There is nothing particularity creative about following a set of instructions on how to write a novel. It is perhaps even less 'creative' to base styles and conventions on work of writers and the tastes of readers who live before we were born.

Even the rules of this site seem to be anti-creativity. You discourage opinions and praise sources but that all seems - silly! If I ask a question no doubt somebody will point me in the direction of a popular book or article on the subject but, then again, assuming I was a 'serious' writer there's a good chance I would have read (or at least be aware of said book or article).

If I am to be honest, most of my writing skills have been developed by reading the work of novice writers and deciding what I don't like. Most of it is 'single threaded flat telling, 'this' happened then 'that' happened. So in my own work I look to develop a method to combat the issue. The solution did not come from a 'How to' book, nor did it come from an established author. It was inspired by a programming instruction.

If I've learned anything about novel writing it is that those 'rules' that are often quoted are put in place for novices. There are things you should not do because you're not good enough. Subsequently, ensuring you adhere to these rules will guarantee you life-long novice status.

  • are you asking about actual How To books written as step by step instructions or just the general nature of professionals/experts sharing their knowledge they have built up over years/decades and serving as guides to those with the same pursuits giving them the leg up they didn't have? – Memor-X May 24 '17 at 6:52
  • @Memor-X both really. e.g. "On writing" is memoir with which King discusses his process - it is not an instruction manual. And before adopting his process do aspiring writers consider if that actually like King's work? . . . "Second draft = First draft – 10%" originates from King and is often quoted as the gospel . . . but it's crap. e.g. I'm smart and quick minded. My first draft is usually 30-40k . . . then I have to go back 'explain' stuff that the average reader may not get. – Surtsey May 24 '17 at 7:18
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    A question that questions the entire premise on which the site is based is a legitimate subject for Meta, but not for the main sight. I suggest you delete it here and ask again in Meta. And as a reminder, this is not a discussion board, it is a QA site. We deal in answerable questions. If you believe that a certain class of questions is not answerable, that is a subject for Meta. – user16226 May 24 '17 at 11:37
  • There is nothing new under the sun. – Mephistopheles Aug 23 '17 at 19:38

"How to", rules and guidelines do not kill anything.

Think of rules as paths in the countryside. You can get off the path and forge your own way through the field, but it's harder and you may not get to the destination you intended (which can make you feel anxious and fearful). If you are very knowledgeable of the area (including its paths), it's more likely you can get off the path and not only get to your destination, but also enjoy the journey.

Having said that, I'll mention the Nobel prize winner Saramago. He wrote a novel that is studied in Portuguese schools and where he subverts the rules of punctuation for a genious effect. I remember some of us claimed to follow his 'rules' and our teacher telling us you can only ignore the rules once you fully understand them. And we did have to follow them if we wanted our work marked.

Our teacher also gave us writing assignments with (sometimes) crazy limitations. Those limitations forced us to think outside the box and come up with creative stories.

But back to the question: there are two types of rules (or 'how to').

The first refers to grammar and language in general. If you know these rules truly well, then you also know when they can be bent or broken. And you know exactly why and for what effect.

The second refers to putting a narrative together. The same applies: if you truly know how the 'grammar' of narrative works, you know when not to follow it.

To have freedom to do whatever a writer desires may feel like space for 100% creativity, but it is probably not. What really makes one come up with creative ideas are problems and limitations.

And since there's a bit of ranting in your question, I'll allow my own ranting: historical fiction. Oh, a writer must have freedom to tweak around historical facts in order to produce a good story. The way I see it, a writer that resorts to that excuse is lacking in the creativity to work with the facts and find a way to produce a good story.

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  • I would have assumed that any person who would eventually aspire to be a writer would have gained sufficient knowledge in English Language Grammar by the age of 14. . . . My 'rant' is probably against those people who take and distribute advice without understanding it. e.g. editing = reduction. It has nothing to do with novel writing. The practice originates from newspapers and magazines where column inches are at a premium. I know a (now published) author who trimmed her manuscript to the bone. After submission Harper Collins asked her to add 20k. – Surtsey May 24 '17 at 7:45
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    @Surtsey There are plenty of real-life examples of people breaking the conventional wisdom and succeeding if not because of that, then in spite of that; none of those examples prove or disprove anything, they are just that--random stories. All the advice there is has to be taken with a hefty grain of salt, whether it tells you how often to diversify your dialog tags, or how long your novel should be to sell quickly--there is no guarantee that things will happen as prescribed. It is your choice whether to follow or ignore the advice, there is mot much more to it. – Lew May 24 '17 at 17:52

I am one of those who avoided reading such guides and books for the longest time but I have since come around to seeing them for what they are: guidelines, notes, and think-abouts. However they do not beat the creative work of writing.

In my personal experience as a writer, I stumbled and failed on a number of simple things. I learned through experience a number of things I could have avoided by reading them. Some of my stories and products may have been more polished quicker or simple been better had I read them. As a starter, limiting yourself does help with getting work done: you don't run across a forest before you can walk on the road, I was told long ago.

To answer your question: NO it does not kill creative writing, they help you get started, and many of them will help you get published.

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    Learning things through your personal experience is not necessarily a bad thing. While it seems like you might have spent less time honing your craft if you were given a good advice when needed--and that is likely true--consider this: having one's thought process influenced by an authoritative entity, be it a how-to book or a tip from a seasoned successful author could have a life-changing experience for a beginner writer (not necessarily a positive one), but for a more mature soul it could just evoke a range of reactions between huh, peculiar. I knew that and nah, I do not think so – Lew May 24 '17 at 18:04

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