Ink & Bourbon
Tilting at windmills. Because those windmills think they're better than us.

Embrace Your Voice

The thing that makes me fall in love with an author is the voice. The way that a writer uses language, chooses the words and the pace and the tone. If I like the voice, I’ll read about the characters doing their taxes.

Plenty of writing sites and lots of writing advice will try to steer you toward the “right” way to write. Don’t exactly ignore them, but understand why the conventions exist, and feel free to bend them to preserve your voice. Terry Pratchett wouldn’t be Terry Pratchett without his distinctive voice, but the man loves adverbs and speech tags, which current thinking says are worse for you than gluten, refined sugar, or using dirty needles

Let’s be honest. Most plots aren’t new. We’ve been saturated with movies and TV and books enough that most readers can spot the tropes, read the trend lines and tell where the story is going. We’ve already met all the stock characters. Most of what we read isn’t breaking new ground.

There’s nothing wrong with that. A story isn’t bad because it’s familiar. There’s a reason that it was popular in the first place. If we stopped retelling stories, there would have been no point in writing a political thrilled after Alexandre Dumas, or a detective story after Conan Doyle. Maybe the technology has changed, but the story is essentially the same.

What you do have that is your own is your voice. Write that heroic rescue and don’t worry that D’Artagnan or Flash Gordon or Luke Skywalker or Katniss Everdeen has already done it. There are only so many ways to scale a castle wall or have a swordfight.

But there are an infinite number of ways to paint that picture.

Don’t let anyone stifle your voice.

Embrace it.

And don’t sweat the gluten or refined sugar. You’ll be fine. You may want to avoid the dirty needles though.

The Only Rule That Matters

There is a ton of advice for the aspiring writer. You used to have to take a class or buy a copy of Writers Digest to be talked down to, but now that we have an internet, it’s everywhere. And lots of it is in the form of lists of “rules for writers” or “nine things that make agents vomit” or something similar. Much of it directs us to show and not tell, to avoid prologues, adverbs, description, speech tags, starting with a battle, starting with a character description or pretty much not being Ernest Hemingway or J D Salinger.

My advice to writer is to ignore all the advice.

Many if not most of these “rules” are current fashion. Writing changes over time. You don’t read much in the style of Herman Melville or Charlotte Bronte today.

For any rule, you can find a best selling, critically acclaimed book that breaks it.

Now, before I get way off on a tear here and start swinging chairs, I would be remiss not to point out that many if these “rules” exist for a reason, and it’s not a bad idea to look at them with an open mind, and to try to understand the pitfalls that they try to steer you away from. Plenty of these rules are put out by critics who have seen a lot of bad writing, and they honestly want to help you not be the next bad writer, so they make a list of things that annoy them and put them out as “ten things to avoid” listicles.

My own rule is never repeat the word “listicle.”

But, as Captain Barbosa taught us, every “rule” is really just a guideline. Use speech tags sparingly, when they will have a real effect. Be judicious with adverbs. Don’t muddy things with run on sentences when the pace calls for short ones.

But never follow a rule off a cliff.

Sometimes, a line of dialogue should be spat and not said.

What matters is that you keep the reader engaged. No page is a failure that makes a reader turn it to see what happens next.

The only rule that matters is to write a good story.