Thursday, August 26, 2010

My father hated wind chimes.

I suppose he wouldn't have had any problem with wind chimes kept indoors. His primary problem with them, in fact, was that they are typically kept outdoors, where they have the best chance of catching any wind. When they do, as any pre-schooler can tell you, they chime. Some are quite large and quite loud. Often, on a particularly windy day--say a breezy spring Sunday, when the neighbors' windows are open--the sound will ring frequently, up and down the block, invading others' homes. This bothered my dad, who believed a person in his own home shouldn't have to listen to someone else's wind chimes, no matter how pleasant the sound might be to the owner.

This made a tremendous amount of sense to me growing up, in no small part because my dad said it. For much of my life, even most of it, I pitched this idea on occasion, believing firmly that no one should be forced to hear wind chimes from anyone else's garden. I had never given it much thought, but instead absorbed it as a knee-jerk belief.

Now, as an adult, I have shed this particular nugget of justice theory. I like wind chimes quite a lot now, and I think I'd have to be in a pretty hostile mood to say a bad thing against them.

Why am I talking about wind chimes? In writing (and in reading), I have my share of knee-jerk opinions--the results of taking part in so many crit groups and workshops, and from reading instruction in creative writing. We all know a handful of these rules--cut to the chase; show don't tell; don't write in first/second/third person without a damn good reason--and they are often important to consider. But they are not, in and of themselves, justification for their own existence. That is, just because the rule exists, doesn't mean we have to follow it.

Without question, a writer should examine the work, consider the old chestnuts (especially "show, don't tell"; I think it's often misunderstood, however, and I'll probably get around to a decent rant on the subject at some point). The writer's workshoppers should apply every little crit trick they've picked up. But they are not gospel. A work in second person that doesn't get its legs till word two thousand, and that commits the "suddenly" sin on page thirteen, might still be a great work. If the writer dwells on these rules, he or she will become paralyzed by their weight.

So sit in your office with the windows open and enjoy those wind chimes. If they need to come down because they're really driving you batty, we can take it up with your neighbor once cooler heads prevail. But if the sound is actually pretty nice, go with it for a while.


3 Responses to “Chimes”
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Kurtis said...

I think that rules exist only because workshops exist. They might not be useful, really, for improving one's writing, but they are easily taught, when writing is not. It might be that a number of the rules are invoked simply so tyro writers might fail less -- they're basically training wheels. Sometimes I hear one that is completely insensible, in which case I assume the origins of the rule are some half-remembered or over-generalized advice that has become workshop folklore.

August 26, 2010 at 4:33 PM
Blythe Woolston said...

listen to the mp3 -- then be happy I live far, far away.
As for "rules" of writing, they 'd be less problematic absent dogmatic application.

August 26, 2010 at 9:34 PM
Kangaroo B said...

Your father's theory of wind-chime justice seems rather sound to me.

August 27, 2010 at 8:34 AM