Just saw an article on the Huffington Post by C.A. Belmond entitled “5 Lies They Tell You About Writing,” and how they are “half-truths: at worst, they are straightjackets for budding authors.” It’s an interesting read, but I think a few of the explanations are a bit displaced.
1. Write What You Know.
The oldest advice for would-be authors. Of course, it wouldn’t be interesting fiction if the ONLY thing you wrote was only what you had personally experienced. What’s being suggested here isn’t the overall plot but rather the details. Writers have the unique privilege of stepping into everyone’s shoes, but deep down there will always be the author’s reaction (even if it wasn’t the first one). What a character likes or doesn’t, believes or doesn’t, or even does or doesn’t always comes down to the personal choice of the author. When it feels disingenuous and phony, this is the reason. Go with your gut.
2. Descriptions are passé. Brand names are cool.
In my own current YA horror series, “The Spooky Chronicles,” my main character has a tendency to hang on the first detail that comes to mind and “brands” the character with that detail until he finds out more: the Veiled Woman, the Asian-looking Lady, the Butler Guy. Even though it’s from a child’s point of view, it’s something we all do, even as a adults. As he learns more about the people (along with the reader), his description changes, adding to the initial detail until he discovers a proper name for them. I will agree, however, that if the reference here is merely about swapping the word Motorola or iPhone for the description mobile phone, it’s feels a bit lazy unless there’s a specific reason why that particular brand is important. Besides, it more fun to write “My dad’s favorite beer, the one with the patriot on the label” then just say Sam Adams.
3. Fiction is a lie.
Of course it is, but as the story goes, “I want to know how it ends.” If the story was actually was true, it’d be a documentary, right? I agree with Belmond on this, however, being the most pretentious of the five; it kind of goes without saying, so even saying is sounds pretty pompous as an excuse for anything.
4. Literary fiction equals literature (and is therefore superior to genre fiction).
For the initiated, literary fiction or “serious fiction” is said to focus “more upon style, psychological depth, and character… in comparison from genre fiction and popular fiction (i.e., paraliterature).” This is the second biggest fib in this list (mostly agreeing with the author for the second time), but it does create a good point. A well-rounded story should take all of this into consideration; there’s no rule to trade one for the other or that says both don’t work. Heavy drama benefits more from character depth than an action thriller, but they are different kinds of stories with different things that readers look for.
5. “Hey, writers are entertainers. I’m not trying to be Tolstoy.”
Of course, they aren’t. How many of them even know who Tolstoy is?
One thought on “5 Lies They Tell You About Writing (And Why They All Aren’t)”
Had another thought on the “Brand names are cool” bit: timelessness. Saying someone looks like George Clooney AS your narration or description is very, very lazy. Having your character say it, however, is perfectly acceptable. I suspect this is why many people find first-person point of view preferable since it absolves of the responsibility for being more creative. Quicker, easier, more seductive…
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