Most obvious observation ever

There isn’t actually a “right” way to write. Even spelling, grammar and punctuation can be massacred for the appropriate reasons. Half of the characters in the Redwall series speak with an accent so heavy, Brian Jacques just made up his own spelling. Stephen King has a short story in Nightmares and Dreamscapes where the mental and physical capacity of a character degenerates to the point that his retelling of events becomes indecipherable gibberish. It’s my favourite story in the collection and never fails to make me cry.

Then there is slang and invented language, which doesn’t have any fair rules to break. It’s true that using slang or modern language will “date” a story, but so does proper terminology. I have been accused far too many times of writing, and also speaking, with archaic words, like they can somehow lose their meaning given enough time? I suppose so, but communication is all shaky ground anyway.

Things like this are the reason why so many people say rules were made to be broken. Because there’s always at least one instance of where a cardinal rule has been so completely disregarded with such amazing skill that you can’t imagine that work being written any other way. If there’s no clearly defined “right” way to throw words at a page, how do we know when we’re doing a good job?

Different people want different things from their reading. Some people like ongoing description that tells you every last thing about a place. I once counted twelve consecutive pages in a book solely of description regarding the landscape and farming in the locale, and absolutely nothing happened in all that time except a lot of info-dumping. This was in a very popular and successful author’s book, too. So some people like it when you’re wordy and droning. Others like sharp, fast-paced writing, where the sentences are short and punchy and there’s no real downtime in the story.

Each genre also has quirks that make a story “suit” the general target audience. Where you might be able to get away with a rushed description of a character in one genre because other things are more important to the story, you could find another genre that practically requires lengthy, gushing language about the people in the book.

So I come back to the question, how do we know when we’re doing it right? Take a look at any top selling books list and you’ll find titles such as The Lord of the Rings, The Da Vinci Code, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Gone With the Wind, The Chronicles of Narnia, And Then There Were None, Black Beauty, Twilight, Harry Potter, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Wheel of Time, Lolita, Discworld, it goes on and on. What do these stories have in common, beside being written works? They are vastly different books with varying degrees of appeal to every individual. They all did something right, but that right thing for each story (or series) was almost unique to itself.



5 thoughts on “Most obvious observation ever

  1. I think you pose a very intresting idea, as a writer myself I am always worrying if ‘I am doing it right’. Normally I compare myself to some of my favourite authors and to some of my least favourite authors. I always come up short when trying to pinpoint the defining factors that make them great or not so.
    The truth is its a matter of taste and a matter of state of mind. When I am looking for a little chill out time I go for a less descriptive, fast paced novel (Twilight). When I am craving to be stimulated I reach for something more desciptive and classic (Frankenstein).
    Very intresting blog!

    1. Thank you, and welcome! I definitely agree, it’s largely about someone’s state of mind when they choose to read something. A person isn’t going to always be interested in reading a character-driven novel, just like sometimes an action-packed story might be “too much” to take at the time.


  2. Add to this the fact that as writers, we spend a lot of time within our own heads, so it’s sometimes hard to craft something and really understand how a reader is going to interact with it. (Because readers are way more forgiving and interested than writers are as a group. Writers say, “You can’t do that,” and readers say, “That was different. I see what you were trying to do there.”)

    That’s why I like sharing stories online. It helps me know how readers will react and take things, so I can know if I’m doing something wrong– and a lot of the time I do! As soon as I start to think I’m a high and mighty writer, able to do it all and feed my story by spoon to readers, someone will comment with a question about what confused them. Then I know I screwed up and have to find a way in the next installments to answer those questions I somehow missed.

    1. Very true. Readers definitely have a different experience with a story than the writer (and other writers) do. Then we encounter the problem of trying to please everyone (which we already know is impossible!), or someone has a really specific preconceived notion about how an event should pan out, or what would be an appropriate outcome… It’s complicated! But we can get so stuck in our heads. I sometimes struggle with the amount of details I should share about characters; I know so much more about them that isn’t relevant to the story I’m telling. I tend to over-share sometimes, but then there are moments where you do want a little window into a person that maybe shows why they feel or act a certain way. Writing is a mad juggling act.


  3. In the senior capstone seminar for my Theatre major, we had to, over the course of the semester, develop & revise our personal artistic manifestos or mission statements. I made a point of clarifying that mine was a mission statement, not a manifesto, because the latter sets limits to be obeyed, while the former sets goals to be exceeded. Indeed, my mission statement was all about multimodalism, about focusing on execution over form, about changing styles to suit a particular work, rather than changing every work to fit the same style.

    As I’ve mentioned before, I create for half a dozen different mediums; if I tried to do them all the same way, most would fail. But beyond that, I also mix things up within each medium, because not every idea I have is a wacky postmodern action-mystery or a satirical parodic gallows musical or a wild absurdist romp or a reverse-acrostic poem or a loose rock jam.

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