In the world of writing, there have been a number of both social and technological changes which have led to quite an increase in the number of new writers out there.
Now, let's start by saying that we don't consider this a bad thing; more power to everyone, live your dream, my friends, vivé le revolucion!
I am, after all, one of this legion of the soon to be unbelievably famous and successful authors, belovéd and read by millions across the world. I actually am, believe me, it's not going to happen if I don't believe that..
There are, however, a number of trends which have followed in the wake of this great rampantness of writers (I think I might use that one again somewhere; Group Noun, a Rampantness of Writers....I also love the alliteration) which I consider to be less salubrious;
The Rules of Writing
There have emerged a number of "experts" who are advising the new influx of aspiring writers, helping them along what is actually quite a difficult and disorienting path for many. A helping hand is always welcome, especially for those who feel they lack experience.
In my experience, most of these rules are, to be frank, utter tosh. They are useful guidelines but not the ironclad Commandments they are represented as being by many. Let me tackle them one at a time;
Show Don't Tell; Let's be honest, it is our job to spin a narrative, make the possibly mundane exciting and the tale engaging to our readers, this is a given. Nobody is born with the ability to write tight and lead the audience. Some of us have a talent and a skill for it but we all need practise and improvement. We don't need to describe every movement or facial expression our character has in painstaking detail. We need to use our descriptive skills, there's no question of that but we do not want to be Charles Dickens! We're not getting paid by the word like he was, we don't need to make an essay fit the word count. In writing it is about Quality not Quantity. Too much description will kill the pacing of an action scene, for example.
Never Use Passive Voice; It has been suggested, it has been made clear, it is often alluded to and, most of all, avoided. Alright, I think that's quite enough of that for now! My point is that passive voice, like anything, is fine in moderation. Passive voice can be used to express certain moods and sarcasm if used well.
Avoid Adverbs and Adjectives; they're a part of the language and exist for a reason. To completely avoid them would be suspiciously conspicuous in the sparsity of adverbs. Adverbs are tools and clever word choice makes smarter writing and you can, with a well chosen adverb, replace an entire paragraph of useless fluff.
Don't write in Fragments; Why not? Look at Captain Kirk. He's funny. People do not tend to speak in complete and correct sentences unless they're in court or trying to impress someone. Fragments are also useful for speeding up the pace or expressing such emotions of fear and confusion. They are useful in combat scenes especially in my experience. I use them and Grammarly scolds me for it often, as does Word's grammar check. I ignore such protests and write as I know works.
Avoid! Exclamation! Points!; All right, this one can be abused and often is. A forest of exclamation points is off-putting even at the best of times. Social Media and instant messaging are home to many such forests. Once more, though, there is a time and a place. Unless you want everything your characters say to be delivered in a Droopy or Emo Phillips deadpan manner, exclamation points can be useful. One at a time, in my opinion, per sentence.
My point is simple really. You do need to know and abide by rules in order to write well, that is never a matter of opinion. I've had a few arguments with the "grammar is just guidelines and language is evolving" crowd and I reply to them thusly;
You are a professional, have enough pride in your work to do it properly!
If a plumber came to my house to fit a new shower and informed me that, in his opinion, the way people have commonly agreed to install pipes, etc. in order to avoid the leakage of water is part of an outdated and stale system which he no longer needs to follow...well, I'd ask him to either follow said rules or I will seek an alternative trades-person.
The famous maxim of "first learn the rules, then learn how to break them with intent" is true and relevant, let me deal with the accusations of hypocrisy I am surely getting now.
Rules of language are essential but rules of style are optional.
Your style is your style. Each writer is known for their style and, if we all adhere to the supposed accepted standard of what writers must follow, everyone will essentially be writing the same way.
In my opinion, we really don't want that.
Genre and Audience Targeting
Now, before genre writers object, before fan fiction lovers complain, I will exempt you from this section. Fair?
I'm talking about the general feel that certain types of story must have certain components in order to conform to what is expected for certain genres. Conversely, we have a number of currently popular and fashionable genres which people are encouraged to cater to in order to 'gain traction' as a new writer.
I object to this mostly strongly because I feel this stifles your creativity. My job, I feel, is not to fit my story into a specific genre, my job is to, should the genre not exist for my work, to create that genre myself. Let me give examples;
J.K. Rowling; When she wrote Harry Potter and the Etc. of Magical Chosen Ones, the genre didn't actually exist. It was a bit of Fantasy, it was a bit YA, it was somewhat Speculative Fiction. It had Coming of Age, High School and so forth also. Now there are a number of people writing in that particular genre of whatever it might be called, I didn't bother to check.
Stephanie Mayer; Everyone who knows me knows that I'm not a fan of what she created, of that particular genre, I'm an old school Vampire Lestat kind of vampire fan. I don't like the pouty sparkle fairies with Mary Sue tendencies but you've got to recognise the success she's enjoyed and the serious achievement that entails. Dark fantasy, YA, Speculative, Coming of Age, Magical Realism, etc. she combined them all.
I could give more examples but this article is already rather long so I'll restrain myself. I've got quite a long way to go yet.
The point is this, you write your story as your story must be written. Don't limit it force artificial constraints on it, please.
The same goes for the next part, as these two sections are mutually exclusive but are better explained separately.
Yes, I am talking inclusivity.
Now, I am not a boomer (I'm Gen X, thank you, or at least I was before they starting moving the goalposts about), I'm phobic of nothing except dying unexpectedly, and I do indeed have real and actual friends and family that belong to several different minorities.
I don't hate on anyone or think that they have any less rights than me due to their politics, gender (birth or chosen), race, opinion, lifestyle choices, physique, whom they love or feel attracted to, or anything they have no more control over than the colour of their eyes. I don't care what you are, I care how you behave as a human being, it's that simple.
Now, we - thankfully - live in a world of equal opportunity for all types of person, a world where discriminating against any type of person for who they are in completely unacceptable. This is good.
There is a writer associated side-effect, however, of this great shift in social paradigm; inclusion.
Now, if a character's sexuality, gender identity, race, or any such factor is important to who they are in relation to the story then no problem. What I object to is what I call "shoe-horning in the tokens".
Come with me here...
You might recall the 80's and the 90's when we had the sad proclivity to add a token; the only person who was not white, heterosexual or so forth in the entire program, possible the entire city or planet on which that show took place. Now, such inclusion is great, it removes the unfamiliarity factor and stops minorities being seen as alien beings other people are afraid of.
Worse than a lack of inclusion, though, is the forced inclusion, the tokens. Why? It's simple, many of these token characters where quite often stereotypical representations of their minority or very poor ones. They actually served to reinforce rather than shatter the stereotype which did members of those communities no service at all.
The same applies to a worrying trend I am seeing inside the writing groups of Facebook and Twitter. People feel they have to include LGBTQIA characters, characters of as many ethnicities as possible, people of alternate beliefs and lifestyles...no, no, no!
Now we can circle round here to the tired old (and purposefully ignored in my earlier list because it's just a stupid statement) of "you only write what you know" but I ask you this; if you have not lived, experienced or understood what it is like to be person who is no part of what the Caucasian middle-class of society considers to be 'the norm' , could you represent a person of said community with accuracy?
Let me ask you this also; how do you feel about stereotypes in reference to the group you belong to? Think on that for a moment...
I'm Irish; I drink very moderately, I dislike fighting and do no have an "aye diddly-I" accent. I dislike the Lucky Charms Leprechaun with an intense passion and also some of the very fake Irish accents I have seen in entertainments of various kinds. I am also a cis-male and have always believed in women being treated the same as me and, in my life, I do so to all the women I have beside me. I am white and my wife is Dominican, my children are rather mixed racially indeed. I am quite eccentric for a supposedly neurotypical man and have an autistic son whose level of function depends on the day.
I am not typical. There is no 'normal'. In fact, I have seen in this world we share where hate is seen as more acceptable than it once was, that those who do the hating seem to be those that least conform to the ideals of 'normal' specific to their apparent grouping.
Nobody likes stereotypes, not even those upon whom the stereotypes were based; them least of all!
So...my point is...?
I think it's obvious.
You do not have to include characters from certain communities in your work if they don't need to be there. You don't need to include just to include. You can write a book with no black characters in it. You can have have a story made up of only heterosexual cis-gendered people. There are no laws against it and people will still read it.
Here's the big shocker; it doesn't matter what you write, how you write it, what you write it about, and who's in it; you are going to offend someone. You are not going to please everyone. Someone may well complain about your book or characters. Someone will criticise your work or review it badly. There's no escaping it. None.
So, what was the point of this long article, then?
You tell me...ok, ok, I shan't just leave it there, that'd be silly and petty wouldn't it?
I never intended to, don't worry. I do, indeed, have a point or few here. I have several.
The most important one is this one; you write what you want and your passion drives you to write. Don't fell you have to change it because of what one person or a small group of people might think or possibly be offended by. Just don't.
Don't think you have to comply to a series of supposedly inviolable rules touted about by people who are, to be fair, no more successful than you are. Those who are insisting that "this is the only way" are telling you what their way is.
Here's the scary part; I've spoken to famous authors and consider myself fairly friendly with a couple and do you know what the consensus of the advice they've given me is?
It isn't 'follow those writing rules'.
It is not 'make sure you check all the boxes for your chosen genre'.
Nobody has told me to 'write to make as many people unoffended as possible.'
Nope, they have more or less told me to find my passion and write about it. Write with my heart, my soul, my every breath into it and then, when I think it's great, make it better. Don't worry about what's out there now, worry about what's going to be out there soon - you.
None of these authors wrote what was expected, none of them conformed or followed any rules apart from those of language and grammar, all of them invented and improvised quite heavily in order to establish their style.
In closing, I leave you with this; every possible story has already been written, if you want to stand out, you need to write it like it has never been written before.