Five Man Electrical Band wrote the song “Signs,” which was later famously covered by Tesla and has had lyrics borrowed over the years by various artists. Today it’s my turn: And the sign said anybody caught trespassin’ would be shot on sight.

Scenario 1 [Are you still singing?]: Bill is out hiking. He doesn’t see the sign, so he proceeds into hostile territory.

Scenario 2: Joe is also out hiking when he reads the sign. He decides to keep walking, straight into hostile territory.

Question: If you had to choose, would you rather hike with Bill or with Joe? photo-2

I must say I like Joe’s style. This is a person who knows what he’s getting into, and he has his reasons for doing it. Can he handle what’s about to transpire? Possibly not. What great reason could he have for continuing on? We don’t know. But I want to find out. We can certainly speculate some great and tragic reasons. All we know is, Joe knows what he’s doing and is willing to accept the consequences.

As for Bill, there’s some hope. This poor soul has no idea what he’s getting himself into, but once the fit hits the shan, he may make some great decisions that’ll boggle the mind. We all know a Bill, someone who gets in way over his (or her) head through little fault of his own, and is then forced to handle the fallout. Will Bill learn what it takes to survive and thrive in this new situation? Will he step up to the challenge, the ordinary man turned hero? Will this turn into a great campfire story after all, or will he continue to bumble?

However misguided Joe may be, he’s a man with a plan. I trust him. I want to know what he’s up to, what happens next.

As for Bill, if he figures out what wrong he’s committed and adapts to handle the situation, I’ll follow his story, too. The key to my interest in Bill is whether or not he learns to adapt. Without that, his story is just a bunch of strung-together snafus.

Follow me on this: If you’re going to break the rules, be deliberate about it. Joe has a purpose. Bill doesn’t yet, but he may find one.

If you want others to trust you, to follow the story to whatever end you write, and you want to break all the rules as you do it, you need to know the rules you’re breaking. That’s where the real power lies, in knowing the difference. Learn your grammar. And we, the readers, will be by your side–even through hostile territory.


Amy Ashe makes her own rules in Upside Down Kingdom.