Friday, March 16, 2012

Bending the Rules

Stephen King wrote an incredible book about his craft, entitled On Writing. It’s a brilliantly written book by a master storyteller who's a classic no-nonsense kind of guy.

One of King's main points in the book is to get in, and then get out, of a scene as quickly as possible. It's what stuck with me as I read the book, since, obviously, I have a tendency to go on for far too long in my writing.

But the thing about that is...King doesn’t take his own advice.

Known for his long form fiction, King has the tendency to write massive tomes. Like, serious, thousand-page buggers. He spends lots and lots of time in important scenes, letting his characters do and say things until they're finished doing and saying things.

And, often, it takes King characters a while to finish.

But, I think, somewhere in that contradiction lies King’s best piece of advice when it comes to writing—and, really, to doing anything creative. Follow the rules, but only until you come up with something better.

Or something more fun.

This is especially true with writing fiction, I think, but it can be applied to all forms of creative output. I think, as anyone else who needs to work within certain boundaries at work, it's always better to do something differently than how others have done it.

As long as it works.

And there's the key. It's cool and different to be cool and different, but that won't fly--ever--when what you come up with just doesn't work. But when it does work, even though it's different and not what people are used to seeing?

That's when you go with it.


CuntrySongAndMegaman said...

Ah, someone other than me has heard of On Writing! I found it a great book, but I think he was giving tips to jump into a cutthroat industry rather than the tips he himself uses. I also love his newest work (Or at least what I think is his newest), "11/22/63".

AJG said...

Cool! Yeah, I'm a big fan of the book. I haven't read the newest novel, but everyone I've talked to says it's great.

Anonymous said...

I lost my respect for King's writing after reading through "Under the Dome" in its entirety. For that story, I feel he took his handbook, lit it on fire, and smoked it. He got so caught up in being different and sensational, that he lost sight of all conventions of good story-craft in the process.

My opinions of King aside, I do agree with your premise that the key to creating great art is knowing when and how to bend the rules, or as my professor loved to say, being "consciously competent."

Before taking liberties with the rules, one needs to know what the rules are, why the rules are there in the first place, and why the rules aren't working for your particular case. Only then can you determine how to bend the rules to accommodate the expression of your idea to its best potential. Sure, sometimes people get lucky and are able to wing something cool and different, but they will never be a consistently great writer. Unconsciously competent authors will not be able to duplicate their success because they will not know why their writing was successful in the first place.