The One Where I Disagree with Everyone

Aka Publishers, Editors, Creative Writing Professors, Your Pet Cat, Anyone That’s Ever Said Anything… Basically EVERYONE!

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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!

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60 thoughts on “The One Where I Disagree with Everyone

  1. daleydowning says:

    I totally love this. So many of these rules, or similar, I’ve struggled to follow, and as recently as today, I was evaluating something I did in my story ON PURPOSE because IT WORKS for my book/style, and I had to give a big mental SHUT UP to all the “experts” who would say not to do it.

    You’re so right – we are not all the same as writers, or readers, and the idea of trying to make us all write/read the same is STUPID.

    Thank you!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Yes EXACTLY!!! Just on the point of them being experts- lot of the time I’ve seen the so-called credentials of the people that give this advice and thought “really?!? That qualifies your?!” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve engaged with some of these people and they have read a single one of the books I’ve given in this post as examples!! I expect the people giving advice to have *since idea* why they take these ideological stances on literature (because the idea of minimalism in literature is ideological) I’m so glad you liked this!! Sorry for the mini rant 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. John W. Leys says:

    Many of these are good guidelines, but should not be hard rules. “Show don’t tell” is pretty good advice. Showing is more effective in most cases, but telling is usually easier. Of course there are exceptions. Info dumps can be tricky. I think it’s a matter of how well it is done.

    Otherwise, yes, many of these rules are matters of taste.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Yes precisely- it is, but I think the key is to mix it up- because sometimes I’m reading a book and thinking “spit it out!” Because it can be irritating if no one ever says what they’re feeling or points out the obvious. They can be tricky- bit they are a necessary evil sometimes- as you said, it’s a matter of how well it’s done!

      Liked by 1 person

      • John W. Leys says:

        If you’re readers are thinking of rules while reading either they’re in a Literature Class or you’ve failed. I know that sounds harsh, but I think it’s true to some extent. Or maybe I need another cup of tea before I start literary criticism in the morning 😉

        Liked by 2 people

        • theorangutanlibrarian says:

          Haha yes I was saying that from the perspective of a reader/critic- so I agree! Although some people do deliberately go looking for these “mistakes” as a form of showing their criticism “credentials”- it can be an easy and lazy way of analysing a book (which incidentally leads to a lot of misdiagnosis) there are, believe it or not, since reviewers that boast of never reading a perfect book (personally if I had not read a book I could rate 5* it would leave me pretty disheartened to continue reading- but I’m rambling 😉 )

          Liked by 1 person

  3. rantandraveaboutbooks says:

    Totally agree with you on all of these. I had someone from Kirkus tell me that they liked my book but the prose was flowery. They were referencing the two whole sentences in the entire book that were flowery. I will admit to those, but honestly I don’t see anything wrong with flowery if it works. Jay Kristoff has a very flowery style and I love the way he writes. Great point about Fitzgerald! I love him. He’s one of my all-time favorite writers- ever! Adverbs are another one that annoy me because no one can adhere to this rule, not even Stephen King. I believe you will find an adverb on the first or second page of The Shining, which completely contradicts everything King has ever said about adverbs. I recall finding plenty of them in Carrie as well. So many books are guilty of serious info dumping. Ahem, Red Rising! That book is super guilty of info dumping. And like you said Harry Potter needed some info dump to explain how the world works to Harry and to the reader. I don’t know who makes up these rules? I feel like it’s lit agents and publishers, yet they consistently have new clients that are guilty of all the things that are considered cliche and overused. And show not tell is a huge thing I see in almost every book. I honestly get sick of it at times and will stop reading a book when it’s too much. That’s why I wonder how some authors can get away with this. Are their ideas that original that no one cares? I seriously doubt that. Great post! I love a good writing rant. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Gah that’s so annoying!! Nor do i- I enjoy flowery books as much as the next person- so I can’t see why it’s okay for some but not others. It seems entirely arbitrary. Yes! Me too! Exactly! Haha that’s hilarious about Stephen king! Haha yes, although being the geek that I am, I happened to enjoy that! 🙂 Yeah I have no idea who makes up these rules either- especially since it you take the time to point out to people encouraging them how famous authors have broken all the rules and their answer is still stubbornly “that’s different”. I think for publishers it’s a case of what they think they can market- regardless how good it is. I have a very cynical view of those that invent the rules- usually professors on creative writing courses that have never been successful writers- in that I feel they just want to have something to say… But that’s probably (definitely) a little harsh. Thanks so much!

      Liked by 1 person

      • rantandraveaboutbooks says:

        Exactly! I hate these rules for writers that some anonymous person makes up. I agree with you. Twilight is a good example of something an agent thought they could market because the writing is horrible. It definitely didn’t sell copies because it was well written. You’re probably right. It’s probably bitter writers who never got published. Lol

        Liked by 1 person

  4. alilovesbooks says:

    I would probably say “everything in moderation”. I do believe in show don’t tell and no info dumping but don’t think it should be a hard rule. It’s OK to do provided there’s not too much of it and it feels like a natural part of the story. I’ve read books where all they seem to do is tell. The MC spends the whole time narrating how they feel about everything and it drives me nuts. Similarly in science fiction I’ve found a lot of info dumping as they explain the world and how everything works and I just don’t care.

    Liked by 2 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Yes exactly! Yes I have read books like that and they make me want to treat my hair out- but similarly I’ve had books where they simply won’t say what’s actually going on- and that’s also annoying! Same with info dumping (although i usually read it in fantasy) it can be annoying- but as i said, it’s sometimes necessary

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Anne says:

    Purple Prose? So that’s what it’s called? 😀 I have to admit, if it’s done correctly, then I don’t give two shits about that either. And absolutely no adverbs? Seriously?? Why are people making it so hard for others to try and write something! Sigh. Great post dear! I’m sure a lot of people can sigh in relief with these tips 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Marie @ drizzleandhurricanebooks says:

    I love this blog post, and the title reminds me of Friends ahah ❤ I'm always so confused about all the writing advice going on everywhere. I do enjoy reading writing advice, a lot, but it gets SOOO confusing at times ahah, so thank you for sharing your thoughts about this. In the end, as helpful as these advice might be, or they might help you feel a bit better and see where you are going, in the end…Well all that matters really is hwo you want to write, and enjoy it 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Liam @ Hey Ashers! says:

    This is a great post! And definitely timely.

    I do believe all of the advice listed is valuable, but my understanding of what each one means is quite a bit different from yours. I actually spent, like, half an hour writing a comment that explains what each bit of advice means to me, but I don’t know if you have the time to read all of that!

    It’s neat to see a different perspective on each bit of advice, and I hope this post encourages writers to start thinking more about how they can step outside of the standard writing box. Experimenting and playing around are fantastic ways to develop one’s ability, and writers should feel comfortable and confident doing both. (Few things can kill creative joy than “NEVER DO THIS THING OR YOU AND YOUR WORK WILL SUCK FOREVER,” etc.) =)

    Liked by 2 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Haha thank you!! Haha well I’m open to different perspectives- so you are very welcome to go through each of them and say what they mean to you 🙂 (I know we’ve had conversations about these before on your blog, so I’d definitely welcome the discussion over here! 😉 ) I do understand that for each of these things there are times when they make sense… But also others when they not- which is why I object to codifying then as “law”
      Haha yes- my main point of this post was, more than anything, to encourage writers to think for themselves and think critically about any advice they’ve seen around. I think it’s something that’s been forgotten by some, but writers traditionally been the lead thinkers in society- we’re not just supposed be artists- we shouldn’t just be following rules, we should be creating them for ourselves! It’s in part about stepping outside of the box- but more importantly it’s about finding out what works and why!
      But yes I agree, if people are too dogmatic, it does ruin the fun somewhat!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Martin says:

    Great post. I don’t really believe in rules, at least, I know they exist but I work on the basis that they are for other people. Which is not to say that having some understanding of how writing (or painting, or whatever creative thing you are doing) works is a bad thing. It’s just that if you want to be creative you have to be able to step over the boundaries when the work demands it.

    There are probably rules for getting an agent, or getting published, but that is a different matter. And again I’m not against the idea of getting published, but in the end I write because I enjoy it, otherwise what is the point?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Donna says:

    Not every writer is the same and not everyone has the same tastes! Basically, blanket rules never work. = This needs to be put EVERYWHERE! Again, I’m not a writer, but I thought the literary culture was open-minded enough not to smother writers with rules. It saddens me that writers get this burden instead of just go with the flow they carry inside, no matter the flowery tone or the 10,000 adverbs it contains. By the way, I did not know about King and the adverb issue. I never noticed it xD Silly me! But adverbs exist for a reason, why shouldn’t we use them??

    Liked by 2 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Haha thank you!!! It can be… But it’s also like every other discipline with people trying impose how it “should” be done! Haha exactly!! Haha well apparently even king broke that rule- which is kinda hilarious cos it proves how it could never work. Yes, precisely!!! Besides it’s such a day rule if you consider the fact that even words like “yesterday” and “tomorrow” can be used as adverbs…. You’d be creating a lot of problems with speech if you just banned them!!!

      Like

  10. Geraldine @ Corralling Books says:

    This is such an awesome post! I especially love your point about adverbs – writing without them can be so dull sometimes – it’s great to include them only if you need to. I reckon writing should just be including what you need, not including unnecessary things just to fit expectations/what other people have told you! (unless ofc its for an assignment and the person telling you what to do is the person marking it! xD )

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Read Diverse Books says:

    There’s a lot of great advice here. 🙂 I love adverbs and it’s silly to me that some writers have rules against using them! What’s wrong with sliding in some adverbs in your story occasionally? Same with flowery prose. As long as the plot is engaging and the characters interesting, I don’t really mind if the prose is overly flowery. Sometimes I’m in the mood for that kind of book, so it’s important that we have a variety of writing styles being practiced in the 21st century!

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Aww thank you!! Yes exactly!!! Precisely!! Yes- definitely agree! Also these rules tend to just be fads- so even if people say these things now, they could be saying the opposite at a later date- it’s not the best idea to base all your writing philosophy on these ideas, cos the pendulum could easily swing the other way!

      Like

  12. JJAzar says:

    I can say nothing except AMEN! All of the above “forbidden” things are to be heeded, certainly, but not held as gospel. Frankly, a skilled author can make magic happen with flowery prose, adverbs, and the like. Thank you so much for sharing this. I’ve just subscribed.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Transhaan says:

    Brilliant post. People need to know that they can trust in their writing sometimes, even if that means experimenting and going against what a lot of people agree on! Maybe in your hands, the effect will be completely different and prove all those “famous sayings” wrong.

    – Lashaan

    Liked by 1 person

  14. aubreysbooknook says:

    I love this and feel like everyone needs to find what works for THEM. How Stephen King writes might work for him, but this doesn’t mean that everyone HAS to take what he says as the words of God. He’s not God. Great post! Thank you so much for sharing!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Alex Sarll says:

    Great thoughts, and I agree with you; there are no real set in stone rules when it comes to how you want to write. Except, obviously, the really important ones like try to write in sentences, and try to use punctuation. Metaphors are great, showing and telling should be used as they are useful, mixing perspectives can be effective when it;s done well. I generally don’t like rules!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. theallsaints4 says:

    Awesome…glad you put pen to paper. We were all thinking it. …I agree with all your tips and thanks for backing up the notion. I use to play in band and my mantra was if it sound right your are playing it right don’t listen to the pros they’re only jealous.
    Did you say Stephen King is band or boring..haha !

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      haha I’m glad! yeah exactly!! haha yeah- #sorrynotsorry – I know his plotting is good cos I’ve seen movie interpretations of his books- but his writing style is really not for me :/ hence why I won’t take his writing advice too seriously

      Like

  17. Nicola Alter says:

    I agree with you on all of these! Particularly the adverbs – sure, it’s good to be wary so you don’t pepper every sentence with them or use awkward adverbs in dialogue tags, but the idea that you can do away with them altogether is just a bit ludicrous. I guess when people start putting out guidelines there is always the temptation to be rigid and absolute about them and turn them into ‘rules’, not acknowledging that there is always an exception to the rule!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. lostartofreadingblog says:

    I totally agree, I felt like someone needed to say it. Everyone is going to write differently just let them do what they like, let them try something new for once. If you don’t like it that’s fine but maybe it will be the next great piece of literature, it’s great to experiment. I thought you put that very well in your post, thanks 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  19. schillingklaus says:

    Omniscient, intrusive natrration is my one way to go, and I will continue violating deliberately and shamelessly all those malicious and ignorant rules shamelessly and unmitigably permanently at any cost, regardless of any critics.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. leighhecking says:

    What I really love about this post is that it gives the writer permission. Permission to just throw out all the rules and do’s and dont’s and write what they like how they like to write it. I do think we should edit some things out in the revision process (there’s using adverbs to get to the point and there’s using too many adverbs), but having too many rules and constraints can lead to writing blocks. And lots of really interesting and successful books have come out of shucking the proper “form” and trying something different.

    Great post and thanks! x

    Liked by 1 person

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