I have been known to question writing “rules.” (See how those quote marks sneaked in?) Sometimes I wonder why… Am I a knee-jerk rebel, one who thinks any piece of written schlock is good as long as it was written sincerely? Do I really think writers who follow rules and comb through their works-in-progress for transgressions are “sheeple,” churning out lifeless overworked prose?
I hope not, but…
One thing I’ve realized: I react negatively to words and phrases I see trotted out repeatedly and without question. Phrases like “Show, don’t tell,” “Kill your darlings,” and “Never use [insert word(s) here].”
Such writing rules are triggers for me.
Now I’ve admitted all that, here are some thoughts that won’t go away…
Why is it OK for established writers to flout the rules? And don’t say it’s because they do it well. If prologues and backstory are bad, they’re bad, no matter who writes them. Right?
Is “info-dump” simply a pejorative term for what is called “rich, detailed description” when it appears in a book by a big-name author published by the Big Five? (Maybe soon to be the Big Four?)
Does anyone really write a first draft that conforms to the three-act story structure? I’m convinced that structure in a work of fiction is discovered after completion, rather than deliberately created by the writer. Especially in a first draft.
Every main character must have a goal, and every scene must contribute to their efforts to reach that goal. No goal, no story. Really? What about characters who are just bumbling along through life? OK, those are found in “literary” novels. (Yes, I know many of these well-worn rules apply to genre fiction.)
Why do some poorly-written books get 5-star ratings and gushing reviews? Could it be that those readers skimmed the boring parts and are happy as long as the book ends with a startling twist or a heartwarming scene? (OK, let’s toss a few sour grapes into the mix.)
I can’t help but notice that many advice-to-writers posts illustrate their points—about creating hooks, or where the first pinch-point should be, or what kinds of conflict you really need—with examples from movies, not books. What does that tell you? Their advice is not directed to screenwriters, after all, but to those who write long-form fiction. Why can’t these folks come up with examples from novels or stories? Maybe they don’t read much?
(This is not a rhetorical question; I really don’t know.)
All right, steam has been let off. That’s it for now. (And those colour-gradient backgrounds are fun!)
Does anyone else harbour niggling thoughts like these? Little thought-bugs you can’t swat away? Here’s your chance to share them with your fellow writers and readers!