Thursday, July 28, 2011

Flawed Perfection

There is no such thing as a perfectly written story. Even the greatest stories have flaws. Writers and publishers have to be okay with a certain level of flaws in the stories they produce.

Some readers and reviewers will gripe about everything that went wrong within a particular book, while others will rave about everything that went right with that same story. There’s a tolerance level for everything and it’s different for each person.

Or frog.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) deems dirt, hair, and non-invasive insects "natural contaminants" and are indeed allowed and present in your food.

The “Food Defect Action Levels” is a booklet published by the FDA that details what they say are natural or unavoidable defects in foods that present no health hazards for humans.

According to the FDA they are needed " ... because it is economically impractical to grow, harvest, or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects."

And so it is when writing a book as well. It is impractical to write, edit, proofread, beta, or critique a novel that will be completely free of grammar issues, structural missteps, story inconsistencies, or any unavoidable oversight.

This is why you can pluck a random novel off a shelf and find some kind of problem with it, large or small. And to top it off, every story just isn’t for every reader no matter how clean the manuscript comes out after so many editing passes.

This is not to say that an author shouldn't apply that elbow-grease and try to scrub her story free of dirt and grime. It is only to say that the greatest stories shine despite their flaws. Natural errors in a story present no enjoyment hazard to the right reader. To these readers, there may not be a flaw at all.

As an author, the key is to make book’s flaws invisible by telling a great story. This is the one and only rule.

So, keep serving up your fly soup.

What is your ”Story Defect Action Level”? Do a certain number of story issues cause you to close a book? What’s your favorite story that you consider flawed yet oh, so perfect?


Bluestocking said...

A great reminder for all us perfectionists toiling away on our manuscripts. Thanks!

E.R. King said...

Fly soup? Awesome association. Given that I'm currently neck deep in flies, I appreciate your perspective.

Gracie said...

I love how you connected writing and FDA rules... haha. :D Great post.

Emy Shin said...

I adore this post, Michael! So, so true.

Every story has a flaw or two in it. Whether a reader likes that story or not is wholly dependent on what bugs them when reading. Some, like me, detest an annoying protagonist. Others absolutely cannot stand a "slow" book. The difference is all in the reader's expectations.

Sophia Chang said...

Oh I just love this post for my perfectionism problem.