Friday, August 24, 2012

Paralyzed by Rules

A writer friend and I were talking recently about how when we were first published (over 25 years ago), there didn't seem to be as many rules to follow to write a good story. Both of us said we pretty much decided to start writing a story about characters we loved, and we didn't worry much about point of view, action and reaction, writing a synopsis, or even being politically correct. We just wrote what we hoped would be something readers would enjoy. That seemed to work for quite awhile, and then suddenly there seemed to be all these rules we needed to follow in order to create a story. No more head-hopping or switching point of view within one scene (or even one chapter); no more sitting down to pull a story out of thin air without having a detailed outline to follow, character profiles, and tons of research to back up what we were writing about. I have to admit, for me, it takes a lot of fun out of the writing.

Of course, depending on what you write, a basic outline of the story and doing some research, is probably a good thing, but worrying about all that other stuff just seems to suck the life out of a story and make the journey of writing it it so much less interesting. I realize not everyone has that luxury. Editors expect a synopsis for novels, and I guess I don't mind writing one even to help myself. But that whole point of view thing just drives me nuts.

I've been looking back at the stories I wrote some 25-30 years ago to update them and make them available as e-book collections, and I'm surprised at how I did not follow pov rules. What's even more surprising is that none of the editors who bought those stories seemed to care! Most of the stories ran 3600 to 6000 words, and I used several points of view in each of them. Readers certainly never commented on it, and I never once thought it wasn't the right way to write. Nor did I worry about having a reaction for every action in the story, nor did I have a "high concept" of what the story was about. I just wrote stories and I enjoyed it and it was fun.

Now I know writing for publication isn't all fun. It's work and sometimes it's hard work, but I just have to believe that some of the joy of creating has been stifled by all the "rules" that have come into play since my first story was published in September 1983. Maybe part of that has to do with so much change and more competition in the industry, but I have to wonder, who made up all these rules? Why isn't it okay to know what both characters are thinking in one scene? Are readers that easily confused nowadays? And the whole "high concept" idea just seems to be for the benefit of knowing where the story might fit for marketing purposes.

Am I just being cranky? I know after having the whole pov thing drilled into me when going through the editing process, I find it hard to even write a scene that is not just in one person's point of view anymore. When critiquing someone else's work, I find myself picking out that problem more than any other because it's been harped on so much. But does that really make for a better story? I have to wonder.

Everything changes, nothing stays the same, and that couldn't be more true than in the world of publishing. I am willing to change to some extent, but when writing stops being fun because you're trying to follow too many rules, then I'm not sure it's worth it. I refuse to let all these "rules" stifle my stories or paralyze me or make me worry while in the creating phase. From now on it's going to be all about the story, because that's how I started out and that's what I love.

How do you feel about writing "rules?" Do they ever paralyze you?


Diane Burton said...

You're absolutely right when you say worrying about rules sucks the life out of a story. Don't pay attention to the rules. Just write the best story you can. All those people who tout rules use them as a crutch. Write what you love. It shows.

Rohn Federbush said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rohn Federbush said...

I agree. However, the people making the rules are creating books that are disposable. Enticing as it is to conform to rules in order to reach a publication goal, I believe the work is sacred so to speak, coming from the universe that requires the cathartic or ameilorative work.
So write away, else the effort isn't worth the bother.

Maris said...

Good blog, Lucy. I, too, remember back to when I simply wrote the story. But I must admit, I soon discovered it was a good idea to have some idea of where it was going. I read a lot of books nowadays where the writer changes pov within a scene or on a page. (These are rarely genre books.) If the writer does it well, it never bothers me. For some, breaking the rules seems to make a better story.

Lucy Naylor Kubash said...

Perhaps the pov thing is more of a genre thing, and we all know authors who "get away with" not following rules. I guess the best thing to do is still to just write the story. It can always be edited later, lol!
Thanks for stopping by.

Margo Hoornstra said...

The more you talk about a story, or break it apart for 'mechanical' reasons, the more, well mechanical sounding it becomes. Good advice from our colleagues here to just write the darned thing and worry about the details later.