Learning creative writing is a daunting endeavor. There’s this huge gray abyss filled with what-to-dos and what-not-to-dos that new and experienced writers find themselves diving into with no clue how to climb back out.
I tumbled in a few years ago. You couldn’t keep the writing books out of my hands. Anything and everything to do with plots, characters, POV, writing mechanics, grammar (though admittedly, I resisted the proper use of commas and continue to splice to my little heart’s content), tension, descriptions – if it picked the craft apart, I purchased it.
Then came the deep murk of application. Never use the passive verb “was” (She was going up the hill). Never use the weak, telling adverbs (John angrily told Jane off). Never tag “said” with an weak, telling adverb (she said cheekily?). Never tell, always show (John was sad = John sobbed in the corner). And those were the tip of the iceberg called Writing Mechanics.
But then there’s the subtle elements of fiction. Style sophistication and little known “gears” that turn your plot into a clockwork of perfection: Tension, Micro-tension, POV, Psychic Distance, Flashback scenes, Foreshadowing, Dialogue, Dialogue beats, Motivation Reaction Units, Active Voice, Scenes and Sequels, and the list goes on.
Once you fall into THAT murk, there’s almost no coming back. Your head is filled with all these tools – too many to keep straight ( <- AH, Split infinitive NO NO!) and you become overwhelmed, stressed out, confused to what you should use and what you shouldn’t. Should you add this flashback here? Or should you somehow incorporate this into the narrative? Should you go present tense or past tense? Would first person POV be the best, or third? Should you dare add more than one POV, and then who should be your POVC? What sort of voice should they have?
By the time you decide this, you’re so exhausted you don’t write anything. But that’s not the worst of it. No, no no. See, now you’re so full of knowledge your brain is ready to implode. You MUST share it or go insane.
So I went on a rampage, telling everyone and anyone about the lessons I learned, sometimes forcing it down their throats. I tried to adhere to every guideline in my examples, showing people how much more “wonderful” their words could be rewritten my way. Understandably, not everyone agreed with my paradigm of prose. Some clashes happened. Diatribes and debates over showing vs. Telling, or questions from the ignorant on why adverbs are “bad”.
Those were dark times, and I got lost in the rules, applications, and techniques of writing. But then, mysteriously and magically, I mellowed. Honestly, I can’t say how or why, but I began using the no-nos in my writing again. Those adverbs, those to-be verbs, those splices, and fragments. No more wasting hours on an alternative for “was”. I just used the damn word and was done with it.
The great thing about knowledge is that once you know the tools, you can pick and choose what ones work for you. The great story-telling clock is not all that complicated once you break it down and learn how to build it from scratch. Once you picture the finished clock, building it is much easier. You start inherently recognizing what gear will make your clock tick, and what gear will break it. Sure that gear may be a little ugly, or weird on its own, but in the end, if it makes the clock beautiful, then use it. Don’t worry if someone thinks that “gear” is wrong.
Do what is best for your clock.