Thursday, March 7, 2013

Bad Advice

Nope, nothing new on the desktop computer front...grrrr...

I've written before about knowing when to break the rules, but there's also advice I think is crap.  Lots of very learned and successful writers have made fortunes by sticking to a specific set of guidelines and rarely deviating, but I honestly believe that such strict adherence to these things is hurting the book world.  One of my frustrations with literary agents is that it sometimes doesn't matter if they like a story - they'll pass on it if it breaks one of their sacrosanct rules.

Well, here's some advice I've long thought is garbage:

1.  Start off in the thick of the action!
Yes, there should be a hook to your story, but dropping me in the middle of the action when I have yet to care about the story or the characters does almost nothing for me.  Yet I can't count the times I've heard people say that you have to start with a bang.  The Old Man and the Sea isn't known for its gripping opening, nor is The Red Pony, but both are seen as American classics because they give us characters we care about, and they know how to set the scene.  I believe that readers want to be dazzled, but they can be confused by starting off in the middle of a situation they know nothing about.  To me, a hook isn't always about a chase scene or an opening battle - it can be, but not doing so doesn't ruin the story.  Setting the stage is important for the overall feel of a book.

2.  Limit your perspective.
This is a relatively recent development.  Third person omniscient used to be the preferred style, and it didn't hurt such classics as Charlotte's Web.  However, stories in recent years have eschewed this form for a more narrow perspective.  This can be useful, especially if you're trying to build tension.  However, there are times and stories when readers want insight into every character's thoughts, and locking them out can be unfair.  By trying so hard to create gaps, writers risk eliminating points of view the reader might find illuminating.

3.  Cut, cut, and then cut again.
There are some writers who are too verbose.  However, a lot of agents and publishers ask writers to cut and shorten simply for the sake of doing so.  While this advice has its place, using it as universal is asinine.  Some of the best readers are exceedingly verbose, like Stephen King and JK Rowling, yet nobody tells them to shorten their stuff.  They even have it in their contracts that they have final say over edits, and they can leave in as much as they want.  Yes, by being bestsellers, they've earned this autonomy, but a lot of readers enjoy following their favorite characters and storylines into heretofore unexplored areas.  Unfortunately, in the traditional publishing world, that's rarely allowed, and I think it limits novels, making them into less than they can be.  A writer must, of course, have talent to do this well, but those who suck won't sell anyway, no matter how short their stuff is.  Good writers should have more freedom to provide us with the longer stories we're looking for.  After all, few people claim with a straight face that 11/22/63 or The Dark Tower series is too long.

4.  A writer should stick to one genre.
This one mostly applies to writers who are already published, but it might be the most frustrating.  Publishers try to pigeonhole writers into only writing one kind of story, despite most writers having enough imagination to branch out.  Yes, most have a strength, but that doesn't mean they can't do more.  JK Rowling, William Fortschen, and Stephanie Meyer have all written outside what originally made them famous, and those stories have all done well.  The great thing about the indie market is that the readers can decide if a writer has what it takes in other genres, and if not, those works won't sell.  Writers should be able to branch out, yet those "in the know" like to limit people.  It seems, to me, more a fear of not having a guaranteed bottom line is what prevents them from experimenting, and in doing so, they're missing out on a whole range of possibilities.

This is some of the conventional advice I think stinks.  Do you have any that you think needs to be tossed?

No comments:

Post a Comment