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Question of the Day:
How many writing books have you picked up where they pretty much say “Don’t do A/B/C/L/M/N/O/P…”and the list trails so long that you start wondering ‘Gee, it would be shorter if you gave me the list of shit I actually can do’?
Now I’ve read a lot of writing books and some of the “rules” people impose get strange sometimes. Here are some of my top personal favorites…
- No weather openings. I genuinely did not know this was a thing, but I can understand where an editor might be coming from.
- No flashbacks. I also understand this sentiment, but saying no flashbacks? None?
- Always end on a cliffhanger. Before I would’ve been shouting this from the treetops, but now that my writing has matured, I’m not sure I can agree with this anymore. Now if you’re writing a thriller that has a breakneck pace then sure. Throw me onto every cliff you know, but a book doesn’t need suspense hammered into every chapter ending. Gone With The Wind sure didn’t and I love all 1000+ pages of it. Neither did The Goldfinch. Both are Pulitzer winners to boot.
- Cut out down on the exclamation points. This one I just don’t get at all. Who out there is abusing exclamation points so bad that they need to be cut? How are they abusing exclamation points so bad that they need to be cut? I suppose if they’re being used like !!! then yes, the writer should probably have their ! key removed, but really?
But rants aside, restrictions are something that I’ve been giving a lot of thought to these days. And I’m becoming more and more convinced that there aren’t any “rules” to writing.
If there is any rule to writing, it’s ‘Do whatever the fuck the story requires you to do’.
Because hard rules get broken.
The ‘no flashbacks rule’? Patrick Rothfuss loves to break this one. He seems to be doing well with his books.
Be clear and to the point? Have you read Heart of Darkness? (Though I wouldn’t recommend imitating Heart Of Darkness if you want people to read you.)
Hell, even the ‘revise your shitty drafts’ rule isn’t safe. Lee Child only writes one draft of his Reacher novels like a badass.
Now if someone can get away with that, then do I really need to go on?
1.) On Always, Never, and No…
Ignore absolutes because there is probably at least one instance where that absolute is wrong.
And if an absolute is wrong even once, it’s not an absolute.
But you’ll never know if it’s wrong unless you try what your inner muse is telling you and see how it works.
2.) On Can I…?
I know I just talked about absolutes, but the answer to this question is always automatically yes.
Yes, you can put that fire breathing dinosaur in Japan. Yes, you can put your characters on a boat to China with a drunk Dutch man who shits his pants. Yes, your MC can smoke dope in Hawaii while a girl streaks naked on the beach.
Whatever you’re worried about putting in your novel…
Yes, you can put it in. You don’t need to ask if you “can”.
To be honest, the better questions to ask are “Should this go in my novel with the current set-up that I have?” or “Do I have enough in my story to support this idea?”.
Think of your story as though you’re a detective trying to solve a case. You wouldn’t go around randomly accusing people of being the killer and then expect someone to buy your crackpot conspiracy theory (though oddly politics keeps trying to attempt this).
Readers are smart people. And they won’t buy your twists and explanations without solid concrete evidence that something is going down.
3. On Deviation
Jeebus, I’m one of those people that can’t stick to the rules even if they were super-glued to my forehead.
There always seems to be a place where not only is it beneficial to break the mold, but it must be done to make the story’s impact meaningful.
There’s a reason why saying is ‘Think Outside The Box’ and not ‘Think Inside The Box’. 😉