Aka Publishers, Editors, Creative Writing Professors, Your Pet Cat, Anyone That’s Ever Said Anything… Basically EVERYONE!
As you may know, I’m not normally the kind of blogger that gives writing advice, and I’ll be the first to say there’s a lot of good guidance out there, but I have also seen a lot of rules bandied about over the years that are just plain wrong. So cos I’m currently feeling the spirit of Nanowrimo- today and today only- I will be addressing some of these cardinal writing sins:
- “No Purple Prose!”– this has to be one of my least favourite pieces of writing advice. The anti-metaphor police have been brandishing this one for years and I find it laughable. I mean, are they truly saying that Fitzgerald, for instance, wrote terrible books because they were too flowery? Of course not! Their basic premise is that it’s old fashioned and *we* don’t do it anymore. Of course, the 20th century was a revolution in popularising literature for the masses, partly by paring down and simplifying writing styles… but who says that has to be everyone’s purpose? Do we all share this goal? Since when were the rules of writing so linear? And who is this “we” anyway? Sorry, but this isn’t a communist dictatorship- *go away*. Not every writer is the same and not everyone has the same tastes! Basically, blanket rules never work.
- “Never mix omniscient and third person limited” (or “no head-hopping!”)- this one’s a little trickier. Because, yes, if you get this wrong it can be confusing. If, say, an author skips between perspectives in the middle of a scene it can be very disorientating. However, good control over your writing overrules this- and actually employing more than one point of view can be the difference between a novice and a master. Frankly a brilliant author can slip from one perspective to another without you even noticing. Heck- plenty of the best authors did this all the time- take Austen, Hardy and Dickens. Are you seriously telling me that they didn’t know what they were doing? Or are you just saying “oh no, they were on such a high level that no one in this generation could hope to aspire to”. Either way, it’s a stupid thing to say. It’s dumb to suggest this to writers, because it’s encouraging them not to even try to write great literature, because they would never succeed. Also it’s patronising to suggest all readers would be confused by this change of perspective and wouldn’t be able to keep track. Instead I would correct this advice to: only do it if you have a lot of control- if you don’t, it’ll show up if you try this and fail.
- “Absolutely no adverbs!”– People have been obsessed with this ever since Stephen King said “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs”. Personally, I’m not a fan of his anyway. I’m sure his plotting is great, cos I’ve enjoyed films I’ve seen based on his books. *But* I’ve never been able to get past his dull writing style- so clearly he’s not for everyone. Plus I’ve seen some convoluted examples out there that are just plain ludicrous. For example, if “quickly” is the word you want to use, use it. Don’t faff about saying “at a pace that was quite a bit faster than usual”. Still not convinced? Check out Matthew Wright’s awesome piece on why we really do need adverbs. (PS if you want excellent writing advice in general I would highly recommend checking out his blog- it’s second to none on this!)
- “Show don’t tell”– I’ve wondered for a long time whether this one is true- and yet I have to think of many times when a character has just had to express what they’re feeling so that I actually know what’s going on. I can see why this is important at times- just not always! Plus, this one truly irks me for the number of times I have seen people using it incorrectly against work that is showing not telling.
- “Don’t info-dump”– there is a fine line between info-dumping and giving valuable information. It’s not info-dumping when Hagrid tells Harry about Hogwarts, now is it? So why is it info-dumping when someone explains the basic premise of their world? It’s just informative. Like all the other examples on this list, there are always times when it’s totally fine to do this. (Just try not to make it too clunky and overwhelming!)
So don’t “kill all your babies” and sometimes it’s okay to tell people what’s going on- it’s not always worth being cryptic! Not every piece of advice is stellar- you learn more by writing, reading and analysing than you ever could by just getting advice. The important thing to remember is rules are made to be broken!
Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments!