#WritingTip – Forget What Those Guys Say

Stephen King has famously said get rid of adjectives and adverbs. H.P. Lovecraft used adjectives like a junkie uses crack rock. Some people tell you to only use “said” in dialogue tags while others eschew that recommendation. The world is awash with ideas about how to better your writing. Some good – read it aloud and see how it flows – others not so good – write exactly like this guy.

I’m not dumping on Stephen King. I actually enjoy his work and have been reading him for decades. H.P. Lovecraft, on the other hand, is one of those writers who had stupendous ideas that have survived the test of time but whose writing makes me want to pull my brain out. Frankly, I feel Lovecraft tried too hard to set the same morose tone with everything he wrote, but that’s just my opinion and nearly 100 years after his death people are still reading him so take my opinion with a grain of salt. The differences aren’t necessarily based on adjective or adverb use, though; they’re purely stylistic choices each author made or evolved into over time. And I know plenty of people who think Lovecraft was a genius while they feel King’s writing falls flat. Comme ci comme ça.

A couple of years ago there was a new writer on Twitter posting about how no one was reading his book because his writing style wasn’t popular. By not popular, I mean it was like reading stereo instructions: Dense, flat, and about as exciting as watching eggs boil. When I and a few others pointed out that he could always change, he wailed that he couldn’t change. I think in the end he really expected everyone else to change and appreciate the sublime majesty of his deeply underrated prose.

I don’t know that he ever changed and it’s entirely possible he’s still out there somewhere screaming into the void. Of course, it’s also possible he got picked up and turned into a Netflix series. You can never really tell these days.

This is just my take on it, but if you’re writing a book you’re the one writing the book. Sure, you can follow advice of others and, in some cases it might be a good idea, but it’s your book and you’re the one who’s got the final say. You may have that story kicking around in your head. It may be filled with alien sex and dive bars and getting drunk in alleys while pros lament about their latest job in the back seat of someone’s busted-ass Chevy Cruze. Or maybe it has puppies banding together to save the neighborhood from the hated cats. Whatever is in that book is your story and it deserves the respect that comes from you writing it. Like you you. Not half-assed clone of Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft you, the real you. And if that means you’ve got a bag of adjectives at your feet, feel free to toss those suckers into the mix and see what happens. If it sucks, change it. Especially if people tell you it reads like VCR instructions. But don’t start down the path by limiting yourself to someone else’s ideas about what makes “good writing”.

We’ve already got those guys out there. We don’t need clones of them. What we need is your story in your voice on your timetable. Who knows, maybe your voice will be the next big thing and you’ll get to write your own theories on writing. But you’ll never know unless you find your own way and follow it.

One thought on “#WritingTip – Forget What Those Guys Say

  1. Great post, Eric. Well said and well written. When I’m writing my first draft, I don’t worry about how many adjectives I’m using or if someone said something or brayed it. The first draft is for me alone and its purpose is to get the story written. Future iterations cull the dross, and I agree with King about the overuse of adjectives and adverbs. He doesn’t eliminate them all and they exist for a reason so I keep the useful ones. I’ve always been the happy medium type.

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