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Are we blocking our own way?

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Amanita, Aug 30, 2012.

  1. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

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    This is a question I’ve been asking myself after reading the recent ”žPublishing Myths“ thread and after reading the newest book I’ve bought.
    Are we putting too much pressure on ourselves while striving for perfection? Reading through this and other forums on writing you only have a chance of getting published if you write a book in perfect style (whatever this is supposed to mean), edit countless times, accept claims by other people that your writing is bad, that you’re a beginner and change it in ways others think are necessary. And then we’re asking ourselves why books like Twilight, Harry Potter or Eragon gain such success while doing so many things wrong.

    The last book I’ve read is a German fantasy book by a new author. It’s the first book of a trilogy with a rather open ending. The protagonists have reached an insight and are save for the moment, but the problems aren’t even nearly solved. The author has a strong tendency to start including philosophical thoughts that don’t really suit the viewpoint characters. (An illiterate soldier and a young nomadic herdsman.) Those are distracting from the plot and I tended to skip them. I’d surely have pointed this out as a thing to change on the Showcase and most of you probably would have done the same.
    Still, this book has been published by a mayor German publishing house and has even made it to my small town bookstore with its two rows of fantasy books. And despite of the flaws that were noticeable, I really liked the story and characters and will probably read the sequels when they come out.

    The book could have been even better if he had changed some things, but it was received well enough the way it was. A quest for personal improvement would require eradicating such flaws of course, but the wish to get your story published obviously does not.
    Some books with even worse stylistic flaws are out there and bought and I don’t know what makes those writers reach the goal that so many authors fail to reach.

    The thought that the best and hardest workers will win out in the end, is a comforting one of course, and the idea that it might be mere lack or good connections is not, but I’m not sure if it really applies in this business and I’m wondering if many of us aren’t standing in our own way by overanalyzing and criticizing and spending time on this that might be better spent writing.

    What are your thoughts?
     
    ALB2012 and squishybug87 like this.
  2. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    The answer to this is "yes."

    There is no such thing, first of all. I enjoy these discussion for academic purposes, but when I sit down to write I go with what flows well for me as I'm writing, and then when I go back to edit I try to interrupt as little of that as possible. "Rules" of writing are a minor consideration, if a consideration at all (beyond basic rules of grammar, and I might even bend those).

    Ultimately, the focus should be on storytelling. You'll do much, much better as a good storytelling with mediocre writing skill than as a flawless writer who either can't tell a story or who has edited all passion and energy from a story. If you can do both, early on in the writing process, then that's great. Otherwise, I do think the vast majority of writers hold themselves back by an overemphasis on rules and perfection (and with other distractions like world-building and the like).
     
  3. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I have a lot of thoughts on what you wrote:

    1. Embarrassment is a big motivator for me. I do not want my name associated with a crappy product. I get that, at some point, I have to stop revising and put it out into the world, but, when that time comes, I want that product to be the best that I could possibly create.

    2. It's very tempting from a monetary standpoint to throw something out there that I've put the least amount of effort possible into.

    3. Striving to be perfect improves your writing. Even if you can't achieve the impossibility of a perfect story, the very fact that you tried moves you much farther up the learning curve than simply putting out the same old crap. If I would never have gone to a writing group and would have never posted on this forum, the dreck that I put out would not have been worth reading by anyone.

    4. The "best" books don't win the largest audiences. I can live with this. My goal is to be happy with the work that I put out.
     
  4. Ankari

    Ankari Hero Breaker Moderator

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    Good observation Amanita,

    Except that I want to point one thing out. I read and judge authors' works as I critique the Showcase. If I buy a book, and I can't get through the first 4 chapters, I won't read it or any other books by that author. Example? RA Salvatore. I know that when he wrote the Forgotten Realms books he was trying to write targeting 11 to 14 year old boys, but I won't buy any books from him. And I LOVED Drizzt and all the possibilities of his character.

    Yeah, we're tough on each other. We strive to be perfect when we see examples of other writers making mistake after mistake. But then you read an author that blows your mind and suddenly, all those other authors are left in the "maybe later" pile.
     
  5. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Ankari:

    Yeah, but given R.A. Salvatore's volume of sales, you may just have made Amanita's point :D
     
  6. squishybug87

    squishybug87 Minstrel

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    When I do sit down to write and edit and finetune my book, I will make the best that *I* can make it. I will make my story the best that it can be. Not what anyone else says is the best. I do read what the 'rules' are, because one of my favorite sayings is to know and understand the rules, so you can break them in spectacular ways.
     
  7. Aosto

    Aosto Sage

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    I think this is the key point here. As long as your story isn't full of grammatical errors and poor structure. Also, as long as there aren't gaping holes in the plot, or things randomly tossed in that don't really fit.

    In the end, the story is your story and no one else. You can take suggestions with a grain of salt, if you like it in your story then add it. If you don't like it, then write it off.
    I can honestly say I love the Harry Potter series because it grabbed me at a young age and I could not let it go until it was finished. But the one thing that always stuck out to me as a big flaw was in the prisoner of azkaban and the use of the time turner. Honestly, if that thing existed then why in the hell didn't they use it back when Voldemort was up to no good? You know, sneak up on him BEFORE he killed off Harry's parents.
    My theory is because the story itself is good, kids and adults could relate to a lot of the characters. The plot was generic, but had it's fantastical moments that kept the story moving and people were able to look past that flaw. They could look past it because they knew deep down that there wouldn't be a story if someone would have thought to use the damned time turner.
     
  8. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I think there are other "rules" that can dramatically impact the way the story is received. Is there tension and conflict? Do the scenes have a purpose and advance the plot? Is the dialogue too stilted? Is sentence structure varied? Were the characters realistic and fully developed? I could go on and on.

    Again, the rules are there to help you.
     
  9. squishybug87

    squishybug87 Minstrel

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    I agree with this, and you shouldn't break rules just for the sake of breaking them. I'll even say that there are some rules that should almost always be followed, like those you listed above. However, if your story itself is going to be negatively affected by a rule, why keep it? For example, the notion of showing, not telling. For the most part, I follow this rule. But if the scene would work better if I just told the reader what was happening, what a character is feeling, etc, then I'll end up breaking that rule.
     
  10. Ankari

    Ankari Hero Breaker Moderator

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    Ironically, this thread and the Using Italics thread are the most popular at this time yet are generating different responses.

    To use italics for internal dialogue is breaking the rule, yet a lot of people are with using them. Just an observation.
     
  11. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    If you want to see a good, and fairly recent, example of a bunch of rules being broke, while still producing a nice end product, check out Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves.
     
  12. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    As an author, you have the ultimate responsibility to determine what rules to follow.

    There are a lot of "rules" about writing that I don't agree with, so I don't use them. I do try hard, however, to make sure that I fully understand a rule before I make that evaluation.

    Personally, I tend to disregard a lot of rules that are stylistic in nature.
     
  13. squishybug87

    squishybug87 Minstrel

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    The showing, not telling rule? I have to respectfully disagree. While it can be a sign of lazy writing, italicised internal dialogue can be used to show something about a character. Instead of saying 'she felt self conscious', I can show it in her thoughts.
     
  14. squishybug87

    squishybug87 Minstrel

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    Sounds very interesting :)
     
  15. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    It's a good book. Quite strange in how it was written, but very interesting and just a cool story.

    A review, if you are interested: http://themodernword.com/review_house_of_leaves.html

    The final paragraph, to sum it up:

     
  16. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I think that Ankari is saying that using italics to show internal dialogue is, in itself, breaking a rule since so many editors are against it.

    Again, though, I completely separate such stylistic rules from technical rules. Kind of like the rule that now you're supposed to use a single space instead of a double space between sentences. I prefer the double space. Another one: some editors don't like the default "fancy" quote marks that Word uses and think you should reset them. I just don't think that these things matter all that much.
     
  17. squishybug87

    squishybug87 Minstrel

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    Am I seeing correctly? I'm using the "Look Inside" feature at Amazon and it's set up like a research paper?
     
  18. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Some of it is. It is supposed to be a writing about a documentary film of events in the house, and then one character has found the writing about the film, and his story takes place in the footnotes. There are also appendices with aspects of the story in them. In some places the formatting gets a bit odd to represent the labyrinthine house.

    Once you get to The Nadvison record, the footnote story and the story from the House are presented concurrently, though the author weaves them together well.

    Like I said, if you want conformity to rules, this is not your book :) It says early on that 'this is not for you.' lol
     
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2012
  19. squishybug87

    squishybug87 Minstrel

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    I am very intrigued. The part that I put in bold in your original quote makes me happy :) I think I'll have to get around to reading this one.
     
  20. squishybug87

    squishybug87 Minstrel

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    Ok, I wasn't understanding :)
     
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