Insane Writing Falsities 1: Asking Permission
I spend some time floating about this here interwebz, interacting, reading, emailing, digitally stalking people who wonder to themselves, “who the holy hell is this guy, and why does he keep tweeting me?”
As a writer, it should come as no surprise to you that a lot of my net time involves writing and writers. We word nerds are like that, all clicky and strange. Some of these folks I followed because of an interesting post, or a book they wrote, or because they often collect links together in some massive orgy of clickable knowledge.
Something they did intrigued me, entertained me, or made me think.
And, of course, quite a few of these are advice blogs, usually on Tumblr, which answer questions and dispense, well, advice on the writing process.
Advice is good. Advice is helpful. We all need advice. And, for the most part, you can find some pretty interesting things on these advice blogs, like links to how languages formed or what some sub-culture in a distant land does or did or will do. Little nuggets of brain-feed abound in these places, little triggers that just might get a new story idea brewing in your head.
But there is an insane thing I see on many of these blogs: questions of such an inane sort, usually answered with such gravitas it makes my head spin.
My protagonist and antagonist are similar. How do I make them different?
Can I (insert action here) in a (insert genre here)?
What are the rules for (insert trope here), and can I make up my own?
Here it is, folks, in a nutshell. If you write, then you are a writer. Maybe not a good one. Maybe not an experienced one. But for fuck’s sake, you are a writer.
Repeat after me: I am a writer and I don’t need permission to write whatever I want however I want.
Really, folks, don’t ask questions like these. Don’t ask the internet if you can make stuff up in your own book.
And that’s what this all boils down to: asking permission. Sure, the format of the question changes, but the seed of the issue, the crux of the problem, is this.
I want to write, but I cannot because of some rule, or I am afraid to solve the problem myself since I might be missing some rule.
How do you make your characters different from one another? Really? How many people do you know? A bunch I bet. Notice how they are all different? Write like that. Write those people. BAM, magic. Characters are really not that hard, and none of them are ever made whole cloth and from the author’s brain-meat. Pull from the sources of your life, for goodness sake. Everyone is doing it, folks, everyone.
If you have to ask how to write a certain story, then you are either not read well enough in those types of stories to feel how they work, or you are afraid to write it the way you see it in your head. Either way, you need to come to grips with the fact you are the writer, you are at the wheel. I see folks asking things like, “How do I write fantasy…” I promise you, no amount of helpful links in a master post of writing shit is going to answer that. You cannot learn how to write fantasy from the internet. You learn by A) Reading fantasy, or B) Just making it all up as you go! You can do that! In fact, it was just this type of DIY attitude that got us all our great books to begin with, folks.
I will repeat that: Those book that affected you the most, that made you want to write, were likely the exact books that broke the rules and made it all up.
Tolkien was like, “Imma write a pseudo-historical tale and take elements from all the races I’ve read about in real life, but add, get this, little damned people and a giant flaming eyeball on a tower!”
David Eddings was like, “Imma write fantasy without following most of the set rules for it by Tolkien and the authors that followed, and instead take elements of ancient prose-poems and tales of knights, and get this, make my wizard a lecherous dunkard whose only love was a wolf-woman! Oh, and gleeful violence!”
What are the rules for a certain story element? There are no rules, and that’s the rule. Tolkien didn’t follow rules. Bradbury didn’t follow rules. Ellison actively had carnal activities in public with rules. You make the rules.
Look, I get it. We all start somewhere. We all need a hand. We all want to know if we are doing it right. And there are certain, let’s call them best practices, to borrow from the dead soulless void of the corporate world. Not rules exactly, but not not rules, either.
You should try and write in an active style. You should avoid too much purple prose. You should keep characters interesting and lively. You should mix up sentence length so it is fun to read.
Fantasy usually involves magic. Sci-fi often takes place in space. Noir has a lot of brooding, angry protagonists.
But do not ask random people on the Internet if it is ok for you to write a certain theme, or style, or genre. Either you do or you don’t, there is no ask.
That’s what it is to be a writer.
If you want rules, be a lawyer.
If you want to write a noir steampunk fantasy werewolf book, then open your laptop and do it. You’ll get an awful lot more done that way than asking the internet for permission, I’ll promise you that.