Note: Congratulations to Bill for winning the copy of Feels Like Home. I will be contacting you for your information.
It's normal day. You’re wasting time online when you see an article “10 Clichés Your YA Dystopian Alien Pirate Story Should Never Have.” Funny, that‘s exactly what you’re working on! You read the article with bated breath and sigh with relief that you don't have any of those clichés...
Except maybe for cliché #5? “A pink alien who sings karaoke.” Your alien is blue, so does that count as a cliché? You spend the whole afternoon e-mailing your critique group about the post. In the end you're still not sure, but decide to make the alien play the drums instead, just in case.
I love the writing blogosphere. In the year and a half I've been blogging, I've grown both in craft and industry smarts. But I guess I'm entering my terrible twos, where I start skipping naps and refusing to eat my vegetables. More specificially, I've started thinking about the downsides of writing blogs.
There’s a specific writing style for online media. People skim online content, so you make your articles short and to the point. Bolded text is good, bulleted takeaways and numbered lists even better.
All well and good. Content should be crafted for your medium. But what happens when we apply this to writing advice? We end up with pithy, clever, retweetable tips that we skim and pass to all our writer friends: Five Ways to Make Your Characters Pop, Seven Reasons Literary Agents Stop Reading Your First Page, What Is a Hook and How to Have One.
Is this a problem? Not necessarily. But I wonder sometimes if there's a danger to so many simplified articles that don't acknowledge the subtleties behind the tips. For one extreme example, Patricia Wrede wrote a while back about taking the “start with a hook” advice out of context.
One of the classic bad examples of a hook-gone-wrong was the slushpile story that opened “Blood spurted!” then dropped into a flashback for several paragraphs, a combination that made it look like the opening of a horror novel…only to reveal on the second page that the viewpoint character had just cut himself shaving, and move from there into a piece of contemporary realism. Making a story look like something it isn’t is not a good way to hook either readers or editors; it is more likely to earn the writer a reputation for being untrustworthy and/or not worth reading. (Read the rest of article)
It's often said that you need to understand a writing rule before you break it. But given this example, looks like you also need to understand the rule before you even follow it.
In addition, all rules have exceptions. People come up with writing advice by studying pieces of writing and drawing generalizations. The resulting tipsdescribe trends, not commands, but it's sometimes hard to convey that in a five-point list.
I wonder if there’s something about tweeting, re-tweeting, skimming, and sharing that makes it easier to forget all the subtleties behind the advice presented. The risk is that we internalize sound-bytes like “avoid cliché beginnings, “dialogue tags suck,” “and don't use adverbs.” In the meantime, we forget that The Graveyard Book headhops between points of view, The Hunger Games and Newberry Honor Book Princess Academy start with a character getting out of bed, international bestseller Pillars of the Earth starts with a prologue, and Harry Potter contains a whole lot of adverbs.
So that's it folks. Writing blogs do more harm than good. I hereby announce my retirement from the blogosphere. It was fun while it lasted. Send me an e-mail once in a while to see how things are going.
Um, right. Don't think I fooled anyone there. No, I still likewriting blogs. And hopefully, we all are critical thinkers who can look beyond a single blog post or bullet point.
What do you say folks? Am I overthinking this?
P.S. While I was writing this, I noticed that Simon Larter had a nice post taking an alternate view on novel beginnings. Go check it out.