by Andrew Kepert
I don't have time to catalog all the writing myths I've run into over the years. I don't even have an interest in doing so right now. But here's one that I think is especially pernicious because it just makes so much sense that it resonates without explanation: write what you like to read.
I'm not disputing the value of being familiar with and well read in the genre you're publishing in. I think even that can be made a little too much of, but I have experienced its value first hand so I at least get it.
But that's not the same as writing what you like to read. New writers sometimes ask, "I want to write, but I'm not sure what to write." Developing writers sometimes ask, "I feel like I should settle on a genre for this story, but I'm not sure which." Readers sometimes ask writers, "How did you decide what to write?" And too often the answer is, "Write what you like to read."
But, as the saying going, here's the thing. I read sci fi. I read westerns. I read mysteries. I read fantasy and historical fiction. I read literature with very internal story lines. I read spy thrillers and psychological suspense. Most of the time, what I read isn't telling the stories I want to tell. Most of the time, authors I read aren't telling the stories in the way I would. When I'm writing I take human psychology, brutally force it through a sieve that distorts reality, and then chunk it violently together with philosophy.
And every time I try to step away from my role as Escher's verbal dark side, the stories break. They don't work. They don't click. No matter how much I might appreciate the story if told another way.
Truth be told, I'm already reading people who tell the stories I want to read. I'm telling stories to tell them, not to read them. And, strangely, in the end, I don't like stories that I write how I might like to read them. But I love the stories that I write how I like to tell them.
And so, when I want to tell an existential story about the need to matter, it includes a shotgun and a man in a chicken suit ("The Best Medicine," Genre Wars). When I want to write a story about coping with death, it centers on a forensic anthropologist reveling in gore ("Death, Be Not Me," Genre Wars). When I want to tell the sweet love story of a man breaking free of isolation, its course runs through the imagery of serial killing and dead insects ("Terminal Instar," Notes from Underground). When I want to tell the story of the two-edged sword that is heritage, I take a main character with an attitude problem and throw a ticking bomb in his pocket ("Kansai Oniisan," Stores for Sendai).
And when I try to write about the human struggle for patience in a busy world, employing airport observations as partial metaphors (see my last blog post), it doesn't click until I wrap it around a revenge plot turned mercy killing.
So here's my verdict:
Write the story you want to tell, and write it the way you want to tell it -- and the way only you can.
p.s. Someday maybe I will take a stab at what, "and the way only you can," means.