When I read in an issue of PW Daily last year that at Thrillerfest, in New York, Lee Child led a class called “Tell, Don’t Show: Why Writing Rules are Mostly Wrong,” it made me smile. So, reading this class title by one of today’s biggest writers just made me want to attend the conference even more than I do anyway. I often teach a class called, “Breaking the Rules,” in which I talk about all the rules that beginning authors are told to avoid while every good (and definitely every great) author does in their own writing.
In fact, just today I met with a good friend of mine, Gerald Braude, and we read and discussed a few pages of Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove”. It’s a Pulitzer Prize-Winning novel. But it also incorporates over 16 points of view, uses some very long sentences with multiple dependent clauses, inserts dialect in dialog, uses adverbs even on the first page, and uses a lot of passive voice. In the volume we were discussing, McMurtry spent almost four whole pages talking about a sign, and feeding the reader back-story while he did it. Oh, and to get back to the first paragraph of this post, those pages about the sign were told, not shown.
Rules are made to be broken but, as I always tell my daughter, “You have to know the rules first.” And, I’ll go a step further: even if you know the rules and then break them, it doesn’t make you an expert at breaking them well. That takes practice. Just like a good writer often takes years to develop his or her craft, it also takes time to develop a craft that can break the rules and still drag the reader into the book from page one to the end.
I can hear people arguing with me already. I know that there are a lot of books on the market that aren’t written very well and are selling millions of copies. I’m not talking about what Barnum meant when he said, “There’s a fool born every minute.” There is a market for everything, including poorly written (according to me) books. Arguing that a book that makes millions is obviously a well-written book is like the proverbial apples and oranges discussion. One has little to nothing to do with the other.
I’m talking about the art of writing well versus just writing something that the general public will read. It’s a choice. I see just as many people buying paintings on velvet as I see people buying a well-crafted landscape. The good thing is that there’s room for both. An artist will find his or her audience, and so will the person who’s just learning the craft. My goal is to never stop learning. Writing is about art as much as, if not more than, it is about story, about craft, or about money. And to that end, you’ll most likely see me at conferences all around the country learning as much about writing and the publishing business as I can.
Terry Persun writes in many genres, including historical fiction, mainstream, literary, and science fiction/fantasy. He is a Pushcart nominee. His latest poetry collection is “And Now This”. His novels, “Wolf’s Rite” and “Cathedral of Dreams” were ForeWord magazine Book of the Year finalists in the science fiction category, and his novel “Sweet Song” won a Silver IPPY Award. His latest science fiction space opera is, “Hear No Evil”, his latest fantasy is “Doublesight”, his latest mainstream/literary novel is “Ten Months in Wonderland”.