I read a lot of books on writing and watch a lot of videos that give writing advice and at times, I think it is easy to get caught up in all of the technical aspects or writing. Plot and sub-plot, tropes, clichés, originality, round vs flat characters, not to mention crafting an active protagonist, as oppose to reactive one, and making your antagonist just as, but not more interesting then his or her counterpart, world building, info dumps, showing and telling. Its enough to send your head spinning. Which is not to say I don’t think everything that I have mentioned isn’t important. On the contrary, I think they are all very important tools in the craft of story telling. I feel the issue comes when the obligation to these tools becomes more powerful than the writers obligation to the narrative.
It is not my place to say which literary rules and devices are expendable and which are absolute, and I know most of these idea aren’t just things someone randomly made up, but are actually methods of story telling that have been cultivated over the course of human history and are in earnest the common elements of what we recognize as great stories. But in my opinion when we become slaves to this formulaic way of thinking, it is the stories that suffer, because after a point they stop being hand crafted stories and start to become assembly line narratives. I find it hard to believe that writing is simply a matter of “study the rules + follow the rules = write great story.”
It could be the immature part of me speaking but it has always been my thought that within the written word resides the last place for magic to dwell, and that the ingredients that make a great story read more like a pinch of plot, a dash of character and a couple of drops of something that can’t quite be named, a wisk of that mysterious substance that cannot be identified on the periodic table. Some people will argue that in essence all stories are the same, and that there are truly only 20 plots which all stories fall within, and that we are all watching the same play over and other again only played out by different actors in a different setting. Which all very well may be the truth, but I don’t know, for me, I think I’d rather forgo that point of view and simply believe in the magic of it all.