Tools in the Toolbox

Kristine Kathryn Rusch has an interesting blog post up today about how writers are all being herded into writing in flat, bland tones. She called it “Serious Writer Voice.” I nodded knowingly, because I’ve seen Serious Writer Voice before, and wondered at it.

Trouble is, I might be writing in Serious Writer Voice without even knowing it.

How can you tell?

Well, if you’re a proponent of the “rules” of writing, you might just be headed toward Serious Writer Voice.

For example, the use of adverbs. I’ve been all over the map on this one, but adverbs can assist. It’s always a good idea to minimize them, but cutting them out altogether is probably going too far. I try not to worry about it now, but if I catch myself using more than a few in a long story, I go back and see if either restructuring or finding better verbs will help.

Then there’s the one about not head-hopping. As KKR points out in her blog post, Nora Roberts does this masterfully and often. And it’s not hurting her sales at all. Whatsoever. Period. (And no, “You’re not Nora Roberts” isn’t a valid argument against using the technique.)

There are plenty of writers who change POVs in the middle of a scene, and sometimes in the middle of a sentence, and never once lose their readers in the transition. No white space needed.

Where do these “rules” come from? Well, according to KKR – and she’s been writing a long time, y’all – a lot of them got started in workshops. Usually run by amateurs.

Meanwhile, fifty years ago, the voice of the writer shined through the prose. And those stories were exciting and engaging and dynamic, though now we’re told what worked fifty years ago won’t work now and we can’t do it.

I beg to differ. Several years ago, I read To Kill a Mockingbird again, after a couple of decades. I found that story engaging, interesting, and powerful. It didn’t lack at all for being written fifty years ago, and I think, for some aspects of writing, I disagree with “gurus” who say what worked then won’t work now, period.

So, Kris Rusch points out that there is a bland sameness washing over books right now. And it’s troubling. Some of the blandness comes from doing what I now refer to as “over-polishing” a story, and taking all the unique nuances of the writer’s voice out. Dean Wesley Smith first planted this idea in those words in my head, and it made me realize I’d believed that all along.

I’ve been encouraged to try writing groups and workshops by every writer I’ve ever met, bar none. Every one of them told me how valuable they were, how much they learned. It was very tempting, let me tell you. But I never did it, and never will. Something about changing all the things I wrote bothered me, until someone told me what it was.

All another writer can do for you is tell you how they would have written it. That’s all. If you get “critique” back from someone, what you’re seeing is the way that person would have written your story. And I found it true whenever I offered someone feedback on their work, from me. I could only make suggestions about how I’d do it, and why I thought it would make the story “better.”

It doesn’t mean it would make the story better, only that I thought it would make the story better.

But with workshops and groups, everyone and their uncle is giving writers input on how to change and adjust their writing, until there’s a bland uniformity because it’s an amalgamation of writing from all those offering insight. Yes, you’ll likely learn something you don’t know, but it’s not the same as learning it and applying it yourself, your way, to your work. At least, I don’t think so.

When I learn something, I tend to repeat it in as many ways as possible and implement it right away, at least in practice writing, so I don’t lose it or forget. When I learned the magic of story structure, i made story maps for everything. When I learned about the Hero’s Journey, I mapped out every story I could think of, every idea I had. It’s just how I work.

But I’ve never been one to work with lots of others telling me how to write. Nevertheless, I feel I haven’t found my authorial voice yet. And I can’t figure out why that might be.

So, the quest for being a storyteller and not just a writer continues, as I look at my writing and wonder what it “sounds” like to everyone else out there.

See you next time!


One thought on “Tools in the Toolbox

  1. Yeah, the whole writing by committee thing, the blind leading the blind, never did sound like a wonderful idea. Unless everyone says, “Oh it’s wonderful, don’t change a thing!” But with a bunch of other people who think of themselves as writers, what are the odds of that happening, lol?

    Well, I don’t want to dismiss everyone in workshops as “the blind leading the blind.” Like I said, I’ve learned things from writers who aren’t multi-published; they just have to be farther down the road than I am. Shawn’s a great example; look how much he taught me with one simple comment. 🙂 But overall, too many cooks WILL spoil the soup, and it certainly won’t be YOUR story anymore if you incorporate so many other views.



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