An astronaut, accidentally thrown deep into the universe without hope of getting home discovers he is part of an ancient alien prophecy that, although so foreign to him, also feels extremely familiar…
By Randy C. Dockens
“Imaginative…creative world-building…page turner”
Take Advice from Others with a Grain of Salt
Guest Post By Randy C. Dockens
When I first started out on my writing journey, I knew I did not know a lot about how to be an author. Therefore, I took everything I read as gospel and tried to follow what I read to the letter. I began to discover many “professional” writers, editors, agents, and publishers have a lot of pet peeves about writing requirements and I told myself I was not going to offend any of them. I tried my best to ensure my writing met all their requirements so when they received my manuscript it would not end up in their wastepaper pile. Yet, when I attempted to comply, I found my writing became worse and not better. This is why my novel Mercy of the Iron Scepter went through so many revisions before it was ever published. I was constantly changing how I wrote due to the next pet peeve I read about. I then began to see that some of these “experts” contradicted other “experts.” I was then in a quandary until I began to look deeper. Let me give you some examples and I think you can better understand why I gave this piece the title I did and the reason for why I ended up in my quandary.
Here are some of the things I read, took to heart, and tried to comply completely: (1) the word that should never be used because it is superfluous, (2) the word was should be avoided because it is too vague and imparts passivity to the text, (3) exclamation marks should never be used because good writers can write in a way that will indicate the emotion rather than having to show it with an exclamation point, and (3) dialogue tags should not be used because they can be distracting and are a sign a writer has weak technical talent.
What I came to realize was that these were just pet peeves of certain writers, agents, editors, and publishers. They are not absolute requirements. Granted, each of these points are useful and can be taken to heart, but they are not gospel. These individuals should have clarified that one should be aware of these pitfalls and not overuse these writing elements. It is the overuse that is the faux pax and not their use itself. Actually, it is impossible to avoid each of these altogether. Well, I shouldn’t say it is impossible, but definitely there is no need for one to avoid them all together.
Let’s look at these pet peeves just mentioned. It is true that many times the word that can be omitted because it is superfluous. Yet, that is not always the case. It is true that was can often be passive and a better expressive word can be substituted, but not in every case. Regarding exclamation points, yes, one should write a sentence that a reader can tell it is an exclamatory sentence. Yet shouldn’t one use an exclamation point if the sentence is an exclamation? I think the point is that an exclamation mark does not make a sentence an exclamation if the tone of the sentence is not written that way. And, finally, yes sometimes dialogue cues are not needed, and dialogue can be written without them. Yet, if there is any chance of a reader getting confused as to who is talking, then a dialogue tag is needed.
My conclusion from my initial struggle in this area is that one should take to heart what others say about writing tips and tricks, but realize they are just that: tips and tricks. You need to be sure your writing style and emotional content comes through loud and clear but in a way that uses good sentence structure, correct spelling, and proper grammar. But, if an element or emotion is needed that dictates not to use spelling, grammar, or sentence structure in their traditionally accepted way, then that is okay if what you write and the way you write it is intentional. Your reader will be able to tell if what you did was purposeful or not. So, you can do anything, just know you did it and that it was a purposeful change to accomplish something special for your reader.
So, yes, study all the proper ways of writing and proper writing techniques. Yes, try to avoid all the pitfalls writing experts warn you about. Yet, remember that the most important thing about your writing is you. If you get lost in your own writing, then your writing is lost. Your writing will be different from that of anyone else, and it should be different—unique to you. It should also be as good technically as you can make it and not lose the essence of you in the process. Even more importantly, you need to be purposeful. Your writing is to engage your reader, so be purposeful in your writing. Ask yourself questions about your writing. Why did I use that word? Why did I use that punctuation at that spot in the sentence? You don’t have to follow traditional methodology, but there is a caveat to that statement. You need to know that you did not follow traditional methodology and that you purposefully chose not to follow traditional writing techniques. Every sentence, every word, every punctuation should be purposeful—chosen by you as the author for a specific purpose, to elicit a specific emotion, feeling, or ambience.
Study. Learn. Write. Enjoy the process. But most of all, be purposeful. Your readers will thank you for it.