I am a man who likes concrete answers. I like to know exactly what I am supposed to do in any given situation.
I have found, lately, that every answer can shift and every rule has an exception.
This past week I was fortunate enough to be on a two day search warrant course. The syllabus was fairly open, leaving a lot of time for discussion – which really means, time for me to pester the bejesus out of the instructors, all of whom are friends of mine.
I’ve been doing this job for nearly 10 years, so I know that every law is open to interpretation, and it was made even more apparent during the discussion time in this course. Every time I would try and pin the instructors down to an answer, they would slip out from beneath it and say “it depends.” Over the two days it became such a comical game, that the instructors would give an answer of “it depends” just to see me lose my shit.
At the end of the course my friend, Erica, who worked with me as a baby constable, what seems like a thousand years ago, asked me, “Are you going to go write a blog post called ‘it depends’?”
At the time, I laughed it off. But as the last few days have gone by, I’ve been thinking about that phrase a lot.
Writing a story, I’ve been thinking, is a lot like interpreting the law: There are a lot of hard and fast rules, things that have been sacrosanct for eons, but there is always an exception.
When I first started really working on this craft, Jack Whyte said in a class at the Surrey Writer’s conference, “You have to learn the rules of writing, and then you have to learn to break them.” The further I have gone along, the more I have discovered this is true.
People will tell you that no one wants to read a book about a teenage wizard, until J.K. Rowling sells a ga-gillion copies. Agents and Editors will tell you not to write a book about vampires, until Stephanie Meyers did it and became a household name (hated in some households, for certain). Hell, people will insist you use proper punctuation in your dialogue, and then Cormac McCarthy (whose real name is Charles) wrote “The Road”, with not a quotation mark to be seen.
Every standard expecation has an exception, and every rule can be broken. It becomes a matter of craft, a sign of your growth and experience, that you can work with those hard and fast rules until they become soft and malleable in your hands, and easily bent to your will.
This isn’t going to happen overnight, or even over the next year. I’ve been working my ass off at this craft for the last 7 years, and I’ve still got a fuck of a long way to go. But as you move forward you’re going to get better. You’ll be able to see for yourself that your writing has improved, and the ability to break those rules will come.
You just cannot give up.
Thanks for reading, and keep writing.