Wednesday, January 4, 2017

IWSG: And then there's the rulebreaker...

The new year is underway, so it's time once again to bare our souls for the monthly IWSG blog post.  Y'all already know what my insecurities are, so I don't really want to rehash them.  I think it makes me sound whiny and desperate, and that's never attractive.

But I will address this month's question - What writing rule do you wish you'd never heard?

Frankly, I like the rules.  There's a reason we have them - to keep a writer's work from sucking.  Almost every time I see a writer "break the rules," it leads to writing that's hard to follow or just not as engaging.  However, just like design rules, you have to know what they are to break them in a way that works.

I suppose the one rule I hear frequently is "don't be formulaic."  Writing shouldn't follow a set of guidelines, such as the introduction of the problem, inevitable conflict, rising action, etc. I hear people railing against "the formula" quite a bit in writer's forums.  My own students try to show me that the "hero's journey" is a model that no one uses and really doesn't work.

I say garbage.

Look, if your hero doesn't go on a journey of sorts, then there's no plot and no growth and for the reader, no interest.  No one wants to read about a boring, static life.  Even nonfiction writing has to follow some sort of formula.  Otherwise, the reader is lost and can't understand where the writer is going.

I remember once arguing with a friend who majored in screenwriting about plots.  He told me that there are nine basic plots.  I tried to argue that there were multiple stories and that you couldn't define it so narrowly.  However, every single example I gave him of something unusual and "different" fell under one of those nine plots.  It had taken several years before I realized why he was correct.

Human beings are pretty similar in our habits and thinking.  We gravitate towards what we know, and we cling to what's familiar.  That isn't a bad thing, and that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to be original.  But I say we should rethink "formulaic," and maybe define it as "familiar" or "what audiences like."

My proof of this?  Nicholas Sparks.  The man has made millions of dollars following a formula.  Now tell me it doesn't work.