On So-Called “Exceptional Authors”

Daulton Dickey.

{The following post is in response to this article.}

I recently read an article on the dos and donts of plotting novels. At the end of the article, the writer, Amanda Patterson, said, “If you are an exceptional author, you may not need a plot. The rest of us do.”

To my mind, this statement represents one of two—or one or two—attitudes: false modesty or condescension. And it also entails that those who aren’t “exceptional” are “not-exceptional,” which leads me to interpret the above statement as condescending, not falsely modest.

I reject the assertion that exceptional authors by nature don’t need plot, and I also reject the notion that everyone else does.

In fact, I’ll go one further: I reject the notion of “exceptional authors”—as popularly conceived.

In this context, “exceptional authors” must mean “people who don’t play by our rules.” I will use “exceptional authors” in that sense. It’s possible that a writer who doesn’t need plot is a writer who has spent a considerable amount of time reading books with no plot and writing books with no plot.

Like any other craft, writing requires practice. Also like any other person focusing on a single craft, a writer is a person who, at some point, emulates writers they prefer. This is a step writers must take in the process of “finding their voices.”

So an “exceptional author” is a person who writes different books from many other writers, but writing books differently entails a different set of rules. So-called “exceptional authors” still follow many rules that others do—such as syntax, grammar, or rules such as ‘show, don’t tell,’ and so on—but when the rules diverge, it doesn’t mean that one person writes without rules and the other doesn’t. It simply means that, when the rules diverge, they split off into different rule branches.

People who need plot, on the other hand, are, in all likelihood, people who prefer plot-driven books and writers who themselves write plot-driven books. And as I mentioned above: if those people tend to write the books they like by writers they love, then they will start off emulating them, including their proclivities for plot-driven narratives.

If your interest lies in writing plot-driven books, then you must master the rules of your chosen branch—and plotting is crucial to those rules.

If, on the other hand, your interest lies in books that aren’t plot driven, then you must master those rules—although they will, in all likelihood, minimize or eliminate rules for plotting.

There are rules that writers must master. The rules themselves don’t define a writer as “exceptional”; they just define him or her as different. The rules of plotting don’t define a writer as “not-exceptional”; they just define him or her as different from the so-called “exceptional authors.”

And there’s nothing wrong with being different from a writer who doesn’t write the kinds of books that you do.

I also want to reject the notion that the other people, those who supposedly aren’t “exceptional authors,” necessarily need to write plot-driven novels.

As I stated above: writing requires practice, writing requires emulating other writers, and writing requires mastering rules.

If a person doesn’t fit into the subset that Amanda Patterson calls “exceptional authors,” and if that person so chooses, then he or she can write books that don’t require plots, he or she can become writers who “may not need” plots, by following the above conditions a writer must meet.

In short, if a writer wants to write differently, then he or she must play by different rules, and he or she must master those rules by practicing and by emulating writers who play by similar rules before finding his or her voice.

It may not be easy—that writer will have to change his or her way of thinking when approaching books—but it’s not impossible. And it has nothing to do with being exceptional or not.

2 thoughts on “On So-Called “Exceptional Authors”

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