I’ve long thought of myself as a skeptical, contrarian type of person. After all, that’s largely the basis on which my ideology was formed. I’m not sure where that skepticism or contrarian nature came from. As small examples growing up, for whatever reason, I was Mr. Contrarian when it came to Michael Jordan and Pokémon. Yes. No rational reason. I just pushed back against what everyone liked and thought was popular at the time. I did the same with Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, believe it or not. Thankfully, on the former, I had a very persistent friend. And to the latter, I eventually got it to, albeit much later.
The reason I say all of that is to say, as it happens, I don’t think I have much in the way of a controversial, or “hot take” as they say, opinion about writing. That was the prompt floating around writing Twitter yesterday: What’s your most controversial writing opinion?
A lot of the sentiments I saw in response were things I think a lot of writers agree on and therefore, aren’t actually controversial, such as:
- You don’t have to write every day to be considered a “writer.” Agreed!
- If you want to be a better writer, read more. Agreed! And that feels not just uncontroversial, but a very common sentiment.
- Winning awards doesn’t make you the benchmark of what constitutes “good writing.” Agreed! Many great writers, and artists of any kind, are often ignored by those who hand out awards.
- All fiction is genre fiction, delineating between it and literary fiction is rather silly. Agreed! That one I do think might get close to being controversial among literary snobs, but they’re snobs, so meh.
- Surprise plot twists are overrated. Sure! I think maybe 20 years ago after a lot of people saw The Sixth Sense, this sentiment might’ve been more controversial, but now? I’m not sure a lot of people are fixated on the twist. At least in books and short stories and poems. It might be more prevalent in the film or television worlds, though.
And so on.
Now, there is one I saw that I think is worth pulling out on its own because it could be controversial with those who overly romanticize writing: Someone said all good writing at some point is a collaboration and this idea that writing is a work of “solitary genius” is false. I agree with that sentiment and again, I think that’s likely to be a hot take for those who think writing is a purely, drive-you-mad individual effort.
Look at any book, fiction or nonfiction, that has an acknowledgements at the end. I don’t think that’s the author being overly kind. I think that’s the author acknowledging how many people, aside from themselves, it took to make that book happen, even if the “collaboration” is peripheral to the success, such as having a supportive spouse.
As for the only one I could think of that is mild at best and maybe not controversial besides with the aforementioned snobs, is that characters matter more to me than great writing, or plot structure, or whatever else you want to say. If you have sketched out great three-dimensional character I care about, that’s the whole ball game! That’s the whole goal here! Because that gets me invested and keeps me reading. Even if I think the writing isn’t the best prose I’ve ever read, or that the plot structure is a little weak in spots, if I like your characters and importantly, they stay true to themselves as the characters you’ve presented, then let’s go! That’s enough.
Which is similar to another notion I have that, if a book kept me reading, then it’s good writing in and of itself. Again, that doesn’t mean the prose is the best prose I’ve ever read, but by definition, I think it has to be considered good writing? Because the goal of the writing is to make me read the book. I read the book. Boom, goal achieved.
Do you have any actually controversial writing opinions?