Friday, April 20, 2012

Rules Unspoken

Now, there is no real rulebook for writing—aside from grammar, I mean—but there are things most people know when they set foot into the professional writing pond: it's not easy to sell a manuscript, editing is the devil, writers run on coffee, rejection sucks. But there's apparently some kind of secret writers' society that held arcane meetings to ban writers from sharing some of the more 'advanced' rules. Well, if there's any truth to any of this, I'm about to get a visit from pen-wielding ninjas. Hopefully I'll finish putting this up before they kill me, because I'm going to share the six biggest rules I've learned through my experiences—since five is so bourgeois. If you like them, promise you'll come to my funeral, or at least kill the next pen-wielding ninja you see in a really dramatic battle. If you don't mind.

So, the rules:

~Editors have bad days: We kind of tend to think of editors as demonic, horrible fiends that take pleasure in crushing us. But, you know what? Most editors are or were writers, and they know rejections sucks, so throw that right out the window. They also have terrible days. Friends die, spouses cheat, they get their own rejection letters, or they're just having a low biorhythm day—they're human, which means there are some days you have to be extra-impressive and pray your piece gets a fair trial.

~Rejection doesn't mean you suck: Although it does feel like that, no matter what anyone says. They could have another story like yours accepted to that anthology, or maybe you leaned too much on one style in a cross-genre project. I once got a rejection, not for the writing, but because I wrote about the big bang and they had a lot Christian fans—it's perfectly acceptable, logical, and it rolled right off my back. Of course, rejections still hurt, no matter the reasoning, and you'll normally not get the reasoning behind your rejection anyway, so it's going to hurt.

~The writing world is unfair: You might find out one day that someone just comes along, first manuscript, first time writing, and they've signed a contract with Tor. When you've been toiling and toiling at writing, gotten yourself into some small presses but nothing more—damn it's going to sting. A lot. But so much of this business is luck. You have to basically predict the future if you want to ride the trends, because by the time you find out about a trend, it's too late to write for it.

~Genre is nothing: I've shared the quote before, but it bears repeating. This is from Kay Kendron, on genre. “What we're talking about here isn't important. It's about where the book is f*cking shelved.” The first instinct a lot of genre writers have is to slap themselves into a specific genre. You shouldn't. The genre is about the last thing to consider—write what it is you want to write, and let the big wigs worry about whether it's 'urban fantasy' or 'contemporary fantasy', 'hard sci-fi' or 'space opera'. I mean, it might do you well to figure it out, if you can, but don't stress about it.

~Imperfection is awesome: In characters, worlds, even to some extent in writing, imperfection is kind of thing to include. Do you really want to read about perfect people, living in utopia, told by a grammarian? No, of course not. That's quite dull, and it's not in any of the fiction best-sellers I've read. The imperfections in your character and your world provide plot and conflict and, as for the imperfect writing, those little idiosyncratic things are called voice, and that's what writers are always looking for, it seems—why kill it?

~Fiction is not academia: Sadly, fiction writing isn't normally a focus in the public school system, and the tools are so different. In academic non-fiction, we're all taught that sentences need to be complex, running through thoughts as best they can, taking up as much as three or four lines to get out a single thought with precision—and that's what you do, because you want that high grade. However, fiction is more like poetry than non-fiction. Thoughts are best delivered concisely rather than in long, compound sentences. Think music—tension and release—rather than college lecture.

Well, since I hear the ninjas, time to post it.

Goodbye cruel world and all who inhabit it,


Erin M. Hartshorn said...

I like complex sentences. I write with them. I also use semicolons, which I've been told are verboten in fiction. It's part of my voice. Being true to that is a rule, too. :)


M Pax said...

I hope the ninjas haven't gotten you. :)

We have a lot of competition and few spots most times. If I get gold-star rejection, I'm OK with that.

I like some complex sentences, too. Sentence variation is nice. I guess as long as the idea isn't too complex. So I've learned from my critique partners.