More rules, you say. Yes, and they are probably also wrong. What is true is that editors like to find excuses to reject, and it's better not to give them any. On the other hand, they aren't always right.
I personally believe that the surest way to stay unpublished is to read books like "how not to write novels..." and other writers' guides.
The only rule I have noticed in all the novels I have read is that they are grammatically sound. Some novels have grammatical errors I am sure, but humans being fallible beings, that is to be expected.
I have read some award-winning stories that were simply amazing in their grammatical simplicity. People who discourage elaborate prose tend to favor such overly simple styles that belie the term "creative writing."
I like writing that exudes sophistication and a manageable level of complexity. I also enjoy skillfully rendered elaborate prose. So if I was judging a competition with an entry that featured skillfull, elaborate prose, that writer would have a healthy chance of winning.
Learn about writing novels from reading novels, that's what I say. And stay away from writer's guides. I wouldn't even buy a guide written by Steven King, because I don't think the actual qualities that made him successful are teachable.
If the people writing these guides really knew the secret to getting published, they would be writing novels enchanting to agents and publishers rather than how-to/how-not-to guides.
I totally concur, Pate. People waste way too much money and time on "how to write" books, when they could be reading and learning from those who do write. And, of course, they could be writing.
I don't think it hurts for someone completely new to this to read at least one book or take a class to learn the basics of plot structure, character and dialogue, etc. But read a couple of those and stop--any more of that type of reading is overkill, IMO.
You mentioned Stephen King and I've heard his book, ON WRITING, is superb. But I still haven't read it. Why? It's yet another book about writing. I've heard it has more than writing advice to recommend it, but does it have enough more to make it worth my time? I don't know. All I know is I tend to learn more from reading other writers than I do from reading any number of "how to" books these days.
Surely you would agree that writing is a craft, right? Don't you want to learn everything you can about your craft? All the different techniques and strategies that people come up with, detailed analysis of why a technique does or does not work, analysis explaining what techniques the author used in a given paragraph, etc. You don't think learning as much of this as you can is important?
Reading is a great way to learn too, but some kind of "directed" learning, as with a teacher, is also very helpful. Also, there are a lot of writing books that don't focus on getting published at all, but how to make a story better, you know, discussing all those techniques people use. And not everyone is a no-name author.
Robert Olen Butler
Those are four off the top of my head. Writing guides are useful to a point, but rejecting them out right puts you at a disadvantage to those who both do what you do, that is, learn by reading novels and also read writing books. Are you against creative writing classes too?
I suppose you use whatever you can to learn. I'm just not sold on all those how-to-books. King at least has success to lean on, but a lot of people write how-to books because they sell better than their choses genre. As to creative writing classes: I never wanted to teach one. In the end, you cannot do much more than encourage people. Writing books generally involves both craft and art. The latter, you cannot teach, though reading outstanding books can point the way. But writing is a very private and personal thing. It should never follow someone else's views.
You can still learn things from others. Writing books and classes aren't going to hurt anything and can actually help as long as you're not the kind of person that blindly follows what someone says, and you actually think critically about what is being presented to you.
Writing books and teachers are not necessary; you can learn to write well without them, but they certainly can help.
I agree that reading about the craft of writing can help writers. But I also think there's a point of diminishing returns in such reading.
After you've read enough of these books, you'll realize you're starting to read a lot of the same stuff written in different ways. You will know then that you've reached the point of diminishing returns.
At that point, you should focus on reading other people to keep up with what's written in your genre and learn from those who have succeeded by doing. And you should write, write, write. Developing your own voice is crucial. It can't be taught, by people who write books about writing or anyone else. It can only be found through the process of writing.
A friend of mine says, you can find inspiration in art or you can find inspiration in life.
Of course it's a good idea to read a lot of books, but I think that's overstated. I think those diminishing returns happen then, too.
Do you want your characters to be based on characters in other books or on real people? Either way is actually fine, but this discussion seems to only have mentioned reading books as a way to learn storytelling, getting inspiration from art.
Lately I've been reading novels by George V. Higgins and his characters' dialogue is inspired by the people he dealt with as a lawyer in Boston. I have a feeling he spent more time talking to these guys than he did reading crime novels.
An excellent point. I was thinking more about reading as a way of learning effective writing techniques, not really getting ideas for your own work. I would never suggest people read other books in order to "borrow" their ideas or copy their style. It usually leads to writing that's a pale imitation of the author you're "borrowing" from. I just think reading is an important part of being a good writer, for many reasons.
As far as inspiration goes, one can find that almost anywhere. In the news. In your daily life. In a conversation. Ideas are all around us.
Taking those ideas and writing about them in your own way--this is how you find your voice. And, as I said, you can't get it from any book. Only by actually sitting down and writing.
As to creative writing classes: I never wanted to teach one. In the end, you cannot do much more than encourage people.
That's it? There's nothing to learn? Characterization, dialogue, point of view, description, scene, motivation, complication, story, plot, etc., etc., etc.—it's ALL unteachable? And don't even get me started on poetry! Holy crap. Who knew.
Writing books generally involves both craft and art. The latter, you cannot teach...
Which is why there are no successful teaching programs in the fine arts in general or writing in particular. None. Not even the ones that produce scads of successful writers/artists. They're all just big scams designed to trick people into thinking they know something about making art.
well, some people fall back on the belief that those scads of artists would have been artists anyway. I think the mistake begins with the idea that there was some time in the past when people did things completely on their own, instead of the reality of apprenticeships and, yes, even art classes.
It's funny, over in the urban lit class the main complaints are about things like shifting POV, poorly developed motivations and giant plot holes....
Good writing classes, figure-drawing classes, ceramics classes, etc. all do pretty much the same thing. They put you in a room full of more-or-less like minded people, more-or-less united in purpose, and guided (more-or-less) by someone who's presumed to know something about meter and metaphor, say, or light and shadow, or how to make pots that won't explode in the kiln. A lot of people seem to think that writing well is somehow innate--either you have it or you don't--but I don't think anyone really supposes that of all the other arts--music, dance, painting, ceramics, on and on. It's true that some people have an innate gift for writing, just as some people "get" music or dance in a way that I certainly don't. But even those prodigies profit from training, obviously. As do a great many non-prodigies who have some promise or ability, and the great bulk of students in my experience who come into my intro-level classes having read nothing and knowing nothing about writing. Give me a semester or two with any of the above, and I can show you real improvement in their work—partly through reading, partly through practice, partly through a desire to compete with their peers, and partly because I know how to teach both craft and art. Sure, there are some who just aren't going to get it, no matter how hard they try or how many classes they take. But not that many, thank God. My father taught painting and drawing at the college level for thirty-five years and believed he could teach pretty much anybody the mostly mechanical skill of drawing. I believe, given time and a student who's paying attention, I can do pretty much the same thing with a sonnet or a short story, and I've got the evals, student portfolios, and roster of well-published former students to prove it.