Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Do What You Do Do Well

In an introduction to Stephen Brust's novel To Reign in Hell, author Roger Zelazny has this to say about the many types of writers:
"Most good writers have one or two strong points for which they are known, and upon which they rely to carry a tale to its successful conclusion. Excellent plotting, say, can carry a story even if the writing itself is undistinguished. One can live with this. Good plotting is a virtue. Fine writing is a pleasure. A graceful prose stylist is a treat to read — even if the author is shaky when it comes to plotting or characterization. And then there are the specialists in people, who can entertain and delight with their development of character, their revelations — even if they are not strong plotters or powerful descriptive writers. And there are masters and mistresses of dialogue who can make you feel as if you are witnessing an engaging play, and you can almost forget the setting and the story while trying to anticipate what one of the characters will say next."

After having read many stories over the years, I long ago discovered that readers can be very forgiving. What makes a reader stay with a story partly depends on the reader. Some will get wrapped up in well-written, highly dramatic dialog even if they have no mental image of the setting, characters, or even the point of where the story is going (e.g., social dramas). Others will stick with a story so long as it has enough eye candy such as fascinating space ships and weird aliens (e.g., hard SF). And so on.

Every story must convey at least something that's particularly compelling — after all, it must attract someone. Still, I think that no tale can utterly and completely ignore all of the other aspects of story. For example, even hard SF must have a believable character or two and a discernible plot, even if it's as shallow as a teaspoon.

So here's a liberating truth for struggling writers, one that I personally need to be reminded of from time to time: Don't worry yourself sick over getting every aspect of story right the first time. Just "Do What You Do Do Well", as that happy song by Ned Miller instructs. Who cares if you're not the best character writer or the most thematic? Just write what you like, have as much fun as you can doing it, and never stop learning as you go, for as Stephen King so famously advised, it doesn't work to do it any other way.