Thursday, February 25, 2010

Art must serve Story


Several years ago--so long I don't remember where it was, much less when--Jennifer Crusie spoke to RWA's national conference as keynote, or one of the big speakers, she said "We need more storytellers and fewer writers."

The whole ballroom full of published and aspiring writers burst into applause.

Genre writers understand that it's about the story. Yes, language and craft is important, but without a story to tell, you might as well be writing poetry.

Not that there's anything wrong with poetry. I like poetry just fine, but I have to admit that my favorite place to find poetry is in song lyrics. I don't read a lot of it, and I don't write it, because--well, I'm all about the story.

A novel is a story--or it had better be. Otherwise, nobody much is going to want to read it. All the art must be in service to that--to the telling of the story. You can be just as pretty or writerly as you want, but if the pretty words don't serve the story, you have to chuck them out.

Because There Are Only Two Rules in Fiction That You CANNOT Break. They are:

1. Do Not BORE Your Reader.

and

2. Do Not CONFUSE Your Reader.

An interesting Plot with interesting Characters takes care of Rule #1 (for the most part). Decent grammar and clarity of language helps with Rule #2. And sometimes, pretty words get in the way of Rule #2.

Every other rule out there that people tell you about--feel free to break them, once you know how and why they work. These two? If you break 'em, you won't sell your book, because your first readers--your prospective agent or editor--will get bored and/or confused and they won't buy or help you sell your book.

Art is great. I got nothin' against art in any shape, form or fashion. (I know, resorting to cliches. Deal with it. It's a blog.) But in fiction, storytelling comes first. Art must serve the function--which is story.

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