Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Can you be too educated?

While in a conversation with a GTW writer, I told them how awesome it was that they were taking classes in fiction writing. They said, "I wonder sometimes if all these courses might be stopping the 'natural flow' of my books, making them sound stiff, if you know what I mean," which I'm using as a springboard for today's question: is it possible to be too educated?

In short, no.

New writers have a tendency to balk at writing rules. Especially the ones that don't seem to come naturally to anyone, like POV. When I first started learning all these rules, I was worried that I'd lose my "voice." That I wouldn't sound unique anymore.

It's a lie. If you're feeling that way, tell that voice, "Shut up - you're wrong," and get back to studying the craft.

All those rules (One POV character per scene, write in nouns and verbs, drop us into the action early, use only "said") actually help your voice to shine. Your reader doesn't get bogged down thinking things like, "Wait, who thought that? Him or her?" Your writing is tighter without all those adverbs. Your plot is more intriguing with all the back story cut. Your dialogue works harder now that you're not relying on words like "shouted" or "inquired."

But until the rules become second-nature, yeah, it's possible your writing will feel stiff for a bit. That's okay. Once you no longer have to stop and think through the rules, you'll discover how much clearer, how much "voice-ier," your writing is.

So don't be afraid to learn more and try new techniques. The authors I gravitate towards are the ones who keep pushing themselves to improve, to learn more about their craft, and to grow as artists.


  1. And those who don't do that pushing and learning and growing are the ones that I put down with a growl and say, "I just can't read this author anymore."

    Learning is crucial--but so is writing. Sometimes we get so bogged down with craft that we forget story. That's where your previous lessons come into play, Stephanie. First, write the story. You can always integrate all those lessons into edits.

  2. Roseanna's totally right. Some of the rules eventually become second nature, like avoiding head-hopping. But in a first draft, I'll often write something in a passive sentence structure knowing that I can fix it in the second draft.

  3. Wait, I'm confused.
    So its better to write stuff like; "How could you do this?" Leah said.
    Instead of-- "How could you do this?" Leah shouted.
    Because I thought, with out "shouted"... the character sounds weird or monotone.
    I usually only write shouted, said, or asked. After a character says something, pending on what he/she says.

  4. Jazmine, the idea is that the dialogue/scene should be strong enough that you don't even need to tell the reader Leah shouted. They should be able to hear it for themselves. One of the ways you can do this is by saying something like, "Leah balled up her fists. 'How could you do this?'" Then you don't even need said/asked/etc.

    All this takes practice. My first drafts usually have tons of unnecessary dialogue tags.

  5. Ahhh... okay I get it now. :)
    I still sometimes struggle with making the feelings I have in my head come out onto the story...