Coloring Inside The Lines.

This is a short post — I’m planning on writing more posts, quantitatively speaking, but in the World o’ Cruise, I’m taking it a bit easier on myself.

I was drawing and coloring with my son today.

He’s still sort of all over the place, but at five, he’s developing his fine motor skills.  “Good job,” I said, as he carefully colored within the lines.

As I was watching him, I thought of all the times I’ve heard writers say that, basically, it’s fascist to encourage someone to color within the lines.

Yes, they’re using it as a metaphor, but frankly, I’ve heard parents (or worse, non-parents who seem to miraculously know everything there is to know about child rearing) say “it’s such a sad mark of society, that they’re forcing kids to color inside the lines!”

Missing. The. Point.

They’re not teaching kids artistic integrity.

They are teaching them muscle control.

We’re the ones who are putting way too much emphasis on “they’re stifling creativity!”

Sure, if it’s a kid that in fifth grade who decides to paint a purple sky with a turquoise moon and wants to go abstract, I am against saying “that’s not right, make it look like everybody else’s!”  (Hell, if my kid wants to paint a lime green dog on silver Astroturf, I’m all for it.)

But when you’re talking five years old, when they’re still learning how to maneuver those little digits on the end of their hands to do things like form letters and numbers, then coloring in the lines is pretty damned slick.

If you can’t control your hand enough to color inside the lines — if those squiggles aren’t a sign of Pollack-esque genius but instead are a spastic inability to keep your wrist still — then you’ve got a problem.

That’s art by accident.  You might fool some people, but odds are good you’ll fool less than you think.

Writers: this goes for you, too.

There’s a difference between dumb, arbitrary, conformist rules, and learning writing basics.

If you decide that you are being true to your artistic writing self by not studying how point of view works…

Or the core of three act structure…

Or even why grammar is important…

…then you’re trying for art by accident.



6 Replies to “Coloring Inside The Lines.”

    1. Eep. Not sure if this came out the way it was intended! (Damn you, publish button! )

      Maddy — Thanks! And I’m intrigued by the “anti coloring book.” Will Google it!

      Hiroko, That was it exactly. Art still has structure! And our particular art form has more than most. In fact, I think the “art” is being able to support a story without showing the seams or reverting to cliche. To follow a story arc that satisfies readers while still managing to surprise them. Storytelling is practically an extreme sport to my mind!

      Vaughn, from what I know of you, you’ve been continually stretching and learning. That’s not blindly going “la la la I’m not going to conform to your story structures and writing rules because I’m an artist, dammit!” You’re a pro, buddy.

  1. Guilty! I stumbled forth, a perfect example of art by accident. It takes time and effort, after so wildly coloring outside the lines, to make a purdy picture of the mess you made when you’re stumbling into it. I think I finally got there with book one, but it’s not too hard to figure out why it started as 200K and ended up at 130K (thanks in no small part to your tutelage). Good observation, nice and tidy. 🙂

  2. Oh my God, Amen. I am so sick of people telling me that grammar and basic writing conventions don’t matter so long as you’re ‘inspired.’ Nobody gives a damn how inspired you were if they can’t read what you wrote.

    Talk about missing the forest for the trees. Nicely and succinctly put, sir.

  3. I always wonder if the people who say that grammar doesn’t matter have ever read a book.

    If the writer is not consistent in grammar and punctuation and does not follow accepted rules, then it just distracts from the whole reading experience and keeps me (and I assume most readers) from being able to be immersed in the story.

    If I don’t understand you I can’t enjoy the story.

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