Stephen Graham Jones* wrote this article called "Ten Obvious Truths About Fiction" over at LitReactor
. Then Pablo D'Stair and Sarah D'Stair responded to it in a podcast over at P.S. We Are Better Than You
They critique the 10 Obvious Truths on a number of grounds, noting that they do agree with Obvious Truth #2 "The reader is smarter than you think," but almost nothing else.
Overall, I side with the D'Stair (their opinions on this are basically identical) critique of this particular piece of writing advice and most writing advice in general. (Although there are some points on which we differ...)
Some objections they bring up with which I wholeheartedly agree:
1) Jones' piece assumes that there's some generic reader out there. Maybe there is such a thing, but why are we assuming that every writer wants to hook this illusive median reader browsing through the airport bookstore to find something that kills a few hours? There are plenty of writers already writing to the median reader--most of who are failing at this goal--certainly we don't need more of these writers.
2) Jones' piece seems geared toward writers who play it safe. Don't break conventions! Make sure every page has a hook! Make sure the story keeps its promises! Sure, there are plenty of writers who succeed within these confines, but there are plenty of others who set up completely different confines.
3) Jones makes the point that readers don't go for vague endings. This gets on my nerves. First of all, I think some of the most satisfying endings in fiction are vague endings. (Pablo D'Stair happens to write some of the finest vague endings around.) So to say that "readers" don't go for it is only true if we're talking about that median reader again.
Where I disagree with the D'Stairs is about Obvious Truth #8 "Readers can tell when you are trying to be smart on the page." Pablo says, instead, that you should "be as smart as you are." I don't see any reason ever to "try to be smart" (even "as smart as you are") on the page. Sure, there are some writers who I like who I would imagine are very smart, but more often than not, even with writers I like, usually I'd prefer to see less research, less of their education, less of all that shit--save that for writing essays or something.
A good example is Tom Clancy. Clancy clearly did so much goddamned research and then felt like he had to fit it all in, or just he got carried away. Either way, he threw down way too much knowledge. Especially in The Cardinal of the Kremlin. So fuck that. Don't be as smart as you are. Be as smart as your characters are.
I'm sure Pablo knows where more shit than Trevor English.
Also, I'm surprised Pablo didn't shred apart Obvious Truth #1 "The reader should never have to work to figure out the basics of your story." Jones seems to suggest (and not just in #1, but throughout) that the reader should leave the experience with few to no questions. Some writers pull this off beautifully--they load you up with questions and never answer them. I prefer these kinds of writers over the ones who try to tie up everything little thing.
*note that Stephen Graham Jones is a far, far more accomplished writer than I am. So maybe you should take his advice over mine.