In the last week, I’ve read more “should” articles than I’ve ever seen in my life, which is pretty impressive considering they weren’t that rare in the first place. Each of them entailed some sort of rant, (ironically enough, often about another article giving a list of “shoulds”), ending with (actual, though maybe out of context) lines like, “all authors should write like this,” or even, “This is the wrong way to do it.”
I am a picky person. I have very specific tastes and very specific demands, and I don’t settle for anything less. This makes my life hell. These tastes, whether they be in literature, food, or men, are usually “acquired” which I wrongly use to mean they are uncommon. I like certain things, I like them all together, and I rarely like anything that doesn’t have everything I want.
If someone, somewhere, made all books written the way they “should be,” I severely doubt it would create the things I want to read. Many people don’t like what I do. Many people love to read things that I rather gouge my eye out than take seriously. And more to the point, if everyone wrote in a way that would meet with my personal “shoulds,” there would be a hell of a lot of readers who would lose out on a primary form of entertainment. There are people who like potty humor, intellectual gibberish, contemporary settings, or even, strangely enough, drama. If we made it so authors would only write in the way and about the things I do, a lot of people wouldn’t be interested.
For funsies, I went to a workshop on writing sex scenes. It degenerated into a long rant about how terrible Fifty Shades of Gray was. One person said, “If this is the sort of thing people like, what hope is there for the rest of us?”
So what? People aren’t allowed to write that way because people like to read that way? That’s really the logic? Let’s handicap the prodigy so the rest of the kids get a chance?
While I don’t believe that Fifty Shades of Gray could be defined as a prodigy of the book world, I still don’t get it. If we’re going to sit there and define what it’s okay for a book to be, would it be the story the masses love or the literary genius we look good to love? Was she saying that it should be suppressed because people don’t know what they should like? Because that doesn’t sound right.
Either people want things like Fifty Shades or they don’t. If it is true that everyone in the world is looking for it and expects nothing less (forcing our authors to write like that or be unmarketable), then, since we’re discussing what writers “should” be doing, wouldn’t it be what the masses like anyway? Or, if it isn’t true, most people don’t want it and it just is a fad or abnormal fluke, it’s directed towards nonreaders, or whatever the logic is, then the other authors have nothing to fear. If that’s not what readers want to read, they won’t read it. If they want something different, they’ll read something different.
I understand bristling at being told what to do, especially when it comes from a condescending misconception on what the speaker thinks I’m doing. I feel like slapping the next person whose first piece of writing advice is to “read a lot.” I could go on and on about the idiots who say not to use the word said. In a writing group, a man mentioned to a fellow writer that “driveways can’t disappoint.” I had to ask him what the hell he was talking about, and couldn’t get it off my mind despite the criticism wasn’t even directed towards me. (It was a grammar issue, by the way.)
No one has to write in any specific way, mostly because readers aren’t all looking for the same things. Not only are they looking for different books than each other, at times, they’ll seeking different books for themselves. I do not want to walk into a bookstore and pick up the same story but “in different colors.” I’d get a movie if that was the case. I want different books. I want to choose the book I want to read. And sometimes that book is a trashy, formulaic romance novel, or sometimes it’s an intellectual marathon. More often, it’s something in the middle. But I get to decide.
Writers get to write for whatever reason they want, and that is good for the reader. You stick ten people in a room and tell them to write about the same thing but with different objectives, the stories will be a lot different than those who wrote about different things with the same objective.
I want diversity in my literature. I want to be able to have a selection on what I’m reading, and I don’t want that to be diminished by the demands of an insane class-system. Demanding for the purity of art just leashes it. It puts it in a box. Authors do this to themselves already; they don’t need external pressure. In fact, over the course of writing for ten years, there is only one thing I feel that a writer should do: different things.
It’s okay to outline. It’s okay not to outline. Want to use said? Go ahead and use said. Haven’t bothered using anything other than said? Branch out a little. Try something new. Look at story formulas. Blow off story formulas. Play around with character sheets and thematic writing, writing by inspiration, stream-of-consciousness, heavy preplanning. Read a lot. Read a little. Read great things. Read crap. Read your own work. Toss it in a drawer and don’t allow yourself to look at it again. Write for an audience, write for yourself, use adverbs, use was, use passive sentences, play by the rules, play the game, play it up, play it down. Just play. That’s why it’s fun. That’s how you learn. That’s how you get good at writing. It’s not by sticking to what you should be doing, but coming up with what you want to have done.