Today, I wish to talk about a double standard of life in the writing world, of which I have only recently and minimally, become a part. In the story, Writing and Publication, by Life Isn’t Fair, Fair takes yet another undeserved vacation, and leaves his diehard fans with a sour taste in our mouths.
You see, over the years of reading and writing, and my very short tenure in college, I’ve both been told and have discovered for myself that established writers can get away with just about anything, relying on their names to sustain them rather than on talent. That’s not to say they don’t have talent—far from it—it just means that as their popularity builds and builds, rules are chucked out the window, and replaced with more daring plotlines and prose. Some of these ventures are quite ingenious and come across well, but others are just plain ludicrous, and are hell for the reader.
Aspiring authors who go through the ritualistic and tedious process of querying agents and publishers, submitting manuscripts, waiting months for a response, and ultimately, repeating the process with either the same manuscript or another one, have to subject their work to strict scrutiny. This is a process I know of all too well, as have spent years in this cycle. I was told once by a publisher that my prose from a submitted manuscript was ‘too flowery’ and that I should ‘approach the character with more action and less introspection.’ Fine, point taken; in fact, I agreed. However, when I read books like Anne Rice’s Vampire Series—while I love all of them up to Memnoch The Devil—it leaves me slightly bitter. Anne Rice’s books are brilliant, in my opinion, however if ever there was a prose that was too flowery, it was hers. In one book, she spent nearly three paragraphs describing the origins and style of a table that had no significance in the book whatsoever. And while I was amazed by the depths of research she must have gone through to learn that, I still found it pointless.
Stephen King is another one who often breaks the rules of writing without care or regard for the literary corpses he leaves in his wake. I’d like to note here that I am not a big Stephen King fan, but I absolutely love the Dark Tower series, despite its flaws. One of those flaws is his penchant for breaking narrative by telling the reader things that will take place years later, or things that none of the characters had any knowledge of. If the story was told in the form of a character reciting something that happened to them in the past, then maybe some of that would make sense–the character telling the reader something that he had not known at the time–but since it was written in thrid person, it just disrupted the narrative for me. It also took away from the suspense when some of his comments clearly told me that a character would die before the end of the story.
As an aspiring writer, you’re told from every direction not to do things like that or many of the other things that established writers do. Hell, I was told once by my writing professor, not to jump between one character and another—a technique which has practically become a staple in most established writers’ arsenal. I was also told that all stories had to be written, not in the past tense as most stories that I’ve read are, but in present tense.
I’ve read books where authors wrote themselves into the story, made connections between unrelated events and never connect them, drawled on for pages upon pages of exposition and needless back story at the reader, and sometimes even changed tenses in the middle of the prose.
But if I tried that…
Granted, I may not be as talented as some of them are, but when ground rules are established, they should be followed by all or discarded altogether. They should level the playing field one way or the other. Writing today has been infected with the same disease that has been plaguing professional wrestling since the fall of ECW. The up and comers have to constantly change their wrestling style, be exciting and daring, and hone their microphone skills, while the established wrestlers degrade into gorillas in the ring—content to throw punch after punch, without a hold or maneuver in sight. But people love them because they’ve grown to love them, so the wrestlers don’t have to work quite so hard on their style of fighting anymore.
Though, I must admit, I can’t wait for the time when—god willing—I too can be free of the rules of writing and be allowed to do whatever I want in my stories. If that ever happens, I might, just to see how much they’d let me get away with, pepper my novels with sudden, unrelated, words, breaking the pace of the prose and truly confusing the reader. I’ll say it’s art, and they’ll have to leave it in because I’ll be famous by then.
To wrap up this review, of Writing and Publication, by Life Isn’t Fair, I’ll say this: It’s an interesting read, well worth the aggravation if that’s what you truly want to do, but don’t expect to make it by doing what the big boys do. You’ll have to find your own way of—penguin!—doing things and work—shalom!—hard at everything you do, in the hope of one day—jello!—counting yourself among the established, untouchable—yoda!—writers.
Is this art yet?