C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

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Writers: Please dare to be different

I’m sick as a very sick dog, so this will be brief and a little truculent. We should try harder. Far be it from me to tell anyone else what to do. However, I want more and better books to read. What am I ranting about? I’m angry at writing “by the numbers.”

I once got into a discussion where a fellow writer challenged me to define what I meant. I replied that he already knew what I meant and he had the grace to say, “Well, yeah.”

However, in case anyone is unclear, I’m talking about books that are too predictable and the tread is gone on their plots.

I’m talking about writing that is too safe. It can race along, but feels like it’s on the Indianapolis oval, always that predictable left turn. Race that car through the woods and duck some trees and crash through the stands!

When I see a cover that looks like all the other covers of a genre and read a sample that seems interchangeable with a dozen other books, I admit, I don’t go in with high expectations (or I don’t look further). Different gets eyeballs, if it’s good different. You don’t find good different without risking bad different.

No one sets out to write a bad book. There aren’t any really bad books because every author can find a raging fan for anything. There are only books that are not to your particular taste. What’s death to art is catering to one bland taste. That’s the lowest common denominator. There’s room for that and lots of people will buy it, sure, but is bland why you wanted to be a writer? It’s certainly not why I’m a reader.

Here’s what isn’t to my taste:

If the title is indistinguishable from six other titles in the genre and the plot sounds too much like all the others, it’s possible the manuscript emerged not from a printer, but from a hamburger grinder.

Take a damn risk!

Make an unpopular or forbidden artistic choice once in a while! Cross a genre boundary. Use poetic language instead of one steady drone of minimalism. Don’t kill someone when it’s the easy way to solve a plot problem. Then kill a beloved character. Do something in your art that isn’t easily defined. Try something new instead of writing the same book over and over. 

Yes, I know many authors write the same book again and again to great success. Yes, I know some (dumb) readers won’t be receptive to you taking chances. They’ll say “I don’t get it,” or “This wasn’t what I expected and I’m uncomfortable with how the story strayed.”

The story never strays. The story goes where it’s supposed to go. It’s where the author wrote it. Maybe the author didn’t write enough small words. Or maybe the author failed to make a satisfying end or a believable context or a dozen other variables that are the author’s fault. But please, dare to be different somehow.

Don’t aspire to be Hemingway or King or anybody else. Strive to develop your unique voice.

My friend, author Shermin Kruse, risks being branded “experimental” by allocating a part of her debut novel, Butterfly Stitching, to the form of a screenplay. It’s not experimental or dense. It’s cool. (I’ll let you know when the book comes out.)

Follow her lead. Do something unexpected. Some writers will say you shouldn’t. Most readers will appreciate that you did.

Now go write. And REACH!

Filed under: Books, writing tips, , , , , , , ,

8 Responses

  1. James Pailly says:

    I once had a friend who told me that there is not such thing as bad writing. Even something that’s poorly written can be, in it’s own unintentional way, entertaining. What we writers should avoid is boring writing.

  2. Bravo on this one, “truculent” though it may be. The feeling I get lately is that everyone is trying to produce as rapidly as possible. Understandable, for many reasons, given the way things have shifted. Still, we’re running the risk of not stepping back far enough and taking the time to be sure we’re not just trying to jump the train. Writing is art, after all. Or, at least it should be.

  3. Reblogged this on Beneath The Headstone and commented:
    Dare to be different and get your raging fan on!

  4. Jason Whited says:

    As a professional book editor, this is one of the finest pieces of advice for writers I’ve ever read. Well said. Let’s hope more of them wake up … and heed your words.

  5. Tim Baker says:

    While I totally agree with the entire post (in all of its truculence) I think the thing that keeps many writers from taking the dare is the fear of not selling books.
    If you allow yourself to be chained by that fear your hands will never be free enough to explore the keyboard properly.
    Just my two cents.
    If you start out to write a book – then do that, but don’t start out to sell a book. You probably won’t be very good at either task.

  6. I’m a cross-genre author and write whatever the story and characters dictate – but it makes it hell to sell.

    My last book is a story of crime, mystery and police procedurals but threaded through with a very strong steamy passionate romance and not without a fair bit of eroticism. It is promo’d in both ‘crime fiction’ and ‘romance’ categories.

    The result – my reviews seem to come out one third of readers love it. The other two thirds penalise me for not sticking to the genre. The crime fiction addicts knock off a star complaining there is too much luurrvv, flesh and ‘ridiculous poetic writing.’ The romance readers are shocked by the tough action/violence/language in the police scenes and do likewise.

    Life is not one genre and to tell a tale properly, the whole story has to include whatever elements are necessary along the way. Unfortunately many readers seem conditioned to expect the writing by numbers approach from the books they buy and don’t want the surprise of something different.

    Trying to write as a career option just doesn’t allow too much risk taking on the genre front – so I can totally understand the writing by numbers approach. For sure, my bank manager is wishing I could stick to a genre…. looking for a ‘real job’ may be the only option to keeping him satisfied.

  7. John says:

    Good one Chazz, it’s like you are reading my mind. I tend to say some of the same things on my BLOG.

  8. Joanne says:

    I sometimes wonder if this by-the-numbers fiction is a product of all the writing advice out there: start in the action with a hook, kill every adverb, protag must have a secret, midpoints, and reversals and pinches and writing according to the same plan. I’ve recently read a slew of books that do everything “right” according to these writing “truths” and they are all the worse for it. Just meh.
    Let’s play, people. Let’s experiment. And let’s hope (pray!) like crazy that publishers and readers are willing to take a chance on something that may not fit neatly into the old patterns and genre divisions.

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