At some point in your writing journey you may decide that you actually want someone to read your work –as opposed to messing around with Dick and Jane for the fun of it. Perhaps this is the phase where you move away from playing with paper dolls and start writing a true story. Naturally, when this phase arrives, you start paying more attention to craft, go on writer’s forums, or visit blogs like this one. Great debates and pondering of craft occurs in which you begin to learn the intricacies of craft –how to keep them reading by adding tension, engaged by creating emotion, plotting, characterization and the like. This is as it should be. This is an on going process that you as a writer will never fully complete (or it ought to be! Heaven help the writer who claims they know all there is to know!)
We strive for perfection in our work. Which is good. But is perfect always advisable? I often talk out of my ass, so feel free to jump in with objections, but I contend that while striving for perfection in writing, one often does so at the expense of voice. What the heck do I mean? Well, simply this:
There is a tendency for writers (both newbies and old hats) to run down a checklist of do’s and don’ts –yes, this does touch on the old debate of rules and when to break them. But the argument is a bit more subtle (wait –I promise!). How many times have I read tips for editing which covers the following: check for extraneous adverbs and adjectives, avoid dialogue tags, don’t say 'walk' when you can say 'strode', eradicate passive sentences, and the list goes on. These are all good tips; some editing/writing tips are awesome. But at some point, by carving into your work, whittling out any “writer” mistakes, you run the risk rubbing out your unique voice as well.
I’m not talking about throwing the rules out –and perhaps this is a discussion best saved for those who have learned the rules and are ready to break them. I am simply saying that going over and over your work in an attempt to make it flawless often results in me seeing a work that is technically glorious, and unfortunately dull. I shouldn’t be praising your technique; I should be lost in your story.
I adore Diana’s use of dialog tags, Laura Kinsale’s head hopping POVs, JK Rowling’s excessive adverbs and adjectives. I’d weep if someone had gotten to these artists and said, “You know, you really ought not to do that.” And if they had listened! Think of if all us followed the rules, edited out any “mistakes”, we’d have paint-by-numbers books that might have been penned by anyone –or Elmore Leonard! (perish the thought of a million Elmores running amok.)
I won’t name any examples here but I have read exquisitely wrought prose, perfection on a page, books so technically marvelous that I was wiggling with envy, yet that’s about all I remember about those books. The story often drifts over me like mist. It simply doesn't stick.
Tell me I’m wrong. I’m sure there are exceptions. But for me, perfection is boring. I’d rather a writer let loose, drown me in their unique but perhaps slightly flawed voice.
So I ask you. What rules are you tired of? What dirty little writer’s no-no do you love to employ and critics be damned? And when is good enough, good enough, already!