What Not To Write

I generally don’t like reading about what not to write. It’s far too easy to pile on with lists of what writers should “never” do, especially when the next bestselling novel you read will be packed full of these supposed errors. Very often, authors use style-busters (can’t think of what else to call it) to excellent effect, at least when they are confident and in control.

Still, I find it useful to force myself into reading posts, blogs, and threads about writing issues, especially when grammar and punctuation are being highlighed. It’s good to be reminded about the basics while keeping in mind that the rules can be broken, as long as you have a reason other than ignorance.

Today I came across a thread started by Cat Rambo, an author from Washington, asking for pet editing peeves. The responders stuck to the basic aggravations such as too many commas, too few commas, too many adjectives and adverbs. It makes me wonder though, how to apply these basic concepts to actual writing so a novice writer can comprehend them? One of the comments contained a link to a blog by Randy Henderson containing a story titled “The Most Epicly Awesomest Story Ever!”

The title alone contains enough errors to inform readers that Henderson’s tongue was planted in his cheek when he wrote it. But follow the link and read the story, then read the comments. It is interesting to see how many readers took him to task for his writing, even feeling the need to critique the story. It’s hard to know if he triggered a defensive reaction among people who are writing their own fantasy saga about a farmer’s son who is The One, or possible backlash from readers who just don’t like to be messed with and resent  being taken in briefly. (Yes, I know long convoluted sentences are against the rules.)

I don’t believe that any trope is done to death, including the Hero’s Quest. Vampires, zombies, and shape-shifters appear to be done into the ground, and yet the best book I read this past year is “The Passage” by Justin Cronin. Describing this novel sounds like a mishmash of all the current fiction trends: vampires breeding like flies, genetic engineering,dystopian future, population in peril, elements of mysticism. But Cronin spins a fresh take on vampires and dystopia so that his story is engaging and suspenseful.

If you have a story that you want to write, it doesn’t matter if it falls into a category that feels overdone. The important thing is to write it with your own vision and create characters that feel fresh. Then make sure your prose is free of cliches and common writing tics, which will mire any story, no matter how original, into reading like an epicly awesome adventure story. In other words, read the rules and discard what ones you must — but have a reason for ignoring them.



What Not To Write — 3 Comments

  1. “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift had people in an uproar in 1729 … so many did not get the irony.

  2. “If you have a story that you want to write, it doesn’t matter if it falls into a category that feels overdone. The important thing is to write it with your own vision and create characters that feel fresh.”

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this, Maggie. My biggest pet peeve from critiquers (whether they’re critting my story or someone else’s) is “This has been done before.”

    *Everything* has been done before. I’m not big on spouting Bible passages, but Ecclesiastes was written more than two thousand years ago, and even then, they’d been there, done that.

    “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
    Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’?
    It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.” (Ecc. 1.9-10)

    Like you say, what matters is the fresh perspective that a new author can bring even the tiredest-seeming ideas.

    • Yes, everything has done before. But has it been done my way? I think that everything I touch is a little weird.

      So… Instead of “What Not to Write”, I propose we call this, “Write Anyway!”