samuel x. brase likes to write

Rules on Rules

Posted in novel planning by Sam X. on 25 February 2010

I’m not sure if it’s our day and age, or what, but rules about writing have sprouted up everywhere, like springtime for Steinbeck. The Salon article that broke my silence on this issue addresses the fact that “writers have been advising other writers since at least as far back as Aristotle,” so it must be with the Internet that we decided to parse things down into neat lists of numerical rules.

I read half of the Guardian’s list of authorial rules and felt sick. Many of the rules are very good ones, and honestly I could do well to take them to heart. Some of them I already swear by–every day I see an adverb that I’d like to strike down–but some of them make me cringe. Especially (sorry about that) because half the lists have, as their rule #10, a disclaimer that rules are made to be broken and that one shouldn’t follow them over a cliff.

Perhaps this is my personality. My girlfriend can attest to the fact that I dislike writing rules; my mentor in college, if I may call her such, received her fair share of stories that just skirted within an assignment’s boundaries. A certain story about talking rabbits comes to mind.

Incidentally, her Tuesday post is a list of rules–and she was inspired by yet another list of rules. Ideas on the Internet, they proliferate. Like rabbits. Procreate. Whatever. Her rules are funny, and I appreciate that. “13. Write what you know, especially you white people out there.” Ah, yes. I can relax a little.

At this point, if I aggregated all the rules I thought useful or interesting, I’d probably have upward of 20 things I need to keep track of while I write. But a lot of these rules are for children. Read? Write? If you’re not doing those things,  you’re not a writer. Why do we even concern ourselves with that?

Rules are–rules are ridiculous. They contradict themselves. One tells us to write every day, the other tells us not to force it. It’s a cacophony of guidelines, and the guidelines are going in their own directions; anyone who followed all of these rules would find themselves suffocated.

I say the hell with lists. I’m tired of them, they’re making me neurotic, and I’m already neurotic enough. One rule is all I need, and it’s from Neil Gaiman. The rest of it can shove off.

The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.



Posted in pop theory by Sam X. on 11 February 2010

I finished Dune and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep within the last few weeks.

Both are good, although the latter is by far the better book. Its scope is perhaps more narrow, which affects this judgment, but the prose is sharper and the philosophies more urgent. I never read a phrase in Dune and wished I had written it–in fact, many phrases brought me distaste. However, quite a few phrases were well written in Do Androids…. Philip Dick is the clear winner in that regard.

The difficulty comes in the fact that I write stories like Dune. More political and cultural, less philosophical. I want to write the epics of Herbert with the skill of Dick. Unfortunately, good prose is not part and parcel with SF epics. There’s too much action, too much stuff happening for it to stay fresh and good. When a series is about as long as six War and Peaces, end to end, you know some bit of quality is going to suffer.

Yet, artistry can be extended. Television shows are making the jump to movie-level quality, with shows like The Wire pushing excellence to a heady new area. Television shows are to movies what pulpier books are to literature (after a fashion), and I desire to find that intersection where the pulp becomes literature.

My current series, EE, and the one I imagine in the future, DS, are both works of multiple books, and will not possess enough of the skill of proper literature. Yet, my goal, as an artist, is to bring that level of quality to popular literature. There is the rare writer who has done it; best I can point to is Dick and Neil Gaiman. I imagine DS as The Wire of science fiction: all-encompassing, ensemble cast, darkly truthful of contemporary situations. EE is my testing ground.

This all comes from my desire to be both popular and acclaimed. It seems rather easier for people in the film industry to have this than for people in literature to have this. I want it. I’m incredibly far away from this goal, and there’s the great chance it will never be achieved. But as long as I am breathing, I will work on my craft, I will work on merging populism with artistry. Fun stories with skillful prose.

I have managed to find a bit of a groove between my interests: college basketball, reading, writing. With a couple of the sci-fi classics done, it is time to move back to good literature–The Leopard and The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana–before going back to sci-fi.

And this summer, goddammit, I’m going to read Ulysses. Sandwiched between two Philip Dick books.

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