Wednesday, July 9, 2014

347 Things You Should NEVER DO in Writing or Your Work Will SUCK Because I Said So!

Have you ever noticed that lots of writing websites and magazines are full of advice?  They dole out instructions as though ex cathedra, all with the smarmy superiority that comes from knowing that what they say is how all writing should be.

Have you ever noticed how many great books flagrantly ignore these rules?

I am not saying that all of the rules are bad.  Some are helpful.  For example, avoid using adverbs and a weaker verb when you can use one stronger verb.  That's helpful.  That's good advice.  Many take that and say, "do a search through your document and eliminate every thing that ends in -ly." (Lovely and only are exceptions, since they are adjectives and not adverbs.)

That, my friends, is bull crap.

At least in my opinion.  Eliminating your weaker verb-adverb pairs, if you can, is a good idea.  To flagrantly label all adverbs as some kind of satanic force lurking in your manuscript, causing you to suck as a writer, is stupid.  Adverbs add flavor.  They are good.  Like spices, you don't want too many of them.  But saying that all adverbs in writing are bad (and there are some who literally believe this) is like saying that putting spices in your food ruins your food.  There is such a thing as too much spice, or the wrong kind of spice, but your food will be bland without it.

Again, all of this is my opinion.  But then again, I haven't fed on the honey-dew and partaken of the milk of paradise that gives all of these writing magazines their divine authority to declare all things must be a certain way.  Therefore, my argument is invalid.

Another helpful rule is to avoid flowery writing.  Once again, this is a helpful notion.  You don't want everything to be poetic to the point of being florid.  However, some unilaterally impose the rule of ALL flowery writing is bad ALL the time NO MATTER WHAT.

Once again, bull crap.

Do I need to pull out the spice analogy again?  Maybe a home decor analogy would be better.  You don't want too much of a certain thing in your decor because it gets cluttered and over-the-top.  But saying to get rid of all flowery writing in every instance is like telling someone they should live in a sterile white home with no color.

But hey, I'm not God like those writing mags, so I'm probably wrong.

There are hundreds of rules like this. Never use exclamation points.  Use speech tags as little as possible. Don't let your characters become overly emotional more than once per book, because real people don't have multiple emotional outbursts very often. (That last one should win awards for the least accurate advice ever.)   They go on and on and on, and articles on writing perpetuate them as though they are divine rules written by God Himself onto stone tablets at Sinai.

The end result of all writers following all of these rules exactly will be the single most boring period of literature heretofore in history.

Literature innovates.  It breaks the rules.  I'm not talking about flagrantly disregarding good advice, because all of these suggestions have some wisdom to them.  It's the difference between saying, "wearing black has a slimming effect" and demanding that everyone must wear black or they are complete fashion failures.

Why do I use a fashion analogy?  Because fashion changes from time period to time period.  Why does it change?  Innovators change it.  Fashion would be boring if people didn't introduce new ones or experiment with it in some way.

That's what most of these 'rules' are.  Fashion.  It's not 'stylish' to do x, y, or z, so don't do it.

Funny how the people who make these rules are the ones profiting from them.  They take something that one or two successful authors did, make it a rule, put it in a magazine, slap a price tag on that sucker, and then rake in the moolah as thousands of writers pay to learn how they too can NOT SUCK. (Oooh, that last one was a run-on sentence.  Kick me out of the real writers club, because I broke a rule.)

With writing, there aren't rules.  There are good practices that make sense, and in general, should be adhered to.  There is plenty of wisdom to be obtained from the experience of others.  But writing is not math, people.  If you want a career field that is dominated by HARD and FAST RULES then you should be studying mathematics.

Even in math, though, innovators experiment to find new ways of solving problems.  Do the 'rules' change?  No.  But mathematics still evolve.

If you're desperate for writing rules, I can't offer you any.  But here are some suggestions:

1.) It is useful and important to know the 'rules'.  You have to know them in order to break them.  It's the difference between ignorance and intention.

2.) Take writing advice with a grain of salt.  Trust your gut.

3.) Well-behaved women writers seldom make history.