Today I decided to lurk in a writing group I used to regularly post in. I quit posting there because I seriously didn’t fit in. First of all, it was one of those places where everyone lauds each other for being “so brave” to have published anything in the first place before giving criticisms that feel apologetic for having found anything to criticize. Really, it was like having your book critiqued by Magrat from the Discworld books, whereas I’d prefer a more Granny Weatherwax approach. Also, I have issues with the whole “it’s so brave just to put your work out there!” meme, but I can’t articulate those right now. But that wasn’t my main problem with the group. My main problem was that they were all so caught up in the structure. They were all worried about things like “I introduce my main character on page two instead of right off, is that okay?” and “I don’t hit the first major turning point of my story until three-quarters of the way through the first book, is that okay?” and other stuff like that that I’ve never known a reader, as opposed to another author who is also steeped in the thou-shalls and thou-shall-nots of modern writing culture, to ever notice.
Today on this group I saw something that really made me stop and wonder who the fuck people are writing for any more. It was an article about not using “filter words”. These area words like “realized” and “felt” that “distance your reader from your viewpoint character.” It was, really, just a different way of putting that blasted “show, don’t tell!” misunderstanding that it’s always better to have a character’s actions reflect things than to just say them.
Here’s the thing: As a reader, if I feel distant from the character, it’s not because of the author’s word choice. It’s because the character never felt real. As a reader, if a book doesn’t hit a major turning point until three-quarters of the way through, I only care if the reason it didn’t was that the story had way too much mundane detail (which is so fucking common a thing right now because of that blasted “show, don’t tell” misunderstanding). As a reader . . . Anne of Green Gables is one of my most favorite books ever. Anne isn’t introduced until the second chapter. By today’s writing “rules”, especially those hewn to like law by self-published and as yet unpublished authors hoping to find the magic formula for success, that alone makes it a horrible book.
I don’t obey all of those “rules”. In No More Lies, there are times when I use ~gasp~ adverbs after “said” rather than show Bobby’s actions. Why? Because there are times when that’s the right thing to do. Because I’m writing for people who want to read a book about a ninja/spy/assassin who has Wisdom as his dump stat trying to adapt to normal life, not for other authors, or professional reviewers, or anyone else who’s primary interest isn’t in the story, but is in the technical crafting of it. Because it doesn’t matter how technically perfect a story is if the narrative sucks, if the characters are uninteresting, if, in short, the story is bad. Remember, writing is as much, if not more, an art than a craft. There is no magic formula. The rules were made by other authors, and you shouldn’t be writing just for them.
(Forgive disjointedness in this, please. One of my shift keys is not working quite right and it was very distracting.)