Between social outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, full of like-minded people I’ve never met and my semi-retired blog, Ink Drop Interviews, I converse and interact with thousands of writers who have experienced varying degrees of success. I am often asked questions pertaining to writing and kindly reply ‘Whoa! Back it up. What do I look like, a reference book?’ Seriously, although I’ve enjoyed some success in the writing world (and even stolen an award or two), by no means do I feel qualified to start handing out advice like business cards. However, I am extremely qualified to have an opinion. And I do. About almost everything. But for today, I’m going to talk about ‘the rules’.
Yes, as writers we’ve all heard about the rules:
Don’t end a sentence with a preposition, never split an infinitive, use ‘said’ almost exclusively, and so on.
Then, there are the rules that apply to style, such as:
Keep your sentences short. Four to five sentences to a paragraph and follow the Flesch-Kincaid standard for reading ease.
Recently, I received an email from a man who asked that I refer to him as Charles David Montague, not because it’s his pen name, but because he believes it has a royal, sophisticated ring to it, which he feels reflects his writing style. (and he didn’t want you all to know who he really is-he’s shy) So, for the purpose of this particular blog, I will refer to him as Charles David (Duke of some country I can’t pronounce). Royal enough for you, Chucky? Thank God we’ve become friends and he knows I’m just playing with him.
Anyway, when Charles first wrote me, he expressed interest in appearing on Ink Drop Interviews, but felt that his work was too literary for my readers. Why? Because he has been told countless times that his work is too literary. Period.
I asked him to send me a sample. Hells bells, where did I put my Dictionary for Erudites? Passive voice overload, convoluted sentences, and vocabulary right out of the 19th century. Yeah, I always say why throw nickel-words at people when you can kill them dead with the fifty-dollar variety.
Unbeknownst to him (there’s my fifty-dollar word for the day), I failed sugar-coating 101, so I gave it to him straight up. I told him pretty much everything I said in the last paragraph. When the shell shock of honesty finally wore off, he asked me, “Do you think there’s a place in the reading world for my type of writing?”
Now here’s where I won him over.
“Absolutely!” And I was being 100% honest with him. Is he going to sell as many books as a writer who follows the guidelines more closely? No. Is he ever going to be a household name? No. At least not while he’s alive.
Did I like the sample he sent to me? No. Not because there was anything wrong with it. Actually, I did like his voice, main character, and pacing. What I didn’t like was the style. Not his style. The style.
Let me explain.
I’m a read-o-holic. I love to read (WHAT I love to read). I like light fiction. Small words, short sentences work best for me, not because I can’t follow or don’t understand more literary pieces but when I sit down to read, I’m sitting down to relax. Not just my body, but my mind. William Faulkner is heralded as one of the greatest writers to have ever put pen to paper. But, I’m not a fan. When I read him, and I have, I finish the book feeling as though I just went twenty rounds with Webster’s. His style reminds me of driving over one of the bridges entering into New York city. Confusing to say the least. On the other hand, when I finish reading Fannie Flagg, I feel… southern. I feel the comforts of small town living. I cry, I laugh, I wish the story didn’t have to end. I feel as relaxed as if I’d just finished a Sunday ride through the country. Does that make Fannie a better writer than Faulkner? No. It makes her the preferred writer—to me.
But, you don’t see them teaching Fannie Flagg in literature class and the last time I caught the ‘Top 100 Writer’s of Our Time’ list, she wasn’t on it. But I love her just the same.
It’s simple Charles. Some readers (me) would prefer to read, ‘Who are you going with’ while others prefer ‘With whom are you going’. You’re a ‘with whom’ kind of guy and I’m a ‘going with’ kind of gal, so I guess that leaves out any chance of a future for us, but don’t despair, there’s someone for everyone.
It’s like saying, ‘I love my Ford Focus, it’s the greatest car in the world’. If you’ve never driven anything else, how do you know there isn’t something out there you’d like better? But, if you’ve driven many other cars and still like your Focus, I’d say you are now qualified to offer an opinion.
There are people out there who prefer Faulkner and Shakespeare to Nicholas Sparks and Kristin Hannah, and I’m not just talking about the high school kids who are forced to read that… stuff.
I’m not telling anyone, especially anyone in lit class to avoid any particular type of reading, especially work that is considered literary. You have to read it. You would be doing yourself a huge injustice if you didn’t. You might even come to find that you are a ‘with whom’ kind of reader after all (although I’m finding a growing number of readers gravitating toward ‘Sh*t My Dad Says’ kind of stuff). Funny as all get out, but not exactly educational reading. Nickel words with change back.
Target your audience. For every book there’s a reader. Don’t change your style or you’ll be changing what works for you. You can’t imitate someone else or you lose the honesty in your writing.
It will feel forced and contrived.
You will feel like a phony.
How ironic, Charles David, Duke of wherever.
Big apologies to everyone who has tried to connect with me on Facebook and received the message that I have reached my friend limit. I know… who do they think they are, right?
The good news, you can subscribe to my facebook feed to keep up with what’s going on OR, you can join me on my author page, although the posts there tend to be more about… writing. Go figure!