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Nobody should have their illusions shattered

The title of this item is of course a quotation from the first chapter of my novel. Well, that's the usual signature feature of my writing out of the way.

Such sentiments expressed in my writing are unsurprisingly often my own, so I wonder just how warily I should tread within these forums, being an elderly self-opinionated fellow but a novice writer. I read the many threads here about the rites of passage towards better writing, whether on specific subjects or the ordeal in general, and wonder from whence the authority concerning this better writing arises.

For example someone mentioned that Stephen King advises against excessive use of adverbs, but I would imagine that he is an acclaimed author because people enjoy the stories that he tells, not because of the frequency of adverbs in them. I don't read his work because the stories themselves don't appeal to me no matter how well written, so I cannot judge. To my mind it doesn't follow that imitating the idiosyncrasies of acclaimed writers necessarily aids one's own progress. In place of this where is the scientific statistical research that bears out the rules of thumb of good writing through controlled experiments?

Where do the guidelines on better writing originate then if not from there? Is there some quasi-religious sect who determine such things? Will initiates eventually be accepted into it and learn the secret handshakes so that they may smirk at us novices alongside their brethren? Is the self-flagellation really so essential just to the telling of a story?

I just had a story to tell, even if that did involve a great deal of showing as well, and I used my skills in the English language to the best of my ability, which has served me well for far more serious purposes throughout my life. The few people who have read my novel fall into two categories, those who read it all and enjoyed it, even to the extent of recommending it to colleagues, and those who gave up reading it early on. There was the good friend who observed "I don't like the way that it is written but I'll go on reading it just to find out what happens." I haven't heard from him since so don't know which category he's in now. Anyway it's just a story; maybe the only reason for reading it is to find out what happens, but maybe it isn't.

Now torn between joining this quasi-religious sect and simply sharing my story I wonder if I am alone. While buying a couple of books in Waterstones recently I discussed the trend towards self-publishing with the assistant, who observed "Well we're still here so far." Nevertheless it does appear that there is the possibility of a substantial schism between the story tellers and readers on the one hand and the literature writers and readers on the other.

I spent my working life in software development and have seen a parallel schism there. Computer software can be developed as a marketable product in its own right but it also occurs as a by-product when organisations or individuals need it for their own purposes. For example a film-maker might develop CGI software for their own specific use but then choose to give it away to others just in case they can find a use for it. There might be no support or even instructions on how to use it, but it could still be beneficial to some. On the other hand some people clearly gain considerable income from developing such software to be sold. In some areas such as word processing the free market seriously threatens the commercial market, which may never recover. Equally it appears that in literature there are now those who produce stories perhaps solely for their own amusement, peace of mind or vanity and the commercial aspect is of little significance to them. There is also evidence that there is a market for these twopenny-ha'penny scribblings regardless of the finer points of good writing. Does this mean that society's habits in reading may be dividing or were they always so?

If there are any high priests to this once all-powerful perceived quasi-religion then they must be within the publishing industry, but those people are simply doing what they must to survive, slicing out the modal profitable portion of the spectrum of available work and leaving behind that which falls below their good writing threshold or above their intellectual browline. No doubt to this end they have to rely on fast track filtering techniques such as synopses and computerised analysis of full texts, anything but sitting and reading the story in full and in depth to determine whether it is good in itself. That is of course an unfair exaggeration but probably still a valid observation to some extent. Faced with those hurdles to overcome no wonder many writers would rather go straight to a primary measure of success, an available forum of readers, by self-publishing rather than learning all the skills required in hurdling possibly artificial secondary measures.

In this context I have no personal illusions to be shattered. I have offered what I have written to a few others in case they might gain enjoyment from it and all that the experience can satisfy in me is my curiosity, but I wonder how these experiences of the world of writing affect others.

I suppose that I am now expected to incorporate a little jocularity in everything that I write, so I must not disappoint on this occasion. I am always amused to see on TV reports of American children studiously tackling the ordeal of spelling competitions at the highest level. As an Englishman I wonder in what way being able to spell the American way is considered an achievement. To be fair there's no absolute right or wrong about it so why use it to persecute them? Maybe I feel about the rules of "good" writing in the same way. Why persecute the good story tellers with them?

Comments

It's just recommended to learn the rules before you break them.

I don't think I could get into programming. The mos I ever learned was xhtml. Is that even what it's called? I forget the name I guess. Web page code, anyway. Haha.

So I could make a half-assed web site if I wanted to. I want to create games but it's too time consuming.

It is quite saddening that, as things become easier to create and more readily available, people who do it for a living are suddenly out of jobs. I think it has a lot to do with the internet coming about. ;)

A good third of what I write is pretty out of left field, the other two thirds I try to follow the rules.

But one day I may smash those rules to pieces and shatter the fourth wall. :D

Wonderful post, Rob.
 
Rob,
Life's dilemmas eh?
I so want to respond but......


For me, writing just a short essay even, that might be read and enjoyed by others seems way off. But i can see the point of at least going some way towards learning the rules in the hope that one's writings might make a better read, and then, i get what you're saying about the story.

Oh i don't know.

Regards,

dither............
 
The whole process of getting published seems like such an awful process that I'd rather self-publish. I always wonder if there are books that are successful after being self-published and marketed by the author. I read a range of "literature" and one who does will be able to identify a good book. I guess through a kind of grassroots movement, the words get-out about the book. People will recommend it to one another, until it gets picked up for some kind of notoriety. I have also been a beta-reader and only once did I really like the book I was given. I just recently was part of a beta-team for a local author and I couldn't get through the second half of the book. So, as a reader, I say, pay attention to your beta-readers, because this is how your audience will respond in the 'real-world'. Anyway, I assume you know all these things, just responding. Nicely written blog post!
 
Escorial: Thanks, but asking lots of questions isn't insight when they aren't rhetorical. I really need someone to answer them, not just snigger behind their hands.

Crowley: Thanks. I accept a rule when the reason for it makes sense to me, but so many of the rules of writing seem to be based on jelly in the sun. My writing experience comes from years of conveying information to people accurately and that included several solicitors, who can really tear your words to shreds when their hackles are raised. I've actually made a half-assed website but if you examine the HTML behind it you'll discover that it's primitive. What matters is the overall impression, which is all about layout, integration of text and images ... why am I telling you this? You're the artist, not me.

Dither: Size doesn't matter much. In my recent writing I'm most proud of my latest six word poem. How many rules are needed for that? I can even repeat it here with very little effort. I didn't even know that anyone might appreciate my poetry until I posted a few poems here as a joke.

Casual meeting,
Fleeting greeting,
Both retreating.

That sort of thing happens to us often, but who'd trouble to write a poem about it? Six words though, no trouble.

Tina: My beta readers seem to leave the planet soon after receiving a copy of my novel and I seldom get any feedback from them. I am starting to suspect that the ultra-secret organisation that I've written about isn't fictional at all and they're taking steps to ensure that I don't publish. That's odd because I never believed that the truth is out there.
 
Tina: Do you mean that you already hate what you've seen or that you might having seen more? Fair criticism is not hate and all's fair in literary criticism probably.

For those who need any compromise on the issue of rules, I should point out that one's age is a significant factor. For someone just past seventeen with a list of things to do in life and the potential to earn money therefrom, learning the rules thoroughly may well pay off. For someone like myself just past seventy with just as big a list and much less time to cover it it may be appropriate to ignore the rules and rob the bank figuratively speaking. My disrespect for the rules and indeed my writing may be almost criminal to some eyes but as we get older we need more reason to do things, like getting out of bed even, let alone counting our adverbs. When we say "What's the point?" it's not a rhetorical question.
 

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