(Side note: Whoever typed Xcalumkin into a search engine, I love you. On a further digression – in college I was writing a paper about a Mayan hieroglyph that’s only found at that site and, for various life reasons, I was about to turn in the paper over a year after it was due when I decided to do some last-minute research. And what did I find? An academic article in Spanish deciphering that very glyph that had been published six months before. Put me back to square one. But at least I knew I’d reached the “right” conclusion with as much as I’d written.)
I was going to be original this morning, but PCW had such a good post this morning that I decided to hell with it and am going to share her post instead. (I do have some original thoughts below if you were craving my brilliance this morning.)
If you’re a writer or a reader you should read this: Eight million or so
A few choice quotes:
“Ideally, of course, one would have it all: ideas and worldbuilding and plot and character growth and a hero’s journey and chocolate cake with ice cream and sprinkles. But sometimes, that’s not the story you’re telling, and something has to be left at the bare minimum standard.”
“Putting in things – even really basic story elements – that a story doesn’t need is a good way of ending up with a jumbled mess that nobody will enjoy reading.”
“There are hundreds of SF novels published every year; why insist that all of them do the same things in the same way? I don’t see any value in trying to turn the eight million stories into eight million versions of the same story. It kind of defeats the purpose of having eight million stories in the first place.”
I realize I quote PCW here a lot. And there’s a reason. First, she posts regularly and she posts about writing. A lot of the writer’s blogs I’ve found are intermittently updated or focus on other issues rather than the craft of writing. (I love Scalzi’s blog, but he rarely talks about craft.) (And wow, I feel a little pretentious using the word craft.)
The other reason I often share posts from PCW is because she “gets it.” She gets that there isn’t “one true way.” I see way too much discussion on writers’ forums about “what’s the right way to do X?” Where X is viewpoint, tense, chapter length, use of adjectives, etc., etc.
Answer: THERE ISN’T ONE.
There are basic skills that I think most writers should master: Apostrophe usage, spelling, formatting, how to structure a comprehensible sentence. (Still working on that last one myself…) Beyond that it’s about writing a story that readers connect with. And that all depends on the story and the readers.
Look at Les Miserables. If there was ever an info dump in a novel, it’s in Les Mis. The characters flee into the sewer, their lives in danger – what now? Well, let’s stop and discuss the history of the sewers of Paris, shall we?
Personally, I loved those info dumps. (I also never finished reading the novel, unfortunately.) Les Mis would not be Les Mis without those ridiculous digressions.
But if Victor Hugo were writing a book today he’d go to some writers’ forum and be told – “You have to cut this chapter! Look how you interrupt the action. Oh my gosh. This is bad.”
And yes, yes, I know there’s this whole discussion around being “publishable.” And, yes, most of the times in life you are better off following the rules and being one of the cows in the herd. (There’s a reason people follow traditional paths after all. They tend to work.)
There is power in following your own path. There is magic in seeing the world in a new way that is unique to you. Look around and you will see that many of the most successful people were people who stepped away from the crowd and tried something new.
It doesn’t always work. When you take the path less traveled there’s always a risk of getting lost in the woods and starving to death.
But there’s also the possibility of going somewhere no one else was capable of going or willing to go. So, listen to what others have to say, but follow your gut. Do what works for you. If you want to write a second person novel using future tense, go for it. I wouldn’t do that. But maybe you’re the person to pull it off. Or maybe it will teach you something about writing in other viewpoints or tenses that you can only learn this way.
No one. And that’s the point.
(And added bonus thought: What worked yesterday may not be what works tomorrow…)