Function and purpose in writing skills

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Stay on target... stay on target...
Stay on target… stay on target…

In writing, we have all these rules and pieces of advice that get dished out. I offer plenty of them here, and follow others with varying degrees of dedication. But these rules aren’t just neutral things that create some kind of abstract ‘better’ writing. They create different sorts of writing, which have different impacts. A lot of the advice leads to writing that is familiar and accessible, that people will easily get into and enjoy. But we have to remember that’s what the advice is good for, and only deploy it when that’s the aim.

Going back to Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Morgenstern’s use of the second person is so disconcerting that some people make a rule of never using that voice. It’s challenging, even alienating, and as As If pointed out on Google+, it breaks the fourth wall, the implicit barrier between the reader and the content of the story. If you want to write relaxing action fiction then ‘don’t use second person’ is a good rule. But in The Night Circus it adds something to the mix, because the use of that voice fits the purpose of the story.

Don’t just take the approach that works well, take the approach that works well towards the aims you want. The advice that works for me works for me because I like accessible genre fiction with varying degrees of action. The advice that’s ‘good’ for me would be terrible for someone who wants to produce ground-breaking experimental fiction. Good writing depends on your aims, and if you don’t keep those aims in sight then you will end up working smoothly and efficiently towards something you never wanted.

On which topic, have you ever followed writing advice that ended up not suiting you? What widely accepted wisdom have you rejected, on writing or something else? Share your thoughts in the comments, and whatever you’re working at, make sure that you keep your aims in mind.


Picture by Pete via Flickr creative commons.