You can read it here if you want, but basically he was saying that some of the most dearly held writing ‘rules’ are bunk.
You don’t have to agree with what he said, or the way he said it (just read the comment trail for proof) but I think there is a really important message in what he was saying that the more ranty commenters have missed.
It’s this: Story Trumps Tools.
The ‘rules’, such as they are, are there to help you tell a better story. They are useful only insofar as they help you do that. If they do, use ’em. If they don’t, ignore ’em.
Let’s take ‘show don’t tell’ as an example, since it’s one he mentions and one I have talked about at some length on this blog.
‘Show, don’t tell’ is a tool for making descriptions more vivid for the reader. That’s all it is. It’s not a God-given writer edict. It’s a tool.
The question you ask yourself, as a writer, when you are looking at your scene, is, how can I make this scene, these people, these feelings, come alive in the reader’s mind? How can I present what is happening here so that they don’t read about the emotions, but experience them? How can I make them hold their breath in the suspenseful bits, cry in the sad bits and laugh in the funny bits?
If ‘showing’ helps you do that, then show away. If you’ve already ‘shown’ and you need more oomph, then maybe pull out some other tool from your writerly toolbox and try that. But if you have ‘told’ and it’s still working, then leave it alone.
Because – bear with me here – there is something that is more important than how you arrange the words on the page.
Now, as a lover of a beautifully-turned phrase and an English graduate, steeped in the classic prose of many generations, this took me a while to get, so if you are hyperventilating now, I understand. But here’s the scoop:
Story Trumps Everything.
Every word you put on the page, every tool you use, every idea you have; they all exist to serve the story. If you tell a good story, your reader won’t care if you tell your socks off. If you make them care about your characters, they won’t give a toss what point of view you use or even, much as I hate to admit it, if you can’t spell.
(Although if your stuff gives an editor a migraine it won’t get to a reader. Use spellcheck. Proof-read. Please. Don’t bring our profession into disrepute with people who CAN spell.)
So here’s my writerly advice for today. Trust your story. Concentrate on that. Make it a story only you can tell. There are no new stories, only new storytellers. Reach deep down into your gut, dive deep into your own knowledge of the world and come back and tell us what you know. Tell a story that is as unique, as vibrant, as different as you are. That’s what we want to read.
And if you are having trouble getting that wisdom onto the page, then, by all means, consult the manuals, do the classes and try on the tools that have worked for others. If they help you to make your story shine, use them and don’t listen to anyone who tells you not to.
But if your story shines without them, don’t listen to anyone who says you HAVE to use any of them. Your vibrant way of telling may be completely different from someone else’s, but if it works for the readers, that’s what matters.
I would put one caveat on this, and that is that you really do need at least a sound knowledge of the rules of grammar, syntax and yes (in spite of what I said above) spelling. It’s very hard to communicate anything well without them. If you don’t have those, find a course, or a good professional editor or tutor who can teach you. Your story deserves it.
But the ‘rules’ that say you can’t have more than one point of view in a scene, or you shouldn’t ‘tell’ or any of the other myriad things that can bog you down and frighten you into writer’s block? I poke my tongue out at them. As the wonderful Deb Dixon would say, ‘you can do whatever you want, as long as you do it brilliantly.’
In other words, don’t let the tools get in the way of a good story.
YOUR good story.
The image above is from the lovely folks at Free Digital Photos.net