I’m no good at writing about writing.
That’s a pretty bad thing for an author to say, judging by the sheer number of ‘writing about writing’ posts that there are out there from my scribble-peers. But I really suck at it. And the reason I really suck at is, is because — for me — writing doesn’t have rules. You can’t learn to write the same way you can learn to, say, change a lightbulb. There’s no WikiHow. There’s no instruction manual.
I work as a data analyst for my real paycheck. (And I enjoy the hell out of it, too.) I could write you a WikiHow on how to cleanse the data file. I could teach you exactly how to merge the quantitative returns with the numbers from the Strategic Improvement guys. I could write down a list of steps for you to take in order to produce a peak time graph for user activity. And — unless I made an error — I would be right. And presuming I gave those instructions in a way you could follow and understand, you’d do it right.
But writing’s not like that. There isn’t a right or a wrong, There’s a sort of fuzzy maybe, where some editors don’t care and others will gut you for the use of the word ‘suddenly.’ Everyone brings different advice to the table. And heck, that advice is problematic enough when it’s the ‘easy’ stuff like ‘don’t start a sentence with the word and’ or ‘proper nouns start with capital letters.’ Except for dialogue, and e. e. cummings. When it gets to the hard stuff, like how to write diverse characters, and whether or not sex is appropriate in young adult fiction, then it gets a bit all over the place, truth be told.
Even the hard and fast rules, in fiction, aren’t hard and fast at all. Never have spelling mistakes in your book, right? Except that people text and write things wrong all the time. I would totally buy a teenager texting wtf wud u no in an argument. I probably wouldn’t believe it spelled correctly. I wouldn’t believe a character that constantly started sentences with ‘however’ instead of ‘but.’ Or ones that never started off with ‘and.’
The thing is, at some point in your book, you’re writing about people. And people don’t obey language rules. They repeat themselves, they slur, they make up words, they use others incorrectly, their grammar is appalling. English especially is a language where its written form is almost unrecognisable to its spoken form. The way people think and speak is not the way that an academic would describe a newly-discovered fossil, or an economic theory.
And yet, year after year, advice about whether or not to use the word ‘said’ is coming out, or how to spell ‘coming’ in erotic fiction. The current fashion dictates that action tags and passive voice are always bad, no matter what. These aren’t rules. They’re simply opinions. Current trends in writing, and nothing more. The use of them isn’t wrong.
The only rule I would apply to writing is this: does the reader understand?
If the reader understands what you’re saying, the hard part is done. Everything after that — the beta reading process, the editing process, the first reviews — is a matter of negotiation. If people don’t like the way you did something, ask yourself if that’s something you’d be up for changing. If yeah sure, then change it and see how it goes. If not, then don’t sweat it.
The line editor I had for Thicker Than Bone emailed me towards the end of the edits before she sent it off to the proofreader. “There’s a lot of technical errors,” she said, “but it wouldn’t flow right or work with your writing style if we made it all technically correct. So hopefully the proofreader will agree with my relaxed approach to the edits this time.”
And she was right, in ignoring things that were wrong.
Matthew J. Metzger is an asexual, transgender author dragged up in the wet and windy British Isles. Matt writes both adult and young adult LGBT romance, with a particular focus on the gritty situations and people often left out of the typical romantic set-up. When not writing, Matt can be found crunching numbers at his day job, sleeping, or pretending that he owns his cat, rather than the other way around. He can be found on Twitter, Facebook and occasionally at his website.
Ali’s older brother has a swastika tattooed on his knuckles, a prison ID number for nearly beating a man to death for the crime of being Middle Eastern, and spent his teenage years ruthlessly persecuting Ali for being gay.
Blood may be thicker than water, but Ali has spent most of his life desperate to prove that he is nothing like Tony. A committed vegetarian, charity-supporter, and blood donor, Ali would do anything for anyone, and is frequently teased by his partner, Yazid, for being too soft-hearted. Ali may share parentage with Tony, but he is determined not to share anything else if he can help it.
So when Tony contracts leukaemia, and Ali is the only match for the urgently-needed bone marrow transplant, Ali is caught between two equally awful choices: to refuse, and condemn a man to death, or to donate.
And in donating, save the life of the man who nearly murdered Ali’s Iraq-born boyfriend?
Click here to find out more, read a sample, and (of course) buy a copy of your own.