I spent the past weekend at a symposium for writers here in the Salt Lake/Provo area.  It was both a good experience and a very frustrating experience at the same time.

I'm at the point in my writing career where it seems like I've heard the same advice from multiple sources time after time with every one of these workshops or panel discussions I attend.  **This is NOT a bad thing**.  Sometimes it takes hearing something over and over again before I finally have that "ah-ha" moment where I understand exactly how that puzzle piece fits into place.  I had a few really good "ah-has" during the symposium, so I'm calling it a Win.

On the other hand, I also heard some advice that I thought was incredibly bad.  And the advice came from a professionally published writer who should know better.  I will not name names--if you were there, you know who I'm talking about.  If not, the only thing that knowledge would do is make you less likely to trust their advice in the future--and I do believe they have valuable insights yet to make to new writers just coming up in the business.

The advice given was this:  "Don't write cliff-hangers. Readers hate them."

No.  I'm not kidding.

And some of the new, young writers around me took notes on that statement.

I wanted to scream.

The right way to put that should have been:  "As a reader, **I** do not like cliffhangers." followed by an explanation of why and an admission that cliffhangers are a tool that can be used both effectively and ineffectively.

Speaking for myself, I happen to love a good cliffhanger.  I've seen them used poorly and I've also seen them used incredibly well.  When they're done right, they're unbelievably effective.

But please, please, please, don't stunt the growth of anyone who doesn't know better by telling them to ignore a perfectly good tool just because it doesn't happen to fit your preferences as a writer or as a reader.

One other thing I noticed from the new youngsters at the conference.  On many of the panels, a majority of the questions coming from the audience were some variation of: "Is it okay if I <insert variation on a theme here>?"

That was one of the more interesting things for me, from an observer's perspective.  It's like many of the new writers were looking for permission to do something one way or another in their story.

I was only an attendee at the conference -- I didn't know I was going to be in town this past weekend until the week before the symposium -- but had I been on the panels, here's what I would have said:

Yes.  You're a storyteller.  You should feel free to try ANYTHING, just to see if you can get away with it.  You have my permission. Now go and write.

The only exception I can think of right now is that you should refrain from doing anything that would get you sued.  Even then, if you *really* want to risk it, I suppose you can go ahead and tell that story.  But I wouldn't recommend it.


03/06/2014 6:50pm

Hi Paul. Yeah, I'm reading Andrew Weir's "The Martian", which is basically a 300 page info dump. It's terrific. I think folks who ask these questions are looking at it wrong. You can do absolutely anything--if it's AWESOME. Short of that, yeah, there are pitfalls that slush readers are looking for, and you should be aware of them, but that's not where to focus.

Keep up the good work, and I'll see you in LA!


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