jeffsoesbe (jeffsoesbe) wrote,
jeffsoesbe
jeffsoesbe

[writing] for the newbie writer, it's the curse of low expectations

During the Ashland vacation, I had the chance to catch up on some short fiction reading: digests, collections, and online. While doing so I read several stories by big-name writers that violated one or more of the "rules" I've been told, in workshops, that a newbie writer like me should follow.

These are "rules" like: avoid first person present; don't head-hop your viewpoint; don't start off with a large stretch describing the setting; have the speculative element within the first couple paragraphs; start off with a person (your main character), a place and a problem; have a clear conflict and resolution.

I noticed these "violations" but in every case I kept on reading the story. Why? Because I told myself that Big-Name Writer X knows what they're doing, so I can give them the benefit of a doubt. In the end, some of the stories worked for me and some didn't. But I didn't stop reading.

I also paid careful attention to the stories that were listed as "first sales" for a digest. In each case, those stories more closely followed the "rules". There was a clear conflict, an early problem statement, a quick sense of the speculative, good physical details, and no head-hopping. I might not have liked these "firstie" stories as much as others in the digest, but they were all solid, strong stories and I would be fine with having written them.

Yes, I've heard people say "they're not rules, they're guidelines". But I came away from my reading with the sense that for a newbie, one trying to get sales, one trying just to get "noticed", these "rules" are important. They're important because you don't have the history of being able to write strong, solid, straightforward stories and thus the leeway to wander away from "standard form".

A newbie writer starts with the curse of low expectations: it is assumed that you don't know what you're doing. So when you go away from a "rule" it's a mark against you and a reason to send you a standard "thanks but no thanks" submission reply.

Sure, it's not fair. But that's the way it is and right now, I'm perfectly content with this situation. Because, honestly, it takes away some of the variability and gives me less things to worry about. Having a "form" within which I'm expected to work lets me put the effort to "stretch myself" into other areas such as subject matter, language, character narrative, description, and plot structure.

Perhaps having more leeway in all areas would produce prose that is more something-else-I-can't-quantify-that-would-be-laudable. But having the "rules" present in the back of my mind helps me right now as I try to move from conscious inability to conscious ability, as I try to write stories that are strong, solid, straightforward and sellable. And now it's time to get back to it.
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