I’m curious as to why every person who’s ever written at least one novel believes they can distill writing into “rules” that other writers should follow.
- Don’t use adverbs; write the action in detail.
- Don’t explain: show through action instead.
- Don’t use flashbacks; stay in the moment.
These “rules” are supported by claims that your readers will know something is wrong with your novel, even if they can’t explain it in words, or that your writing will seem lazy, or that you take your readers out of the experience and they’ll want to put your book down in boredom.
Yet how many books have you read, perhaps even your favorite books of all time, that violate these rules again and again, like this little gem:
“He’d forgotten all about the people in cloaks until he passed a
group of them next to the baker’s. He eyed them angrily as he
passed. He didn’t know why, but they made him uneasy. This
bunch were whispering excitedly, too, and he couldn’t see a single
Hand this paragraph over to an editor, and he’d slash the adverbs out immediately–“Don’t tell me he eyed them angrily, show me he did it!” or “What does ‘excitedly’ look like? Show me!”
Surprise! The paragraph above was taken from one of the best selling novels of all time: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling.
Does it being a best selling novel make it great? Of course not, but plenty of people love the series, adverbs and all, and Rowling will even spend time explaining things in detail rather than showing it through dialogue or actions. Oh, and I’ve NEVER wanted to put one of her books down because of it.
The same applies to Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. His characters go on in length about long dead kings, traditions that the inhabitants of his world still followed, and explanations of the environment. And you know what? I love it, and so do plenty of other people.
The same with Steven King’s novels. Seriously, I’m not making this stuff up. Some of the most influential writers of all time–if not all of them–have violated the rules that many of these “books on writing” claim are gospel.
If any aspiring novelists are out there, please take my advice: don’t read books on writing. They’re filled with opinions, not facts, about the craft of writing. There is no one way to write, and men and women have written hundreds of novels before anyone thought to write a “book on writing,” many of which are considered classics.
Write how you want to write; put your heart and soul onto the written page, and forget what those writing books have to say. Look to your favorite authors and learn from their works.