Thursday, March 02, 2006

No rules - oh dearie me

Here we go again, but for the last time for me, at any rate: rather than mislead anyone, I will categorically say that there are creative writing rules - whether they be to do with grammar, pacing, focus, pov, and any other particular skill. If you can't write properly, quite correctly it won't get published. End of (the poorly written) story.

Of course, some people do write good stuff that doesn't get published. May it's just not right for the market at the moment. There is another way, and that's to write for pleasure, so it doesn't matter if it is rubbish or good, but at least you've pleased yourself.

As an 'expert reader' for the HNS, I'm now onto reading my fourth short story. So far, none are publishable, and I'm really looking for reasons to say they're good, as I know how difficult it is to write the b*****s. The main problem with the stories so far: focus, the lack of it. Closely followed by clunky dialogue, and detached/uninteresting lead characters. Also, the latest tale spells the one of the main character's names in two different ways, and is generally poorly edited. Well blimey, I think I've just pointed out stuff that appoximates to rules.

To say there are no rules only encourages people to think that dashing off a story or novel without regard to learning the craft* is acceptable. In fact it's perilously close to saying 'Everyone has a book in them.' Yes, but are they capable of actually writing it?

There are skills involved, and those skills are based on rules (eg. this is what you can do to try for that effect, etc.) or interpretation thereof. May be you're lucky enough not have to actually learn them, but that doesn't mean that the rest of us can do it without thinking hard (and if you're a bear-of-little-brain like me, gosh it hurts) It's almost contravening the Trade Descriptions Act to say there are no rules. No rules implies that no effort to write coherently is required.

There are a few areas of creative writing that I can see don't have rules:

* The story you choose to write (which may or may not be fashionable for the market at the time perhaps, so think carefully if you really want try to get it published; it's a judgement call)
* And the way you choose to put it together (you can choose your approach, but do you have the skills to bring it off in a manner that is competent and appeals? Ah, we're back to the rules again)

Oh, and of course rules are there to be broken, so you can always console yourself with that cute rebellious thought. Sadly, slaveish devotion to the rules doesn't work - as in life, there are too many local variations to keep up with - but awareness of the basic scope of them does actually help your quality of writing and sanity. It's people saying there aren't any rules that pushes me over the edge ;-)

And for those who think it's worth reading rules on occasion, here are Elmore Leonard's very useful Ten Rules of Writing.

btw, for these short stories, I'm keeping notes on the type of story, what's wrong (or even right?) with them, etc., so I can see the 'problem' and other trends. Should be very interesting. Of course, what I'm really looking for is something to knock me wee socks off, that can go to another person for a second reading, and even actually get published. I'll blog it when it happens, but don't hold your breath ...

*There, I've used the word 'craft'; which I think is terribly arty-farty, but actually fits in this case. What have I come to?


At 11:03 pm GMT, Blogger wil said...

Ok...ok...I relent. :-)

I agree that there are certain basic rules regarding grammar, spelling, pacing, pov, etc. (most of which, as you said, can be bent/broken) - especially when it comes to writing for the current marketplace (which is what most of are doing, I assume).

But, in my experience, most "rules of writing" are either too vague to be of much use (ex: "keep your story interesting") or nothing more than personal opinion (ex: "never use the word 'suddenly'").

And I hate the idea that some "expert" is going to tell me the rules to follow in order to write well. Forget that. The rules, as they exist in my mind, are based on observation, instinct, and lots and lots of practice.

Also, I certainly didn't mean to suggest that good writing is easy or that anyone can do it well. Far from it!

- Wil

"There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." - W. Somerset Maugham

At 12:43 pm GMT, Blogger Alex Bordessa said...

Yeah, I nearly put that no one knows the rules for certain! Me *and* Somerset Maugham, eh? But I didn't think it was helpful, and again might be construed as encouragement to not bother with trying to learn any of yer actual writing skills. And I'm NOT having that (stamps foot, again)


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