I decided to choose a random thought or idea from one of the many writing books that grace my shelves and explore it. This is the first thing I read: A rule says, “You must do it this way.” A principle says, “This works … and has through all remembered time.”
I like this. I like this a lot because it ties into some thoughts I’ve had about feedback and in keeping with what I was saying yesterday. I usually says it’s not so much about right and wrong (creativity doesn’t have the definitive answer in the same way as mathematics 2+2=) but more about weaker and stronger, less engaging and more engaging, okay and great. It’s about reducing the subjectivity that accounts for different tastes and looking and what works best for most people, the majority of the time. I guess in essence we’re saying effective and less effective rather than this way is right and that way is wrong.
The quotation goes on to say, “The difference is crucial. Your work needn’t be modelled after the ‘well-made’ rather it must be well made within the principles that shape our art.”
Whenever I talk to writers about a piece of prose, as I did last night in Fiction Clinic at my writing group, you will always find people question some point or other (as they should) sometimes really small points, but never the less valid as all comment is. You will always get people who say but I like it that way. Perhaps there are those who have different interpretations of the ‘well-made’ (the above talks more specifically about writing plays but is equally applicable to writing fiction). Perhaps some do like a piece of writing that is to my mind weak, perhaps full of telling, too much exposition, no depth of character. It might be based on expectation, personal taste, some innate factor that shapes this, when most can see the weakness of clunky prose, let’s say. However, and this is where I think things like Fiction Clinic and good critique come to life, if you show how you could rework a scene, rewrite a story, restructure a chapter, using what is known to be more effective story-telling you have yourself a live demonstration of principle. Let’s return to the opening quote (from Robert McKee’s Story by the way) to re-emphasise the opening here: A rule says, “You must do it this way.” A principle says, “This works … and has through all remembered time.”
This is consistent with the point I made yesterday about knowing about showing and telling or clunky phrasing, but not being able to see it in your own work. I like to think that one of the things I can bring to a critique, as a fellow writer, is a perspective about a different way to do something; have you thought about trying this … I never say YOU MUST DO IT THIS WAY. No. I am saying try this, applying a principle that works, bringing together different narrative devices the author may not have thought about, to find a more effective way. Often they find a way between my suggestion, their original version and we have something all together ‘better’ or should I say ‘more effective’, ‘more engaging’, ‘sharper’ etc. That is always my hope. It’s great being creative together.
I would suggest those I referred to who originally said, “But I like it that way” about an information dump that’s all telling, let’s say, might just be less discerning and have less access to knowing what the work could be? But showing how it might have been done ‘better’ might just bring about a change of heart. Or maybe not? I don’t gamble, but I’d take a punt on the former being the case.
It brings me to something else I was thinking about yesterday as I prepared to hold the session; we are only as good as what we know. When we have the courage to send our work out there for feedback, be it a new writer’s first draft of a first novel (and no one has ever looked at their work) or a published writer with a string of qualifications and validations who has clearly polished a piece, we reach the same point. We are all equal at this point. It’s the point where we are happy enough, with the knowledge we have at that moment, and can not see how to make it better than it is. And that’s when another pair of ‘educated eyes’ is invaluable. For the new writer there may be much to learn but the curve is steep and improvement can be rapid. Or for the polished writer, perhaps they seek validation and the editor merely tweaks it that step closer to the perfection we all seek.
But by the way, I might suggest that perfection is in the eye of the beholder. It might even be a myth!
And to end this ramble, I will add the final quote from Robert McKee … oddly I have created this whole post out of the first six lines of the Introduction. Imagine if I did the whole book!
So here it is …
Anxious inexperienced writers OBEY the rules. Rebellious, unschooled writers BREAK the rules. Artists master the form. STORY is about eternal, universal forms, not formulas.
Have a great day 🙂
Great book by the way … for any writer CLICK here to find out more LINK