There is no right way to write.
There are different methods, different formats, different verbiage, different voices to choose from. But there is no right, guaranteed-success way to write. I’m continuously reminded of this thanks to the different people who have read my writing and given me constructive criticism, and the articles that have been written about the subject. But it’s still frustrating.
Some readers say I don’t give enough details about the setting, while some articles encourage writers to leave certain things to the readers’ imagination. Some readers want more verbs throughout the dialogue, want to know what the speaker is doing while they’re speaking. Others would rather not have the dialogue interrupted. Articles speak about the less-is-more concept when it comes to words and how important it is to be concise, while I’ve gotten comments about my transitions being too “choppy” and “sudden.” My creative writing teachers stress showing rather than telling, while some readers suggest I write a prologue to explain the rules of my little world. Teachers and agents recommend using writing tests, prompts, outlines, and lists while writing a story. Some writers claim to use none of these things. They just write, go wherever the story takes them.
Personally, I get annoyed at those characters in books who do a lot of inner monologuing; I don’t need to know how the main character feels or what they are thinking all the time. Yet other readers do want to know. I am easily frustrated with female characters who make stupid decisions, especially when it comes to romance. If you’re on the fence about Peeta, don’t kiss Gale. I love you, Katniss, really I do but come on! Nothing good ever comes from leading a guy on. (Catching Fire was a hard book for me to read.) And yet, if my female characters don’t make similar mistakes, readers don’t find them relatable. I love it when authors describe everything to me; the furnishings of a room, the architectural structure of a building, the clothes people wear, the smells in the air, the sounds echoing through the woods, the feel of the brisk morning breeze against the character’s face. Being able to picture everything brings the book’s unique world to life inside my head. Many readers (and agents, I’m told) don’t share this opinion.
My writing is based off of my personal preferences and who I am as a person. Some of my qualities, life experiences, or moral convictions leak into the characters I write. It’s the greatest part about being a writer; having the power to create a world, story, or person the way you want. If you want anyone to read and enjoy your writing, however, you must also cater to their preferences. Grab their attention. Make them feel something. Ignite curiosity. I thought the best way to do this would be to ask a bunch of people to read one of my stories and listen to their advice. The result of this was a bout of depression and a migraine. There were just too many differing opinions. I didn’t feel like it helped my writing at all. And most of the time I felt like the readers misunderstood the whole point of the story. Was that my fault? Was there something I could have done differently? Who’s advice should I take? If I listened to everybody and changed all the things they mentioned, it would no longer be my story. But I didn’t want to be proud and change absolutely nothing about my story. I couldn’t grow if I didn’t change. So what was I supposed to do with all the feedback I received? It was maddening.
There were a few instances in which two or more people mentioned the same issues in one of my stories, and I’ve changed those things without a second thought. It has been my experience that, if a group of people agree on something and give the same advice without first discussing it between themselves, odds are their advice is sound. Doesn’t matter what they’re giving you advice about. If your mother, your co-worker, and the lady who lives two doors down think the popular nail salon on 82nd street is crap, they’re probably right. If your brother, your best friend, and your sister’s husband think the guy you’re dating is no good for you, you might want to take a closer look at your boyfriend. If your grandfather, your cousin, your roommate, and your childhood friend say you have to try the chocolate covered ants at a certain restaurant, you should probably try to ants. It’s basic common sense. I just wish there was more consensus when it came to my stories.
Sometimes, I think my life would be easier if there was a sure-fire way to make everyone fall in love with my stories. But then there would be no room for improvement, would there? Writing wouldn’t be a creative expression or an art or an experiment or a journey. It would be more like homework.
Now that I’m done ranting, I guess I should go back to writing, huh? So long as I keep going, my stories are bound to get better. That means there’s hope.
“Mr. Frodo, look. There is light…and beauty up there that no shadow can touch.”