I’ve written before about how I think a lot of writers ask the wrong questions.
It’s a serious problem.
Because it feels as if the writer asking thinks there is a “right” answer to things that someone who is not the writer should be able to tell them.
From “What should I name my Main Character?” to “Should the villain be allowed to have a pet?” – writers keep asking other people to do some serious heavy lifting for them.
First off, there is rarely One True Answer to any writing question…even the thing about “Use ‘said’ as your only dialogue tag” comes with editorial caveats, because there are occasions when that is not the answer at all. (But – mostly it is. Never mind what your grade nine English teacher told you. Unless they were a working editor for a major imprint, they have no more idea what editors like than you do, and very likely, a whole lot less.)
The writer should LOVE naming characters (and have an idea about how to do it. I mean, at the very least, you can google baby name sites, right?).
Writers should know their villain so thoroughly that they know that the meanie has a cat named Jewels and that Jewels is the only being on earth that Miz Nogoodnik cares for.
They should not be asking someone else to make those kinds of decisions for them.
The problem might go a lot deeper than the usual response I get when I raise this issue. Most of the time, I am chided about being uncharitable and too demanding when I point out that the whole joy of writing is in deciding for yourself about these exciting bits of trivia, and in the way that those bits inform not merely the characters, but the theme and the plot.
I am told that “beginners need help, not criticism”.
And – as you might have guessed – I beg to differ.
What concerns me is not that beginners might get discouraged by my words. Since every one of them assures me that not only have they known in their bones that they were a writer since they were in diapers, but that writing is as to breathing for them – they simply could not exist were writing to be taken from them – I am certain that no words of mine can deter them from their path.
What concerns me is that they think that someone else can and should be able to answer these kinds of questions, which suggests that they see “story” as some kind of analyzable, quantifiable *formula* that can be worked out, parsed, and then faithfully reproduced.
What concerns me is that they view writing not as an exploration of their own internal soul as a metaphor for the eternal human condition, but as yet another advertising algorithm that can be “mastered”.
And that’s not where any of us want this all to go, is it?