Thursday, 12 November 2015

"Fabulous book, darling, but it's got ADVERBS!"


Do you follow the writing 'rules'?

I hope not.  

When I first started writing, there were no 'Write your way to bestsellerdom' blog posts.  There were no Twitter #writetips, and significantly fewer courses set up to make money out of the hopeful wordsmith.  If you wanted to write you just sat down and did so, you didn't take time out to blog about writers' block, word counts, or the two hours you just spent mulling over whether or not it's acceptable to change from third person to first in alternate chapters.  If it turned out you didn't have any talent, the thirty rejection slips and the awkward look on your friends' faces after they'd read your sample chapters soon delivered the message.


Nowadays, not only does our culture of encouragement mean that we must never, ever suggest that a writer wannabe might not have a gift for the written word, but instructions on how to write are everywhere we lookNew writers can get bogged down by them.  I've seen reviews that make me wonder if the reviewer sat with a check list next to them whilst reading, while some blog posts give the impression that anyone can produce a bestseller via a series of modules, almost.  Punchy start? Tick.  Hook in the first chapter? Tick.  Atmospheric backdrop without too much rambling description?  Tick.  Which is why, I suppose, some debut novels read as though they've come straight from a creative writing class.  Reined in and careful.  Ooh, did you know that you can no longer add 'she said' after a piece of dialogue?  Of course, we all learned a few years ago that you must NEVER write anything like 'she shouted' or 'she snarled', but now, apparently, you can't write 'she said' either.

Er, yes, you CAN.  Sometimes.  When it's necessary.  Part of the skill of writing is being able to make the decision about whether or not something 'works'; already I'm seeing indie novels that have followed the new 'abandon he said-she said' rule so absolutely that you can't work out who's saying what to whom.
 
I read an article a while back in which a first-novel writer was getting herself into fifty shades of anxiety over the first/third person thing mentioned above.  More worrying were all the comments beneath, reminding her of what was okay and what wasn't.

The cartoons aren't necessarily relevant to the article, by the way; 
they're just here to amuse you!


Writing courses and articles offer all these rules about how to use POV in order to make a reader 'connect' with your characters.  I think most of this is horsesh*t, to be honest.  If you write well enough, your readers will connect with your characters within a few pages, whatever damn POV they're in.  If you don't write well enough, no rule book, writing course or blog article is going to make that connection happen.

I've been told that I 'couldn't' have more than two paragraphs of backstory.  Really?  Ever read a Jackie Collins book?  Whatever the literature snobs say about her genre, her pages and pages of backstory on the introduction of a new character didn't do her any harm.  Mutiple POVs in one novel used to be considered a little on the wild side, before it became the fashion it is now; an agent told me that she liked a book I'd submitted to her but couldn't sell it to a publisher unless I rewrote from one POV; I shouldn't deviate from the main story, she saidI felt like saying, um, ever read any Jerome K Jerome, master of interesting little diversions?  The multiple POVs of GRR Martin?  Or Susan Howatch?

**Alert!** Always hang a piece of garlic above your laptop to ward off the evil adverbs!  These days, red flashing lights and an alarm bell go off on my lap top via the 'Writing Rules' Police if I so much as consider including one in a first draft.


Of course, one should always be open to learning; I read a bit of good advice the other day and thought, ah yes, I need to remind myself of that, and indeed I would if I could remember what it was.  Any decent and serious writer without ego problems knows that they can always improve; wise words from the experienced and accomplished are always worth listening to.  But one writer (see how I started a sentence with 'but' thereDaring, huh?) said this to me in an email today: "I minimize contact with some of my old beta readers because they have such slavish devotion to the so-called rules of writing that they forget how to tell a good story".  Which, for me, said it all.

Writing is a creative, fluid, individual skill.  If you read any novels by your favourite authors, I bet you'll find adverbs, 'she whispereds', and even a bit of ~ eek, dare I mention it? ~ telling not showing.  By which I don't mean introducing a character by saying "Harry was a brusque sort of chap who often got on the wrong side of people, but also had an engagingly dry sense of humour"; that's just amateur and crap; of course the reader should be shown that he possesses such qualities, not told.  But I've been ticked off in reviews for one book for too much 'telling not showing' of events, because my character gave an account about one too many, instead of my taking the reader back to where the party/murder/argument/death actually happened; sometimes, though,  you have to just tell the reader about an event, you can't show every damn scene or the novel would be two thousand pages long.  And I wonder if those reviewers had heard of 'telling not showing' before they joined Twitter and read all the 'how to write' blog posts thereon?  I certainly hadn't.

A while back I came across a blog post by one of the 'My one self-pub novel hit the top ten of a minor genre chart a year ago, and now I'm qualified to tell everyone how to write' crew.  He actually said something like "I'm often asked, 'Bob, is it acceptable to use profanity in my writing?'".  I bet you just frowned and thought "WTF?" too, didn't you?   You write whatever the story requires, whatever feels right for you, there isn't any 'can' or 'can't'.   Have your rock star talking as if he's at a church social if Bob says so, by all means, but don't expect your readers to be astounded by your character realism.

I actually wonder if some writers have never grown out of the need to do what teacher/Daddy says so they won't get told off.


Ages ago I got a 4* for my first self-pub novel, You Wish, that said something along the lines of 'it really worked, despite breaking so many of the rules of writing'.  I could write the book better now (having just published my 11th one, it would be a bit of a worry if I couldn't), but isn't the key in that one line?  Earlier this year I read an excellent novel written in the second person.  I couldn't believe it worked, but it did, because the writer has talent and imagination, and confidence in his own style.  It's Ultra Violence by Mark Barry, if you're interested.

This post is way too long already, so I'll end by telling you what happened when I wrote a satirical blog post called How to write a romcom best seller in one easy lessonI had lots of comments from chick lit authors who thought it was very amusing and spot on ~ but I also received a few tweets from people thanking me for it... because they thought it was to be taken seriously....

..... and here is what writer Katrina Mountfort had to say about 'the rules', earlier this year!  HERE


78 comments:

  1. Spot on, Terry! I'm sick of reading books that are technically proficient, obey all the 'rules' and are utterly dull. Like you say, there is sometimes a place for telling rather than showing. It's important to know the techniques of writing, but all these rules suck the joy out of writing. Give me a gripping story and characters I care about!

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    1. Yes; sometimes I actually feel physically restrained when I'm reading them!!! Glad you like the post :)

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  2. You probably know I'm not good with rules! But occasionally, when I'm reading, and I find it hard to follow a paragraph till I realise there has been a change in POV in the middle of a sentence - I can see the point of that. So I think it's useful to know them, and to know why you are breaking them!!

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    1. That's just bad writing, Jo - I'm talking more about style rules, like when people say you 'can't' write a novel from more than 4 POVs, or 'can't' include chunks of backstory, or have to open a novel with a punch, etc etc.... I know what you mean, though; there's a grey area between good advice and making rules. I suppose I'm presuming that people have some basic skill in the first place

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  3. It is so much easier being a book reviewer than an author. I can tell you that the book contains a cantankerous, vociferous bird or a secretive, inscrutable youngest sibling without having to show you!

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  4. Excellent post. I couldn't agree more! Personally I like well told backstory along with a sprinkle of adverbs and even the occasional exclamation mark.
    I also love champagne and chocolate but I resist having them with every meal.

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    1. Maggie, brilliant answer! Love it - I think you've got it in a nutshell. Ooh look, a cliche - actually they're a personal loathe of mine, but what the hell? :)

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  5. If we are in an environment of professional novelists, Terry, and I think we are, there should be no 101 sites, tips, advice and how-tos. It's a bug bear of mine. You don't get this kind of learn as you go thing with plumbers and sparkies. They have standards before they start - how they connect cables etc is up to them, what tools they use, what fixings etc, as long as the finished product conforms to professional standards of competence and safety. Can you imagine a #buildtips site for housebuilders?
    There is, apparently, a novel writing course online. I will bet that half their rules I would utterly ignore. I don't use "varied" dialogue tags beyond Said and Replied etc and I have written two novels with no dialogue punctuation and signifiers. You've read both. You liked them, others had issues. I also wrote a novel with footnotes which at least one person, a writer, hated and complained about. I do it because I think I can and the outcome would be original - and I also like to create a beautiful whole.
    If everyone followed "rules" all the books would look the same which you get in an awful lot of Indie genres.
    Saying this from my soapbox, I don't sell as much as I should because, fundamentally, many people - because of these "rules" - write pretty much the same book and readers of Indie embrace a familiar experience. A famous e-book romance company encourage almost identical books and their editorial policy is draconian and formulaic, without much opportunity for deviation. They send back whole chapters with rewriting orders. Their authors sell thousands, so fair play. Would you and I read them with any passion? No, I don''t think we would.
    Orwell detested the semi-colon. Joyce had whole sentences full of adverbs. Cormac McCarthy does not use dialogue tags and will never do so.
    There are no rules...

    I read the first two chapters of a book by self-publishing deity Hugh Howey. I have never. Seen such. Short sentences in my life. It spoilt. My reading experience and made me ill. Yet, this short sentence advice appears regularly on blogs we both read. It's nonsense. There isn't a teacher, nor a guide, nor a mentor, who can accurately gauge the beauty of a perfectly sized and constructed sentence. You either have it or you haven't.
    Less rules - more great writing. That would suit me, Terry - and thank you for the kind words and absorbing post. Mark x

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    1. I don't think the builders/plumbers thing is a very good comparison, to be honest, Mark, because this is precisely my point - that writings well ISN'T a thing that you can do via a series of modules.

      I think the thing with the dialogue works with yours because you have that little acknowledged quality, when it comes to 'how to write' articles ~ talent. If you have that, you know if something works or not. If you don't, no 101 rules will teach you much. Which, like Maggie's simple but excellent comment above, sums it all up! x :)

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    2. ..... re the first para of my answer, I do see the point you were making, though - that you ought to be fairly adept at and have a flair for writing before you start doing it!

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    3. As old new author, my storytelling in the past has always been to a live audience through presentations and exhibitions. Trying to write a novel is a different experience and I was advised by Rosie Amber to take a look at Rayne Hall's Word-Loss Diet.

      Frankly I was amazed at the improvement removing words like began and immediately and unnecessary combinations such as 'I heard him say' or 'she watched him walk' etc.

      Fifty years after leaving full-time education it was good to discover simple errors which spoiled my writing. I am sure there are many more problems with it, but at least the story now has a fair chance of being read beyond the first chapter.

      When rules improve your attempt to write, it would be foolish to ignore them, but I've still included the odd ! and too much description of scenes probably, but with a background in non-fiction storytelling that is maybe only to be expected.

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    4. One tip I'd give any new novelist is 'write as a reader'. Think about what would keep YOU turning the pages, and it probably isn't the descriptive scene writing. I've looked through my first published novels and cringed at the superfluous exclamation marks - it looks very amateur. I think the problem I was trying to embrace here is that some blog posts and writing courses give the impression that all you need is a set of rules, and you can churn out a novel, and if you don't follow those rules then it's 'wrong'. Re what Mark said about the romance publishers who follow a strict formula - yes, indeed they sell thousands, and some of their authors are actually given titles and told what to write, but it depends on what sort of writer you want to be.

      The problem with the facility to self-publish is that all those who think they have a novel in them now publish it, and think that if you go on a course first to learn how to do it, it will necessarily be good. Of course you learn how to write better, but I think it's best if you learn by doing it, by remarks from sensible reviews, and by reading, rather than by being taught 'the rules'.

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  6. I think there is a mine field of advice out there for the new writer, in an area that has exploded with the ability to self publish and the increase in publishers who just take a book and charge you to publish it without giving the whole package. Now anyone can write a book, but how many can write a REALLY GOOD ONE?

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  7. Grrrr - now blogger's not publishing my OWN comments! I'll try again. Yes - so much of it comes down to the 'anyone can do it' culture (similar to that of TV Talent shows), and all those wishing to cash in on it by selling services to writers. Lots of these 'rules' posts come from people who want to sell their writing courses!!!

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  8. Great post. Rules are made to be broken in my opinion! I always do my own thing when I'm writing and reading, as long as I enjoy it then it's all good :)

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    1. Exactly - if it works, that's all that matters :)

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  9. Never written a How to Write book ....too busy writing....

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    1. I didn't know there were all these 'rules' until I read some blog posts by new writers... impression being given that if they do all these things 'right', plus the social media, etc, they will have a bestseller. Whether or not they have writing ability is never questioned though - because these days, anyone can do it... apparently!!! ;)

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    2. You know my views about the'everybody has a novel inside them'. Having lashed myself to the mast (metaphorically) each time I write a new book, and suffered the torments of doubt, fear and insecurity, I really think, maybe, they should be made to have a go!! That'd shut them up!

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    3. HA!!!!!! Love it. I remember Jilly Cooper saying, when she worked as a reader for a publisher, something like "I discovered that the old saying 'everyone has a novel inside them' is true - unfortunately". :)

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  10. Well said, Terry. These types of style rules will come and go - they always have, and a lot is down to the individual story being told. Sometimes a generous dollop of backstory works, other times a story flows better when the backstory is scattered through the narrative, and on occasion we don't need any.

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    1. If you have the skill in the first place you work that out for yourself, won't you?!

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  11. Hear hear, Terry! No great writer ever followed these rules. In fact, they weren't even written until recently - and obviously by people who have no imagination.

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  12. Write the book, become famous (she says as if it's that easy) and then when people ask you how you did it, make up your own rules. I think that is how we got the "rules" in the first place. I think reading a lot helps you avoid the worst errors in writing.

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    1. For sure, Bev! But let us not forget that little talked about element - actual talent, that makes you write the good book anyway. Talent (and daring to suggest that it's possessed by the few, rather than the many) seems to be a dirty word these days, when blog posts and online writing coaches have you believe that if you follow 'the rules', anyone can do it :)

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  13. As a reader Terry I just know whether I'm emotionally engaged and rooting for the characters or I haven't connected with them. It's always been about the emotions for me.

    As for writing, hands up, I paid for a children's writing course. It's interesting but I haven't managed to get further than the first module (since Easter). Totally put off because I would never remember to do all those things. There would be no creativity, no flow. 'No will want to read your work if you don't do ...'

    So thanks Terry, you've given me inspiration again.

    I've linked your post with #TalkoftheTown. Hope that's ok!

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    1. I am delighted you have linked my post, thanks, Shaz!!

      It's good to hear from someone who has actually been on one of these courses! Especially as what you say reiterates the point of this post, ha ha! Exactly - if you have talent (ie, know how to make a story come alive, with characters the reader WILL emotionally engage with), you don't need rules, and if you haven't, following all the rules in the world won't help you to write anything better than a presentable book. The course sounds awful!!! :)

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    2. Well said, Terry :D I've wanted to write a blog post about this for a while as I'm fed up of the grammar Nazis out there dictating how you should write. Since I first self-published in 2013, I've read countless articles about the rules of writing. Who makes these rules and who makes them right? All they serve to do is plaque a new writer with self doubt. I'm a rule breaker at heart and tend to take it all with a pinch of salt, using only those I feel help strengthen and tighten my writing. Many best selling books are littered with adverbs and adjectives, and it hasn't stopped them from receiving great reviews. I read a lot of YA as this is the genre I write, and have found there's a TLDR culture that's spread into YA fiction from the internet. Many tend to use shorter sentences for pacing, and while that's great for action and moving the story forwards, it doesn't give the character's room to breathe or the reader to pause for thought. As I write fantasy, I love to use a balance of shorter passages for action and longer ones for rich description. That's my style, some will like it, others won't. Writing is a subjective art form, but I can't imagine someone coming along and painting over a piece of art you'd created because they thought it wasn't up to scratch. It's your voice and your story and you should tell it how you want it to be told. I firmly believe it's an original story, strong characters and the author's unique voice that make a great book.

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  14. I don't know what TLDR is, to be honest! I'm looking at it and thinking... hmmm, surely I can work out what that means....but I can't!

    I don't mind grammar police, as they are called, because I think correct grammar is important, and moan about it myself; it's the STYLE police that get me, as they obviously do you!!! I agree with absolutely everything you've said. And good for you for ignoring them!!! Exactly - who makes up these rules? The people who want you to attend their creative writing course, often, I reckon! I'd love to see a post by you on this.. :^D Thanks for such a lovely long comment xx

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  15. TLDR - Too long, didn't read. Only know this because I've got two teen at home, Terry. And yes, it was really more the rules of style I was referring rather than correct grammar. Got a bit overzealous there ;)

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    1. Ha ha, that's okay, it was a great comment - and I've learned something new, too!

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  16. There are no rules - I have this up on a scrappy piece of paper now above my computer screen because being relatively new to this game I became heartily sick of all the writing tips etc that floated past me on twitter etc. I no longer read any 'how to' posts because there is too much of the - red wine/chocolate is good for you one week and bad for you the next - for me and if you followed all the rules would there be anything left with any originality?? I don't think so.

    Everything in moderation is my guide and I do what feels right in that particular sentence or paragraph.

    Great post T and I agree totally :-)

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  17. ...I also completely agree with your views of Ultra Violence - a brilliant book and it was so refreshing to read something so completely different - everyone should read this so they can see what can be done.

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    1. Thanks, G - I become more and more convinced that these 'rules' are made up by people who want to sell their 'how to write' books and courses!

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  18. Wonderful, TT. Actually, I love adverbs, judiciously but not necessarily sparingly used :) They make it so much easier to add feeling although I do delete some of them if I realise I've gone too far. As for rules, I didn't know there were any till I read Stephen King's book On Writing a year or so ago. It was from him I learned that adverbs were a no no. Being a typical bull, I stubbornly and vehemently refuse to be dissuaded from them - as I've just proved…haha.

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    1. You use away, Vallypee! I think more of these rules are made up by people who want you to buy their 'how to write' books, to be honest :)

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    2. PS And I love that last cartoon! My academic writing students do exactly that!!

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    3. Ha ha ha!!! Yes ~ I love a good cartoon :)

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  19. I love writing but I was feeling a bit confused after reading various internet articles about the rules of writing and what you can have in a book and what you can't. As an avid reader I know what I enjoy and what I don't. This post is a joy to behold and has driven me on to just write what I feel and deal with anything else much later. Thank you.

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    1. Anne, thanks so much, this was the first thing I read when I logged on ~ my work is done! Not only the article itself, but the comments should give you renewed confidence to write what you want. I doubt very much whether any of your favourite authors have ever read a 'how to write' article! :)

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  20. At last, some good old common sense!
    Rules were always made to be broken, anyway...

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  21. Excellent article, Terry! I completely agree with you on grammar, which is completely different from rules. I'm all for picking up tips to improve writing, but I feel rules for creativity in writing turn an art into something prescriptive and over-thought, sapping the beauty from good writing and making it scientific. Perhaps they work for text books and technical books, but for telling a story in a creative way? Nothing wrong with adverbs! And there is the risk that a lot of it is 'faddy' anyway, so what's supposedly the trend in creative writing now won't be in a year's time. An amusing article might be to go through a section of Dickens (with his long prose and hugely detailed descriptions) or, say, Austen, with one of those rule book and find all the supposed 'errors'!

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    1. Oh yes - Emma, ask my sister @ProofreadJulia for her article about what a guy in a writing critique group would say if he got hold of a Jane Austen for the first time, it's hilarious!

      The multiple POV thing really gets me - I've been writing like that for over 20 years, and when I first started self-pubbing a few people said it was weird and confusing, but now every book I pick up is from at least 3!!

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  22. Now that I've gotten my Creative Writing MFA courtesy of Twitter, I'll just throw all those #writetips out. Besides, I love adverbs and adjectives.

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    1. Courtesty of Twitter!!! Love it. Thanks :)

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  23. I think it's good to learn the rules, but don't be a slave to them. You learn to color within the lines, and then create art on your own blank canvas.

    You might be interested in The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke. He discusses the pros and cons for all of the rules. Here's my book review: http://ow.ly/UJnf8

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    1. Thanks, Diane ~ I'd love to look at it but am heavily committed with reviewing at the moment, and am trying to find time to start my new one!!!

      You're so right ~ as long as they're sensible rules! :) Thanks for commenting.

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    2. ps, I meant I was too busy to read the book, not your review - sorry, that came out wrong!!!! I have flagged up your review to look at, as it does interest me.... and thanks again for your time in referrring it to me, I shall look later!

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    3. Diane, I appreciate this great #writetip for the book about disregarding writing tips. Looked up your review, the book and bought it.

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    4. Yes, Jann and Diane, I read this review and checked out the book! Haven't bought it because I won't have time to read it at the moment, but thanks for the direction :)

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  24. Yaaasss!! The sooner we learn that writing is art - fluid like you mentioned - the sooner there will be more, good stuff to read. If I followed the rules, there would've been no SUKI and none of the good work it's been doing for others. The multiple POV's in Haunted House...Haunted Life are what capture and convey the real message of the story. I could go on and on. Great article Terry!

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    1. Thank you, Christina! Lovely comment xxxx

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  25. Uh-oh, I think you just damned yourself to Writer Purgatory, and you'll have to write "I will never use adverbs" 100 times before you get out:)

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  26. Personally I have only read one book where the writer was technically proficient but dull. I have read a great many books where the writer had no technical proficiency at all, and for the most part those books are unfinished.

    What I tell people is that "Writing rules are guidelines based on observation of what works". They're not rules you follow for the heck of it, you follow it because generally they work. The overarching rule is that if it doesn't work, don't do it (even if it's strictly in accordance with other rules). When people talk about throwing the rule book out the window, what I'm left with is the impression that they actually don't understand them well enough to know how to apply them. There is absolutely no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater - but that doesn't mean all rules should be slavishly followed either. However, you should intelligently and deliberately break rules, and not just because you don't even know the rule exists.

    Because every rule has an exception, but you need to know those rules really really well in order to know when it's appropriate to break it. If you don't, then you just got lucky, and there's no guarantee you can do it again.

    For example, I found this post really confusing on the topic of POV, and I'm not sure if there are two concepts muddled up here:

    -POV CHARACTERS - the number of viewpoint characters you have. There is NO RULE about how many viewpoint characters you can have. Genres have trends and traditions (fantasy usually has lots, thrillers usually have one) but you can buck the trend if you want.There is a rule that you should only change viewpoint characters at scene breaks, or better, at chapter breaks - doing so within a scene is called head-hopping, and it's confusing to the reader, and jars them out of the story because they can't connect with the character properly.

    -POV TYPE - this is 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc. There is a rule that if you use 1st, then you should generally only have one viewpoint character. This rule has a REASON, which is that if you choose to use first, you are choosing to establish a deeper connection with the reader and that character. Changing viewpoint characters can throw the reader out of the book, because suddenly they don't know what is happening or why. They may lose their connection to the book because they lost the character they were connected to. If you choose to do it, generally it should be for a good reason - not just because you felt like it (because of the risk of losing the reader). An example is Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER, where she introduced Jamie's POV - because Claire was not present for those events, and so we needed Jamie's POV. But she chose 3rd - why? Why not first? there is ALSO a general rule that if you use 1st, and have a reason to introduce other viewpoint characters, then you should use 3rd - BECAUSE writing two totally distinct characters in first such that the reader immediately knows who is who without names is REALLY HARD. Doesn't mean it can't be done - I can't do it, but a friend of mine can. BUT the point is there is a good reason to think twice about it BEFORE you do it.

    To me, it's not enough to know the rules, you need to know WHY the rule is there - because only then can you know when to break it. For example, in all the above viewpoint character and POV stuff a large part of the reason is because "every transition is an opportunity to lose the reader". So your scene and chapter breaks, your viewpoint changes, your POV changes, should all be considered really well and included if necessary. It's a good idea not to switch to a new viewpoint character who hasn't been previously introduced to the reader, because that eases the transition (where possible).

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    3. Ciara, I am not talking about basic good writing, things like not head hopping, at least a paragraph before a POV change, etc. To not know about these things, instinctively, perhaps means the individual has limited writing skill; contrary to the current philosophy, writing is actually quite a rarified skill, and not everyone has it, just because they fancy 'being a writer'. I am not talking about basic grammar, or the common sense about writing that every decent writer should have without being told - as I said, if you have talent for novel writing, you don't need to learn it from a course or an internet article.

      Please read the new paragraph I have inserted into the article in bold, under the first cartoon - I think in a way it says it all!

      Having read your long explanation about the rules of POV, I wonder if you have been on one of these courses. I understand you believe that if you use the 1st person character you 'can't' change POV? Look, I don't really like to do this, but I must invite you to a look at my books, link above. Then look at the reviews. Nearly all my books are written from multiple 1st person POV. Susan Howatch did the same as I do, and I daresay other writers much more well known than me do, too. I didn't learn how to do what I do from anywhere other than my own head. I knew what would work, and for the most part it does (though I am obviously not everyone's cup of tea). I do thank you for your time and trouble in writing this comment, but it really does sound like stuff people learn on creative writing courses, which is exactly my point. Two years ago I went to a writers' conference, where many publishers and agents were present. One person asked if creative writing courses were a good idea. All the 'board' laughed. They said you can always tell the creative writing course writers, because their submissions are written by the book. Neatly perfect and reined in, like novel writing by numbers. Now that I review books, I come across these, too. Technically perfect, but forgettable.

      I do appreciate your time in writing all this, really :)

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  27. Part 2 of my earlier comment (there's a character limit on comments?!)

    When breaking rules, the important question is not only "Does this work?" but "Would it better if I followed the rules?"

    If yes, follow the rule. If no, then break it.

    But always, always know what the rule is, and WHY, so you can answer those questions about what works better.

    Also, who came up with the he said/she said rule? Since when don't you need dialogue tags? You can substitute action tags, but you always, always need to make sure the reader knows who is speaking (or, again, confusing).

    NB: On classics, there is a reason they are 'classics' and not widely read anymore by the population at large, and its BECAUSE they don't ascribe to the rules for modern audiences. Books are now competing with visual mediums that Jane Austen did not need to compete with, and that is part of why fiction needs to be more engaging now than in years gone by. If you can't hold the reader's attention, he/she will go watch a movie instead.

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    1. Again, I do appreciate your time in writing this, and have considered what you have said. I'm sorry if my reply has come over at all short; it is first thing in the morning, and I haven't had coffee yet (and I'm in a bit of a hurry!). I think my point is more that I'm talking about 'trends'. And the things people learn in creative writing classes that aren't necessarily so. Many writing courses are there to make money out of people eager to write a best seller, don't forget.

      I do not mean to sound as if I know it all. I don't, and I am no bestseller (though writers with less 'success' than me call themselves such!!) (I consider a 'bestseller' to be something that is constantly so, not that was for a month or two). But my whole point was that people get taught all this stuff and think it cannot be varied from. I do read writing advice articles, and take them in, and sometimes act on the advice, but no-one is telling me you 'can't' write multiple POV 1st person. All this stuff about 'connecting' with the character via certain methods - it's all bollocks. If you write well enough, your readers will connect with your characters as soon as they are introduced. If you don't, you might as well forget the rule book anyway, because it won't do you any good.

      I agree totally re the stars of yesteryear having a much tougher job if they were around today! It's something I often think about - and not just about authors.

      I thank you again for your time and trouble in writing all this.

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    2. A great back-and-forth between you two authors about multiple POVs, especially when all are done in first person. That's what I'm working on now, in my second book (did the first all in third person but from multiple POVs) and trying to psych out if it's going to work…before I do all the work! HaHa. Even I know the answer to this dilemma.

      Thanks Terry, thanks Ciara. You've given me some good books to look to as I ponder this...

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    3. Jan, two of my books, Kings and Queens and Last Child, are done in multiple first person POVs. The story is picked up by the next person each time; for each of them I spent a long time working out which bit should most effectively be told by whom, particularly in Last Child. The reviews tell me it worked! I've done similar in The House of York, but with more chopping and changing and a bit of third person, too. I think the best way is to work out what you think feels right for the character - I find that some characters lend themselves to 3rd person, some to 1st. And older book of mine, What It Takes, is from about 6 POVs, mostly 3rd person, but two of them didn't feel right in 3rd. When you've done the first draft, leave in for a month or so then go back to it to see if it really does work; you can always change them if they don't. Good luck, let me know how you get on! Oh, and read my review of Ultra Violence, link above, near the end of the article! :)

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  28. I look for a good story first and then find the right voice to tell it. I write memoir which demands a good story--or the ability to make magic out of small things. Thanks for poking fun at my serious self. She only wants to get it right. Garlic sits under my computer to ward off evil rules and boring voices.

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    1. Ha ha! 'Boring voices' - if you have one of those, following all the rules in the world won't do any good, as I am sure you agree! Thanks for commenting, Elaine :)

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  29. I either had someone tell me or I read it somewhere---maybe more than once---that writers should know the rules and then it makes it easier to break them. In other words, trust your writer's gut feelings and not the landfill of advice.

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  30. The latest one is that you must never... never never never on any account use an exclamation mark!!! What bollocks. The only way to "learn" how to write, if that's possible at all, is to read the work of great writers not the work of some nobody who feels they have a right to tell you the "rules". Great post, Terry, full of common sense and interesting observations.

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    2. Cheers, PD!!!!!!!!!!!!! <<------
      I don't think you can learn how to write, I think it requires talent that some have and some don't. You can't learn talent, it's either there or it's not. You improve on what you've got by being open to suggestion, by reading the outlooks of proven masters of the game, and by being aware of what you're writing and simply having the desire to improve. However, all the stuff in the last sentence won't make you anything other than passable if you don't have any basic talent. And nor will taking a creative writing course, or reading a blog post by someone selling that course, about not changing from 1st to 3rd person :)

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  31. This is the best! I've had quite a few indie review requests, but I can never get through the ones that try to follow all the rules. I always know exactly what's going to happen next!

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    1. Oh yes! I'd rather a really bad book than one of those nice little safe ones that you yawn your way through until the predictable end :)

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  32. Terry, you always make such good sense and I love reading all your words - the ones that break the rules and the ones that don't. I just don't get here often enough. I'm so pleased I did tonight. You tell 'em, er us, er me. Thanks. :)

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    1. Ha ha! Thanks, Norah - this is why it's always worth bringing out an old post again! x

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  33. I agree with everything you say. All new writers and certainly all reviewers should read this.
    Love
    Jenny
    xxx

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    1. Well, I know I'm preaching to the converted with you, on this sort of thing, Jenny! xx

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