Or the self-appointed Gatekeepers of the writing world.
#randomthought for the day.
The more I spend time which should really be devoted to writing or, at least, WIP related activities, the more I see what I, personally, consider to be a quite insidious and, perhaps insipid intruder into the world of the aspiring writer; a virus if you like.
Like a virus, it is shared with new users who then come to believe it as truth and, once they complete what might be considered their 'apprenticeship', they go on to pass this sage advice onto the next inquiring new member of that group. Or perhaps other groups...
One forgets that opinions and rules are two entirely different things.
I refer to, of course, the much vaulted "Rules" of writing which are so commonly referred to as gospel to us all. To be frank (or perhaps Steve for a moment), I find them disproportionately irritating and, am ashamed to admit, find myself compelled to compose the odd diatribe when I see a decent fledgling writer get his or her (or zis,zer, schmer or their) much agonised over virgin piece taken apart by the always hungry and rabid jaws of the what I amusingly (to myself at least) call the Writing Paladins.
Obviously (to some), I do not refer to those who may throw the odd curse, blessing, occasional exorcism or general combat magic at people. I refer to those who are rigid, unwavering Crusaders for the Cause of Writing Right! (Exclamation mark added as place-holder for self-righteous, suitably heroic gesture). I refer to those to whom all writing must follow "The Rules" without exception.
They never seem to ask where these "Rules" actually came from or who decided they are worthy of transitioning from 'ideas' or 'opinions' into 'rules'. Nobody asked me, for a start but, then, I am pretty much used to that by now, after four decades of my great wisdom being unfairly ignored or maligned.
I don't mind....really...it's ok...*sniff*
I digress...that's against the rules too.
So, to the meat (or meat-substitute, let's remember not to offend anyone) of the matter then?
The - aha - Rules...
(add dramatic music of your choice)
1). Never tell, always show. Well...someone may well have told Charles Dickens about that one. Either that or he was intensely focussed on how magazines would pay him by the instalment so the longer the book....(historical note: in Dicken's day it was common for books to be serialised by specialist magazines, one chapter at a time, before being published as a whole book...you see, Wattpad isn't a new idea, just a new format). I agree that exercising one's narrative muscles and nuances of story-telling are fine and wonderful goals of which regular practise is required and encouraged. Judiciously though, just like with everything else, right? I dismiss the SDT (show don't tell) crowd as the "I need to make my book longer" á la Charles "I need a more regular source of money" Dickens et al.
2). Chapters must be of a certain length/no more than this many pages/of uniform length. I'll keep this one simple; rubbish, piffle, and balderdash! I have 5 page chapters, I have 15 page chapters, I have 19 page chapters, even a two page chapter so haha! Fie, sir/madam/other, fie!
3). Write what you know. hahahahahhahahahahahahah *cough* hahahahahhaha *sniff* hahaha...etc. I suppose I am personally acquainted with angels, demons, half-breeds, and have been to both Heaven and Hell personally then. I have fought in battles, been stabbed and shot, travelled in an experimental class of submarine which (to my knowledge) doesn't exist yet, and travelled back in time to places which may or may not have been as history tells us they were. If all writers were to follow that advice the entire genres of Fantasy and Sci-Fi (as well as - haha - Memoir...uh uh, thin ice there, Fisher...sorry, SOME of the venre of Memoirs) would die overnight! I correct it to Write What Excites You! What are your passions, your favourite subjects and themes, those things which matter to you most? They'll find their way into your writing quite naturally anyway but don't exclude them.
4). Choose one POV and stick to it/Don't Even look at the 4th Wall. Ok, OK. Deadpool. Terry Pratchett. To those who understand those references, enough said. To everyone else (or simply because I enjoy talking so, even if you do understand it, I am continuing), it depends on whether you do it well and how often you do it. I developed (at least I think I did, I might have copied it from somewhere and not realised it) in my short-stories-which-became-chapters (of The Preludes of Enoch, see it on Amazon, my website, etc. etc.) of starting the story in the 1st person. I would have this unidentified person describe our shared journey through the exposition (or set up) of the scene in which the action was about to take place in the present tense. We would then switch the 3rd person past tense once the first character speaks. I thought it was like the camera sweeping down on the scene was we dropped in on events. I turned out to be quite popular as it happens so, there you go.
My take on this one is experiment. Write it, play with it then read it out loud. If it sounds stilted or unnatural, revise but let me give this its own separate line....
YOU ARE AN ARTIST AND GOOD ARTISTS PUSH BOUNDARIES!!
I think that deserves caps and a whole two exclamation marks because, for me, it cannot be stressed enough to new writers. If artists never bent, broke or experimented with the rules, then we'd still be painting oddly proportioned animals on the walls of caves.
Art is about innovation, about personal expression and about breaking boundaries. The role (in my ever so humble though oft-expressed opinion) of a good writer is to help readers break away from the repetitious mundanity of their lives. That is why this 'virus' is so, in that opinion of mine again, dangerous.
Rules to which every writer supposedly must adhere strictly will create bodies of work which will simply be bloodless clones of one another. It's bad enough that the market is saturated with certain genre tropes I will not name (if you know me, you know which ones they are) and the suffocating uniformity that brings with it. To be told that one must not innovate, that one must conform, one must adhere strictly to a model?
One would cease to be an artist were that so. One's work, as a result, would lack passion in it's grey mundanity. Nobody would read it or those that did would simply 'meh' and move on to the next one in the choice between fifty-thousand shades of dark white (or light black) in a row.
You want to be great? Then (I'm trying desperately not to sound cliched or like a motivational speaker but I have failed) Dare to be Different (TM)(C)!! If it works then run with it. If it fails then pick it up, dust it off, revise, re-try and learn. There is no magical doorway, there is no quick fix, there are no simple and easy solutions, not everything is easy or even possible to fix. It is our job to make reader think there are for at least a short time but we must remember that real life isn't strictly like that.
That is, I think, where all these rules came from. To convince us new writers that it's easy; learn and practise these rules, have some good ideas, pay this person to do this, learn from this course and that. Give me x amount of your local currency to learn the Secret. It's all a con really, there are no shortcuts.
To use a metaphor. you don't compose a masterpiece by copying everyone else's songs (although that does happen an awful lot these days, apparently). You invent something new. Use this, please, as the example. Think of one of the popularly acclaimed or your personal choice of a "Great" song. Notice one thing, no other song achieved what it did for you. It was different and like no song before it, right?
It will be a long and hard journey paved with the broken pieces of failed ideas and experiments but .- just like simply walking into a gym and miming the actions of people around you won't get you that super body you wanted (and grave robbery is illegal, apparently) - copying other writers or conforming to what have been determined by blind committee to be the Rules will not get you a best-seller.
Now, don't get me wrong, rules such as grammar, spelling, and proper use of the language you're writing in are not to be, in that oh-so-humble opinion of mine, part of another trend gaining some traction today; to be seen as opcional, expressing your style through spelling words badly. Be individual, stand out and find your voice. Do not mimic other people's. Learn from them, by all means, we all must learn.
But do not let their voice drown out yours and let no-one (through their own insecurities) stifle your voice. Hone it, perfect it, be proud of it.