that wasn't any fun! So instead I want to talk a little bit about being fresh versus sticking with your older formula. (And officially relegate the Wednesday Word to the Occasional Wednesday Word.)

Gap announced yesterday that they were scrapping the new logo they'd rolled out based on the general feeling of calamitous hatred it stirred in Gap "users."

Now, scrapping a logo is a HUGE decision, and one marketing teams don't take lightly. Logos are the embodiment of a company's values, position, and future -- and they matter greatly. Firms get paid lots and lots of money to come up with logos, and you can bet Gap paid a crapton of money for this new one. I can also tell you that these things aren't arbitrary: typically a logo undergoes user testing and general appeal studies before making it out to the public, especially for a widely recognized consumer company such as Gap.

When I saw the new logo, I was pretty much in agreement: it sucked. It lacked any of the authority and traditional, tried and true feeling of the old, and it didn't even use the same font. To me, the new logo could have been created by anyone, used for any company named Gap, and held no identity ties to the clothing company. Apparently, others felt the same way.

But Mr. Sierra took Gap's side: supposedly sales have been down and they wanted to move away from the old traditional look of the blue border. They wanted to be fresh and new, for a new generation. He was all for that.

I can understand that--although I do remain firmly convinced that messing with en established and well-recognized logo will confuse brand recognition and loyalty in consumers. Still, there's something to be said for trying something different, letting go of previous conceptions, and looking forward.

Today I was having a discussion with Roni Loren about a particular tried and true "rule" in romantic fiction (I'll be blogging about it on Monday!). We agreed that rules are meant to be bent and everything depends on the book, the story, the characters, and the genre....but even so, I returned again and again to the rule and thought it through and really felt that it was a strong, good rule (Monday, I promise).

So tell me: do you knowingly break rules in writing to expand freshness and reinvigorate your stories? Does it work, or does it go the way of the new Gap logo? Do you try breaking rules often?


Suzi McGowen said...

I am, by nature, a rule follower. I also don't like to be told what to do. This makes for an interesting combination.

For example, in "The Breakout Novel", Maas says your characters should never have a cup of coffee or tea. If they're drinking tea/coffee, they're not *doing* anything.

This makes sense, but put my hackles up. So I bent that rule as hard as I could in my WiP. My main character is always thinking about tea. As soon as she gets a cup, something happens so that she can't drink it. (Until the end, when she finally gets her cup of tea.)

Break rules. Break 'em hard. But know what the rule is, and have a good reason for breaking it. That's my motto.

Linda G. said...

I don't know if I break rules as much as warp them. I like giving things a bit of a twist. I THINK it works for me, but then again, I may just be delusional.

Lt. Cccyxx said...

I fear you've identified the opposite of one of my flaws as a writer. I think I am too conservative, too afraid to break rules, to do the most extreme thing that is still true to the story. It was other people's critiques that helped me to see this shortcoming (in my own mind, it was just vague dissatisfaction) and I'm seeing if I can't overcome it.

Roni Loren said...

Thanks for the mention--our convo inspired my post today too (though on a different topic).

In life, I'm a rule follower. In writing, I pick and choose. The book that got me the agent broke a few rules--I did a dual timeline (i.e. almost half the book is the past--backstory! gasp!), I picked really dark topics for a romance, and my story is erotic romance but there was no sex until well into the book.

(For the record, I tried really hard NOT to break these rules because I was stressed it would hold me back, but in the end, it's what the story called for, so I did it.)

I agree with Suzi--know the rule and the reason behind it. Then if you choose to break it, do it thoughtfully. Know why you're doing it and what it is accomplishing.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Great comments, guys. I think the rule breaking is great when you've found such a good story workaround, like Suzi's tea example. (which makes for a great story element.)

Ultimately you're right that you need to be really comfortable with the reason behind the rule and then twist the rule to meet that reason as needed.

Anne R. Allen said...

I hate rules. I can't even follow a recipe. I always have to embellish or substitute something. It means I sometimes come up with brilliance and usually end up with crap. My writing is the same way. If I could follow the rules and color inside the lines I might actually be selling books right now. People may say they want originality but they really like sameness. Look at all the TV franchises of CSI and Law and Order. But there's only one "Glee" or "Mad Men." And they aren't as popular.

demery bader-saye said...

This is a tough one - something I've thought about often since attending the Writers' League of Texas conference in June. I'm a little more afraid about breaking writing rules than I used to be. The sense I got from agents is that a person has to be a really, really good writer to break the rules effectively. Take self-confidence & courage. Working on gathering those up, but it's difficult in the world of rejections. Look forward to reading more about rule breaking on Monday!

Lola Sharp said...

I do bend and sometimes break rules, but I do so thoughtfully and with a purpose. I'm careful to make sure that purpose is organic and right for the story.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Thanks Anne, Demery, and Lola -- rule breaking is good, with purpose!

Meghan Ward said...

I hate rules in literature, too, but if I think of them as suggestions for good writing, I often follow them. I hadn't heard the one about characters drinking tea or coffee, but there are many others- like characters walking across a room, dream sequences, flashbacks, airplane rides, etc. that I use with caution.

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