Not doing something wrong isn’t the same as doing something right

So, while watching fencing bouts, there’s something fascinating I’ve been noticing: which fencer has the better form doesn’t really (or entirely) determine who wins the bout. Having good form helps, gives one certain advantages, but–it’s only part of what lets you win the bout. And having imperfect form isn’t some sort of magical disqualification that means you’re going to lose.

lnhammer and I talk sometimes about how, to make a story succeed, it’s not enough not to do anything wrong. You have to do something right.

Do the something right well enough, and sometimes the things you do wrong don’t matter so much. Sure, the book would be even better if you got rid of those wrong things–so it’s always worth trying to do that–but readers don’t love books because there’s nothing wrong with them. They love them because there’s something right with them.

I think what I’m seeing, in fencing, is much the same thing. Doing nothing wrong won’t give you the point by itself–you have to do something right, too.

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