Is Writing Too Conventional?

I studied Creative Writing at university for three years. During that time, I was taught all of the conventions of “good” writing. Since I have been made aware of them, it has become easier for me to identify famous authors using these conventions in their work. Also, when I read much older pieces of work, I can tell that they will have been written before these conventions will have been solidified.

As you probably tell from the title, I do sometimes wonder if this might be to the detriment of the art form. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand why it is that these conventions have arisen: they’ve honed and refined fiction to make it more enjoyable to read. Take a book from two hundred years ago and the author will tell you exactly what emotion the protagonist is feeling. Maybe they’ll also spend several paragraphs describing their clothes too. These are two things which our developing writing conventions have helped to eliminate in modern work.

But here’s what I mean by things getting too conventional: I was reading Les Misérables and the author went off on a huge tangent talking about the history of sewer systems. I’ll admit, it was really boring and a modern editor would have insisted it be cut due to the fact that it is irrelevant to the central storyline – but, I thought to myself, could not a writer make use of this method in a better way? Done properly a tangent could really illuminate or add interesting context to a story, yet most writers would avoid doing it.

I can completely understand why the rules and conventions of writing exist and they have genuinely improved the form a lot and helped to make novels much more engaging over time. Just every now and then, I wonder if they might stifle creativity in some ways.

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