So Chuck Wendig and Foz Meadows walk into a bar … (#SFWApro)

Not really. But Chuck Wendig did post about the “rookie moves” he thinks new writers make, and Foz Meadows disagrees with his post. Strongly. Her view being:

•Wendig is condescending.

•The advice he offers isn’t universal, it’s basically “how to write like Chuck Wendig.” And therefore not really good advice.

•The post might hurt new writers more than help.

As the rules include a number of classics—cut your work a lot. Don’t dwell on blow-by-blow details of mundane scenes. Give characters individual voices. Start the story on page one.—and Meadows argues against them persuasively, I thought it was worth weighing in (and it’s definitely worth reading the original).

On the first point, agreed. I’ve read lots of writing articles, some of them encouraging, some mentory in tone, but this one is very much “stupid newbies, your stuff sucks, but I can tell you how to fix it!” And as Meadows points out, Wendig singles out people posting online for free, then grumbles how they shouldn’t ask money for “inferior efforts.” Free does not equal asking for money.

On the second, I disagree. Most of Wendig’s advice is How to Write 101 (though in Wendig’s own voice, which I find rather annoying—if he writes fiction in the same tone, I’ll pass), nothing unique (with exceptions such as Stories About Everyday Life Are Boring)—I’m sure it reflects the kind of writing he likes (and does) but it’s hardly specific to that. And while it’s true that many big-name works violate Wendig’s rules, I’m always uneasy with that argument. “Famous Author did X so therefore my doing X won’t hurt my story” doesn’t work because most of us aren’t as good as Famous Author. Lovecraft’s purple prose violates most rules of good writing, but it works for him; most people can’t pull it off (and plenty of people hate it even when HPL does it).

That said yes, a lot of Wendig’s rules don’t make any sense as absolutes. For example, he recommends trimming your story down by 30 percent. This is a staple bit of writing advice and I tried it for years, and got frustrated because I could never make it work. What was I doing wrong? Sometimes quite a bit, but it wasn’t usually anything to do with having too much fat that needed to be cut. It’s just not good advice as a universal law.

420180Likewise Wendig’s declaration he needs to know each character’s “quest” as soon as they appear on the page and get the plot moving on Page One doesn’t hold up. The Little White Horse which I read on the flight down to Dragoncon, has characters from the start but they don’t really have a quest. Matarese Circle doesn’t even introduce the protagonists until Chapter Three. Not moving fast can be horribly wrong, but it’s not fatal (all rights to image with current holder).

And I completely agree with Meadows the post could hurt new writers more than it helps. For me it’s not so much the rules as Wendig’s “your rookie efforts are not automatically worth putting out into the world, especially if those efforts cost readers money to access them. The mere existence of a story is not justification for its publication. Don’t make people give you cash for your inferior efforts. Get it right before you ask money to reward you for getting it wrong.” In the first place, nobody can make a reader pay cash for work, regardless of quality (as Meadows points out). In the second, I think that’s absolutely petrifying advice. Plenty of writers, even seasoned professionals, are insecure; certainly as a newbie I’d have been more haunted by the fear I was trying to sell an “inferior effort” than any delusions about my greatness. Quite aside from the subjective nature of what constitutes inferiority.

As writing-advice pieces go, I’ve seen worse. But I’ve seen a great deal that was better.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “So Chuck Wendig and Foz Meadows walk into a bar … (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: And now fiction (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Illogicon ahead (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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