Yesterday in a conversation with some other writers we were discussing Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name Of The Wind. One fellow who is friends with the other folks (I don’t dislike him; I merely don’t know him) said that the book is full of Writing Rules that have been broken.
Nothing against this fellow, but he made me want to go on a rampage. It’s not just him…it’s pretty much everyone who reads a book and smugly says “there is too much head-hopping.”
I have this theory that with the rise of of Self-Publishing and the attendant Sutter’s Mill effect a lot more folks are going to writer’s conferences and it is at these writer’s conferences they pick up a lingo that makes them feel more writer-y. Anyone who writes knows that it’s a difficult passion to pursue. You have to tease the bits and pieces of story out of your head; you have no barometer for success until the process is well underway. The need for affirmation coupled with the Sociology 101 “professional groups are bound by linguistic codes” thing means that we now have these arrogant little yardsticks. The Mean Nuns Of Proper Writing gleefully use those yardsticks to slap you down.
PHRASES I NEVER WANT TO HEAR AGAIN IN MY LIFETIME
- “Show, don’t tell.” Look, fella. It’s a bloody book for Bast’s sake! If I wanted a Powerpoint presentation I would make one. If I wanted this to be a Dan Brown style thriller I would write a book with a lot of actiony scenes that didn’t bother too much on character development. Look at me. Am I wearing a tweed jacket with elbow patches? Do I drive a Ferrari? No. I am not Dan Brown. I don’t want to write a movie book. The point of writing fiction is to tell a story. Notice how no one ever says “show me a story”?
- “Too much head-hopping.” This phrase is so completely lingoriffic that it makes me want to start adding aftermarket holes to people’s bodies. You’re a writer. Try expressing yourself and your objections in a way that doesn’t sound like you just got back from a weekend seminar. How about “the point of view changes without warning and forces you to disengage too abruptly from the character you’re involved with.” But also, you know, you could keep in mind that some people like stories that aren’t all told from one character’s point of view. Just because you heard one person who doesn’t like stories like that say those stories are bad doesn’t mean they’re bad. Actually the most commercially successful fiction of the last TWO HUNDRED YEARS has had multiple POVs. (Stephen King, George RR Martin, Charles Dickens, Herman Wouk, Maeve Binchy, Dan Brown, Jeffrey Deaver…I could go on and on.)
- “This book needs an editor/is way too long.” This particular criticism bothers me very much because it keeps getting levelled at Harry Potter. I’ve read each of the Potter books at least 23 times–the earlier four even more than that. I know them like the back of my hand and there isn’t a word or a scene in them that isn’t necessary. You personally may not be interested or may not have noticed a thing but that doesn’t mean that the books have meaningless scenes. Granted there are books that could have the parts condensed where the author’s self-indulgence works against the story. (The last few I’ve read of Patricia Cornwell’s come to mind.) But not every long book is too long.
- “This book starts off too slowly.” Not every book is The Hunger Games. If there’s one thing I really hate about the current popularity of YA [Young Adult] fiction it’s that everyone thinks that all books need to have a YA structure in order to be well-written. Some novels have other ways of doing things.
People write to express themselves. When I was in my writingfunk a couple of weeks ago everyone assured me that even though all stories are the same every story is told from a unique voice. I loathe so much these arbitrary lines conceived out of the personal tastes of a subset of readers that aim to cripple the voices of writers everywhere. I stick to my usual guidance. Read a lot; that’s the best way for you to be able to figure out what works and what doesn’t. You’ll find if you read a lot that the rules people push nowadays truly ARE arbitrary and have very little bearing on the actual quality of what gets produced.