There are a lot of writing blogs with a lot of advice. Some of it’s good, some of it’s bad, some of it’s pretty darn ugly, but almost none of it is absolute. It’s easy to act like there are rules of creative writing when, in reality, it’s more like a set of best practices.
- Best practices work. The conventions of fiction are in place because they work for most stories. Writers insist on showing rather than telling because nine times out of ten this does make for a higher quality story. If it didn’t work, it wouldn’t be a staple of writing.
- But best practices are not the only thing that work. David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest slips between first and third person narration, includes pages of untagged dialogue, and is loaded with lengthy technical descriptions that are tangential to the plot. It is also considered one of the best books ever written. It is possible to reject conventional wisdom and still create a solid work of fiction.
- You are not David Foster Wallace. I’d be concerned if you were. He’s dead.
- Know the rules before breaking them. The reason why skilled writers can break the rules and get away with it is because they understand why each rule exists and how breaking it will affect the text.
This post isn’t to say that advice is useless, or that a couple of pointers can’t significantly improve the quality of a piece of writing. It is to say that there is an exception to every so-called rule. At the end of the day your story is your own, and if you have a good reason why something must be told rather than shown, tell away.
Writing like a boss: If you’re not sure whether or not you can break a rule and get away with it, break it. It might not work. In fact, it might go horribly wrong. But horribly wrong can be edited out. It is, on the other hand, much harder to make up for the loss of the interesting turns of phrase and innovative writing that come from experimentation.