Friday, February 29, 2008

This course stinks!

There's been a lot of talk about the rules of writing lately. When I explain some of them to my non-writer friends they are usually surprised by how complicated and subtle they are. They also question the validity or value of following the rules (or as I like to call them: the guidelines).

As my friend (and writing teacher), Donna Fleisher, taught me: there is a difference between writing a story and writing a novel. Most beginners have a good story in mind when they decide to "become a writer". They just haven't yet learned how to put it in novel form. So I don't really hold it against a newbie for going through a brief period of rebellion against the rules, the snobs who made them, and the publishing cabal that propagates their required adherence. But it must be a brief period or he is lost.

You don't just become a writer - you learn the skills involved. The rules (guidelines) were not created in a vacuum. They were cultivated by professionals over years of experience through trial and error.

At some point, the new writer needs to accept this and embrace the guidelines as a gift from those who have gone before him.

I once heard a story about Jack Nicklaus (the man Tiger Woods is chasing in the record books).

He said that before a tournament he knew who is competition would be that week just by listening to the other players exchange their ruminations about the course. Anyone who complained about the course, he scratched off the list. They were not going to win.

As a fan of golf, it has occurred to me that I've never heard Tiger Woods complain about a golf course or the playing conditions. Whether it's a links style, old style, straight style, or target style course, he always says the same thing - "I love this type of course. It's gonna be a good test and I'm looking forward to the challenge."

So, you can either complain about the course and watch Tiger Woods raise yet another trophy or you can embrace the course, welcome the challenge to learn the skills required to navigate it, and one day watch Tiger Woods (or someone else) buy your novel in your local bookstore.

Easy choice for me.


Janet Rubin said...

really good analogy, DJ!

Dayle James Arceneaux said...

Thanks, JL.

Todd said...

You know it pains me to admit it, but you are absolutely right.

One of the most effective ways to become good at something is to pick up on not only the methods, but also the habits, and the attitudes of those who have excelled at it.

Yes, there are times when breaking the rules can produce amazingly good results. But even then, that breakage must be done carefully and set within the framework of an otherwise solidly built, technically sound structure.

Nicole said...

It's not the "rules" per se I object to. It's the dogmatic statements that often accompany them. Any writer who wants to excel has to learn the craft. No brainer. And if a writer objects to that, then he doesn't value writing.

Neither do I object to the rights of publishing houses to state their "rules" or standards for getting a book through their system.

I would guess that after Tiger learned the skills, he incorporated what works best for him to excel and win. If someone came along and told him, "You can't swing the club like that", how do you think he would respond?

Granted you can affirm that Tiger has proven his prowess at the sport and now anyone would be a fool to challenge anything he does with a club.

If you look at the statistics of how many novels are "successful" compared to how many novels are published, you could argue that somehow the decisions made for what is being published doesn't dictate "success".

Sorry to get so long here, Dayle, but . . . you know me on this subject.

Nicole said...

" . . . don't dictate . . ." not doesn't. Good grief. Learn the rules. :)

Dayle James Arceneaux said...

Actually, Nicole, I agree with you. There's nothing wrong with thoughtful examination of the abuses of position or personalities involved in the processes or the arbitrary application of standards.

Personally, I love to debate and discuss such things.

But I'm speaking more of attitude. The dismissing of the guidelines before one has taken the time to examine them fully within the context of the industry. Something I know you haven't done. In fact, I think you understand them better than I.

I'm speaking of that beginner attitude I've heard so much about. The attitude of the new writer who says "They don't know what they're talking about. I'm not changing a word of my story. It's great the way it is. If they can't see that, then they're passing up on a bestseller."

Now let's say said writer is correct - he still won't get published with that attitude.

Nicole said...

Excellent point, Dayle, and thank you for your kindness. If a writer breaks the rules without understanding them, all that shows up is his ignorance.

Kay said...

Kinda like the poor off key people on American Idol who insist they can sing, no matter what the experts say.

I do admit I struggle with this because I don't like being told how to do anything. But I do struggle. I know the sense of following sound advise, it just goes against my nature.

Also, I have a problem as a reader with how formulaic so many books seem these days. I would love to read some rule breakers! But a person can't break the rules successfully without first knowing how to follow them, I think.

Mark H. said...

Great analogy, Dayle.

donna fleisher said...

Well said, sir! : )

Dayle James Arceneaux said...

Wanna read a rule breaker, Kay? Try Peace Like a River. It breaks them all.

Thanks, Mark and Donna.

Janet Rubin said...

Jesus was a rule breaker. Not a law breaker. A rule breaker. There's a difference, right?

Kay said...

I've heard of that one, Dayle. I'll have to read it.
I'm reading a rule breaker now - omnicient narrative- the narrator is an angel, addresses the reader, skips from past to future to present in one paragraph, italics, etc, etc.
It's called The Messenger of Magnolia Street by River Jordan. It's a Christian themed book, published through the general market.