I recently read an article that suggested writers try to visualize their stories through sculpture working with cardboard, string, glue and party hats. I’m sure the point of the advice was to visualize your story in a new way. Whether it was through bubble charts or sculpture, the idea was to shake up how writers were thinking about their work. A worthy goal and sound advice. And on one hand, I think that anything that gets a writer to more fully visualize their story is great. On the other hand, it seemed like the kind of advice that would only be given by someone who knows nothing about sculpture. I’m sure there are artists that can create striking sculptures from a toilet paper roll, a sponge, and a party hat, but I can practically guarantee that your average mystery writer is not that artist.
Which, I suppose, is the best part about advice: we’re not obligated to take any of it. And sometimes ignoring advice is fine. My mother advised me not to paint my bedroom wall red. I advised her not to put that weird wallpaper in the bathroom. Neither us took the advice and we’re all happy with the way things turned out. The bathroom still looks good and she painted over the red wall the second I moved out. Sometimes ignoring advice is not fine. Oil and waterbased paints do not mix. Putting an entire vacation on my credit card and quitting my job was not a sound financial decision.
But in fiction advice is placed on a higher plain. I don’t know how many times I’ve read a book or seen a movie where the hero is offered a sage bit of advice and then promptly ignores it. “The old peddler specifically said not to do that! Are you an idiot? Take the advice!” I want to yell at the pages. In fiction, not taking advice is like a giant billboard reading: Bad Things Are About to Happen. In real life, the advice comes from friends, relatives, “experts,” and articles, and, sadly, there aren’t as many giant sign-posts about which advice is the best. Figuring out which advice is portentous and which advice you can freely ignore is part of growing up.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever ignored?