A Writing Journey

When Advice Goes Bad

I love articles about writing. I love Writer’s Digest, I love writing books, I love all the blogs that have so much good advice on writing well (especially when it comes to the little grammar mistakes). But sometimes, advice goes bad. When this happens, I often feel as though my own opinions and preferences are being attacked, and I know that I am not the only one who feels this way.

I recently read an article talking about what not to do in an intro. Most of the points were good and, truth-be-told,  pretty common in most “how to start your novel” articles (things like: don’t start a thousand years in the past, don’t start with weather, don’t start with dialogue). But as I read, I realized that the article was putting me on defensive. So I stopped and really looked at why that was. And here is what I discovered.

The first thing that bothered me was “DON’T.” A long time ago, I read somewhere that when people are told not to do something (as in with a big DON’T) they will become resistant to whatever you are telling them. I know I do. I always try to frame things in a positive way (like “Please treat that cat well” instead of “don’t hurt the cat!”) and so when I am faced with all the negatives, I shut down. When giving advice, no matter if it is for writing or anything else, I think it is especially important to be positive in order to grow.

The second thing that bothered me was that the author said “no backstory/flashback!” I get that, I do. A lot of times the backstory or flashback has to do with the main character’s traumatic loss of parents, or the villain putting into action his/her evil plans. However, I think there is a place for backstory, especially  if it is directly relevant to the plot of the story. I will admit that it is a tricky thing to accomplish well, but I think it can be done.

The third thing that bothered me about this article was that it said don’t write a prologue. Now in the article-author’s defense, I have read stories where the prologue is so vague that I skip it, or it doesn’t follow the main character, or it is just the prophecy that crops up throughout the book, or it has no purpose but to make the book seem more important. There are a lot of prologues that can go. But I have read even more books that have FANTASTIC prologues. Getting rid of a prologue isn’t the key to a great opening. A prologue can be a great opening, especially if the inciting incident happens in the prologue. Some people might argue that if the inciting incident happens, it should be chapter one and not the prologue. I can understand that point of view. I think either way is fine. Personally, I love prologues. I love it more when there is an epilogue at the end of the story to connect back as well.

The last thing that bothered me about this article was that it encouraged writers to go with the current trend of how openings are written (that is, the inciting incident takes place on the very first page). This HORRIFIED me. While I understand that the inciting incident needs to happen early, the way this bit of advice was phrased was terrible. I don’t care what genre a person is writing in, I would NEVER encourage writers to go with the trend for the sake of it! We writers should do what feels right to us. If that happens to fall into the “trend” category, so be it, but forcing ourselves to fit within certain lines is a sure way to fail. We wouldn’t be writing with our voice anymore. We’d be writing to conform to others’ expectations. We should write for ourselves first. (That being said, I have a friend that told me most readers won’t continue if something doesn’t catch their interest within the first two pages. I think that is completely true, but what catches their interest doesn’t have to be the inciting incident. I really don’t think that it needs to be within the first couple pages, though for beginning writers I do think it is a good idea. My main problem with this point on the article was the following the trend bit.)

I believe that if something is written well, it doesn’t matter if there is backstory or a prologue or even a typical day. If it is written well, I’m not going to put it down. I often feel as though articles like the ones I read are designed for people looking for a “quick fix” to make there story better. The biggest thing that will make it better is practice at writing, not fitting into a specific formula.

What do you think about these points? Have you come across bad pieces of advice?

Take care, fellow travelers.

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Comments on: "When Advice Goes Bad" (6)

  1. Yes…when I wrote some pieces for a role play story arc, and some were not happy with the direction the story had taken, cause they liked the characters too much to see bad things happen to them. I had one even say that he would do evil things, if I killed off his favorite character…-sighs-

    • That’s unfortunate. Good stories are often made great by giving people something to mourn. At least that’s how I feel about it.

      • I agree. At first when the story turned and the character lived, I was…a bit eh. But then a whole new arc happened, and he was thrust into a mental hospital, which turned out to be a very challenging story to write.

        • Challenging stories can be a lot of fun! I hope you ended up liking it. The rpg/collaboration types of stories can be more difficult than writing alone, if only because of the conflicting ideas of how the story should go.

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