Sunday, March 25, 2007

Market vs Art

Current market standards for fiction include:

• Stripping as many adverbs from your prose as possible
• Reducing or eliminating creative dialogue tags
• Getting to the point quickly—no meandering paragraphs of descriptive prose
• Limiting subplots, eliminating anything that doesn’t advance the main plot
• Doing nothing weird or experimental, unless you’re already published
• Keeping it around 100,000 words

I have no quibble with any of these, but anyone who has studied literature can immediately come up with famous and popular books that violate one or more of these “rules.” Newbie writers will use this as an excuse not to listen to advice about fine-tuning their cluttered prose. This of course, leads to the final rule:

• If you write well enough, there are no rules.

And this leads only to more confusion and bickering in the writing forums.

My thought on the subject is that a writer has to first understand why they write. Is it a hobby, art for art’s sake? If so, you can ignore the rules as you see fit. Thumb your nose at your critics if you like, and have a good time. But if one hopes to be published in today’s market, one has little choice but to take the rules seriously. That’s why I always have two drafts of my work. One is the “artistic” draft, and I leave it alone, adverbs, subplots, and all. The other draft is my “market” one, and I cut it ruthlessly.

In addition to getting a draft into publishable form, there is another reason to strive to fit the market rules. It helps your writing. The modern style is pared-down, and as anyone knows, stripping the frou-frou off something will give you a good view of the foundation, so you can see if it’s sound. There’s a lot to be gained by this, and little to lose.

So while it’s all well and good to have a grandiose artistic vision, letting it play out in multiple sub-plots, asides, and descriptions in War and Peace style, it behooves any writer to become friends with the “Save As” feature and have a market-standards version. Even if publication isn’t a goal, editing to market standards clears away the fluff so one can see the bones of the plot structure. Embellishments can always be added back in later, if one feels they’re needed. And with a stronger supporting framework, all that extra decoration might just look a little better.


Anonymous said...

Great post, bunnygirl! I vascillate between ruthless paring and laying on the embellishments, back and forth. I like your idea of keeping two versions -- I've done that for two of my novels. The "out there" version and the version that's hopefully publishable.

And yes, "Save As" -- one of the finest commands on any word processor! 8-)

Alice Audrey said...

It's the rigid enforcement of "rules" like these that will allow the self publishing field to get the upper hand. There are readers who prefer books that don't follow any of this. Not me. I'm in the get-to-the-point camp, but I've certainly talked to enough of the other kind of reader.