What do wannabe novelists and excellent, established pros have in common? They ignore the “rules” of good writing. The difference is that amateurs don’t know the rules, the conventions. Top-of-the-line pros do. (Then there are those of us, published or unpublished, who know the rules and are seriously trying to become better writers. “Middlers,” I’ll call us.)
With ebooks and self-publishing opening the door for anyone to publish anything, we’re seeing a lot of poor writing. Amateurs often don’t know how to make the choices that will best serve their stories, because they don’t know what the choices are. (I’ve been there. All middlers and pros have.) True, some amateurs hit near enough the mark the first time out. But then they face the second novel, and the third, and they can’t go far without learning the “rules” so they can break them like a pro.
Pros intentionally break the right “rules” at the right places, to stunning effect. They are better able to serve their story, because they sense what it needs and when, and they know how to get the effect they want. (But even pros never reach a level at which they are not learning. It’s just that they’re comfortable in their own writing skin and consistently write at a publishable, enjoyably readable level.)
What about middlers? We walk the path between amateur and top-of-the-line pros. We’re either learning the rules, or we pretty much know the “rules” (we know we can say “pretty much” in certain contexts), but we’re learning when to get off our own backs and let the story flow. Because writing good fiction is not about rules. Nor is being published. It’s about connecting emotionally with readers, engaging their imaginations.
Any accomplished musician knows that the best music is not created by playing notes but by feeling the music, letting it flow. In a sense, the musician becomes the music. I don’t think any pro becomes a pro cerebrally. Pros, including novelists, reach a level at which they feel what they do. They can consistently get “in the zone.”
How do we middlers get there? Like your mom said: Practice. (Another rule? Not really. It’s more a simple reality like gravity. Cause and effect.) The more we write and read, the better sense we have of when, why, and how to break “rules” or flaunt conventions. We begin to be able to create a story that’s not just a string of events set to words but the gift of an emotional experience. As in music, heart touches heart, soul touches soul, spirit touches spirit.
Isn’t that a bit like life? We start out life with lots of rules. But there comes a point at which we have to stop using a checklist and begin listening to our spirits. And that’s when the story gets a lot better.
© 2012 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved. Photo courtesy morguefile.com