Before I dive into today's post, a quick heads up that I'm over at Writers in the Storm sharing an easy fix for crafting a tighter point of view. So come on over and take a peek when you're done here.
There's a joke I heard once that's become a staple in our house.
A little girl is helping her mother make a ham for dinner. Mom cuts the end off the ham and puts in in the pan.
"Why did you cut off the end?" the little girl asks.
"Because my mother always did it that way," replies Mom.
"I don't know, let's ask her."
So they call Grandma and ask her why she always cut the end off the ham. She says,
"Because my mother always did it that way."
So they call Great Grandma and ask her the very same thing. "Why do you cut the end off the ham?"
"Because," says Great Grandma, "my pan was too short."
What's great (and true) about this joke, is that things can become habits with no reason behind them. Maybe you write a certain way or use a certain literary device because you've always done it, or because others said you should. That it was the "right" way to write a novel so you went with it, even though you struggle with that technique or rule.
Maybe you're using first person because folks said most YA books are written in first, but it's never felt as easy to write as third. Maybe you're writing cliffhanger endings because you read once that all chapters need to end that way. Maybe you're contorting yourself to avoid all adverbs because someone said using any adverbs at all is bad.
You're cutting off the end of the ham without knowing why.
Think about the things you struggle with, but do anyway because advice told you to. What are your reasons for doing it? Are you:
- Editing out adverbs because they're bad, or because they're weakening your prose and leading you into telling and not showing?
- Putting in a goal--any goal--because that's how scenes are supposed to work, or because you want your protagonist actively driving the scene?
- Not putting in any backstory because an agent once said don't use any in the first 50 pages, or because you know the reader doesn't need to know that yet?
- Starting a scene with action because you can't start with dialog, or using action because you find that a far more compelling way to open that particular scene?
- Outlining because real writers plans their novels, or because that's the technique that best allows you to plan a novel?
- Having characters fight because there needs to be conflict in even scene, or developing opposing character viewpoints to best illustrate the conflicts in your story for the most impact?
Sometimes knowing why you do something can help you pinpoint what it is you're trying to accomplish, or what you enjoy most about a story. Following good advice without understanding why that advice is helpful might be causing you to do things that hurt your writing instead of help it.
Try thinking about why you do what you do when you write. See if you're doing anything because the pan was too short.
Do you struggle with anything people say you have to do?