When I first starting writing I had no idea what I was doing, I merely wrote the story that was in my heart. It couldn't have been all bad, because a publisher chose to publish the work. Fast forward, and I have 20 published books and quite a few awards. Yes, I have been blessed.
But... something strange happened along the way: I started listening to voices, and not the ones in my head. There are as many snippets of writing advice as there are words in the English language. While I appreciate any assistance in being a better writer, sometimes the contradictions get out of hand. Here's a few things that confuse me:
1.To engage your reader, write deep POV. Having the protagonist question themselves is a good way to do this.
2. Never, ever have your character ask a question unless it's in dialog.
3. Limit the words: was, that, it, and all their forms.
4. Never use just, really, or very.
5. Never use adverbs.
6. Never have autonomous body parts (though many cannot agree on what this means).
7. Never use passive voice.
8. Never use "Mom" and "Dad" unless in dialog.
9. Never start a story with dialog.
10. Don't use "so".
11. Don't use exclamation points.
12. Don't use semi-colons.
13. Don't end sentences with a simple word like "it."
14. Use inner dialog.
15. Don't use inner dialog.
16. Never use tags, only beats.
17. You need more tags.
18. Don't write in present tense.
19. Don't write in first person.
20. Don't write in third person.
21. Don't write omniscient POV.
22. Show don't tell. Always.
23. Sometimes telling is necessary to provide backstory and give your reader a break from constant tension.
Are you beginning to see the problem? What was once simple story-telling has too many rules, and many of those rules vary from editor to editor, reader to reader.
I, myself, am guilty of pointing out these things in works I beta. I pay attention to all writing advice because I want to become a better writer with each new book.
But you know what?
Excessive rules turn writing into a chore, and if writing is a chore, your reader will see it, and reading will be a chore. Know what else? I've been consuming books at an alarming rate lately. Wonderful books with high ratings and reviews. Most of them contained examples from above. Judging by the reviews, no one cared!
What has happened to my work is that I've become so focused on not using 'that' that I've lost sight of the true reason for writing. Don't get me wrong, doing a seek and destroy on "it" and "that" can make wording so much stronger, but all the fancy wording in the world doesn't make a good story.
What makes a good story is... a good story.
It's time to take a step back, pull in a deep breath, and let the words flow. I don't mean toss grammar rules out the window or abandon proper sentence structure, but if rules are getting in the way of writing, there is a problem. Advice, like a hammer, is a great tool. Also, like a hammer, if used improperly, it can cause great destruction.
Back in my early days I wrote good stories, and I didn't get one danged comment on the number of "thats", though someone did once count how many F-bombs Lucky dropped in Diversion: 85.
Trying to follow every piece of advice has put a damper on my creativity, leaving me so nervous I'm more afraid to publish a story now than I was ten years ago when I first started. So, I'm going to stop stop trying to be perfect and just write.
Maybe then Diversion 8 will finally see the light of day.
Congrats, you just levelled up. [hands you your diploma]ReplyDelete
Seriously, though, yeah. Learning that most of the little line-level rules you see thrown around are complete bullshit is a major milestone in developing as a writer.
I think I started figuring it out when I'd been hanging out in the Writerverse long enough to see a complete rule cycle go by. When I started paying attention, everyone was using "said" as a dialogue tag. It's easy, simple, clear, and readers flow right past it.
Then the Influencers started to sneer at "said." It's boring, it's repetitive, it's completely uncreative! Use other speaking verbs! Stronger speaking verbs! More descriptive speaking verbs, that do double duty! So more and more, characters were gasping, barking, drawling, shouting, whispering, muttering, questioning, snapping their dialogue.
That went on for a while, then the Influencers started saying that speaking verbs -- any of them -- were unnecessary clutter, and that they were ridiculously dramatic. Melodramatic, even. They were distracting and over-the-top. You wouldn't even need dialogue tags if you were careful of your formatting and used paragraphing and actions to ensure the reader always knew who was speaking! So "said" disappeared for a while, dialogue split up so that no more than one person was ever talking per paragraph (which is actually excellent practice 99% of the time) and characters were crossing their arms, shifting their weight, getting things out of their pockets, glaring/smiling/staring/scowling/grinning at the person they were talking to. This went on for some time.
Then the Influencers started griping that all this extraneous movement and expression was cluttering the story. It was ridiculously over-the-top padding, distracting filler, and it slowed things down. We should just use "said" already, because it was easy, simple and clear, and it's invisible to the readers, so they flow right past it....
At this point, I eyerolled and got off the merry-go-round, having decided that all these people were crazy and I was going to do whatever the hell I wanted, doing whatever I thought was best to suit the book/chapter/scene I was writing. :P I've been tramping farther and farther into crotchety-old-broadhood ever since.
I'm learning that if you tell a good story, no one pays attention to what goes on in the background, and I don't think a book has ever won awards for best punctuation or least adverbs.Delete
Exactly! [nodnod] Every peer-critique workshop has at least one Adverb Nazi, and someone else who thinks their sole job is to go through picking at everyone's commas, or whatever. But you're right that none of that matters if the story is great.Delete