Monday, March 13, 2006

Rules

I know a lot of you that read this blog are writers, so let's talk about writing Rules today (and maybe tomorrow since it's Sunday for a lot of you right now).

I'm not going to give you a list of Rules. I'm going to ask you to give me some that you've heard. And then, we're going to rip them apart! Yes, that's right. We're going to deconstruct the rules. Because while rules are good, following them slavishly is never a good idea.

I'm going to visit a traumatic event in my past to give you an indication of why. After Awaken to Pleasure, my second book came out, I got the most horrible 1 star review for it on Amazon. Okay, I wasn't actually traumatized. I'd been through enough contests to know that my work is either loved or not. I tend not to get too many middle-grounders. (The fact that the other two reviews up there are 4 and 5 stars, tends to support my theory).

But though I didn't see it at that stage, I later realized the review had to have written by an aspiring writer. Because one of the things (among many, many others) that she blasted me for was breaking the rules - for telling and not showing certain things. I may be wrong, but what reader actually pulls apart a book to that extent?

Example: I didn't show my heroine being devoted to her brother. Guess what? Those scenes were written and then edited out, because they interrupted the flow of the love story. This book was about Taylor and Jackson, not Taylor and her little brother. Sometimes you do have to tell and then just move on. Showing every single thing would take up too much time and slow the pace of the book to an incredible level.

In the happy ending to this story, Awaken to Pleasure sold like crackerjacks and I still get letters from readers telling me it's their favorite books so far. The point is that while rules are useful bases, you can't allow yourself to get so hung up on them that you forget to tell a good story. Because in the end, it's all about story.

So, what other rules have you heard? And what do you think about them?

Edited to add
: Okay, weird. After posting this, I popped over to Romance Divas and there's a Showing/Telling workshop going on. It's very good, and goes way beyond being stuck to the simplistic type of rule I was talking about above, so go check it out!

10 comments :

Kendra Clark said...

I hate rules.

And I'm scared of reviews on Amazon.com lol

Nalini Singh said...

Lol, Kendra. Don't be scared - I figure if they're reviewing, they're paying attention. :)

Diana Peterfreund said...

You know, I was just thinking about this topic today after reading Gena's blog post. Another of her Amazon reviews was complaining about how 1st person is "a no-no in romance."

It's like, um, have you guys been attending too many RWA meetings or what?

Amazon reviews are a blight. The only time I ever pay attention to them is if there are 50 and 40 of them say "I couldn't put this book down" OR "I couldn't stop throwing this book at the wall." Otherwise it's just random people grinding axes.

Nalini Singh said...

Hey Diana. Actually it was Gena's post and one of yours from a while ago that got me started thinking on this.

I won't be a hypocrite - nice Amazon reviews do give me a warm, fuzzy feeling and I appreciate readers who go to the trouble of writing them up. So if anyone feels so compelled... *G*

What I truly don't understand is people who go up there for the single reason of badmouthing a book. Esp when I see those stats where it says 5/9 people found this review helpful. Grrr.

p.s. If any of you ever want to have some fun, go read the reviews for the Da Vinci code - I swear some of those people aren't aware it's fiction.

And 1st person is a no-no? Since when???

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

Actually, I have tried to write a novel and have not finished it (actually two or three), so I have a lot of respect for anyone who can write a WHOLE novel. But, one of the things that I found is that every author uses different rules. For instance, Hemingway uses very stripped narrative sentences, while some southern writers use lush sentences. If we all use the same rules, then we lose voice... and I think voice is one of the main things that makes the books so interesting.

Also, when I edit my work, I spend a lot of time cutting out certain phrases... I have a more Yankee stripped down writing style. Lynn is one of those southern writers that I talk about. She can sit down and write thirty pages of wonderful prose. I really envy her sometimes. ;-)

Milady Insanity said...

The only one I'm trying to stick with is 1 POV per scene. It went out the window when I decided to give third omniscient a try.

So, Kendra and I can sit in the Rule-Breaker Corner. Do drop by. We have the best parties!

Lynn Raye Harris said...

Aw, thanks, Cyn. :) (My work is quite a bit more stripped down now than when you saw it a few years ago.) :)

I'm glad you're talking about this, Nalini! I got the dumbest comments on a contest entry recently and I just know that if my entry was a book, I'd have these same dumb comments on an Amazon review. The judge wanted me to show things that were irrelevant. She also wanted me to, as I jokingly think of it, give my heroine a flighty heart. She wanted that heart to pound, thud, beat, fall, sigh, sing, etc at EVERY blessed thing. I couldn't briefly show you that the presence of the hero had her sweating or nervous or whatever, I was supposed to describe her heart beating. I was supposed to narrate in excruciating detail every twitter of her heart. I hate jumpy hearts. Jeez.

I'm pretty much a POV purist, but that's because it works for me. I think POV switches can be done well and poorly and it's all a matter of the degree of immersion in POV that makes the difference.

There was a conversation somewhere recently, can't remember where, about comma splices and semi-colons. The grammarians were up in arms, insisting that you can never ever comma splice. It's wrong, it's bad, blah blah. Grammar rules are good, but they don't always apply in fiction. And in dialogue, anything goes! Characters speak in comma splices. They also speak in incomplete sentences, end sentences with prepositions, and split their infinitives. :)

Nalini Singh said...

Cynthia - that's a good point about dif rules for dif writers. I'd call it personal style or voice. That's something I think people forget when they try to apply the same rule to everyone and everything.

Lol about the 1POV per scene going out the window Milady! I'm an unashamed head-hopper and it works for me!

(((Lynn))) on the contest entry comments. It sounds like your judge liked a particular kind of book/style and wanted you to emulate it, no?

Going off on a tangent, I did a post a while back about how competitions can be both good and bad - one of the things I think your comment shows is how much they could influence a new writer. You're experienced enough to know what works and what doesn't, but can you imagine the impact on a newbie?

Josie said...

Contests make me shudder in fear because my work has been ripped to pieces in the past. But I figure it's good practice for dealing with scathing reviews.

Here's a rule I've always heard: Don't write a romance in first person. However, the Gothic romances I grew up with were written in first person and I loved them so much! So I said the heck with it, and wrote Trimagon Hall in 1st person POV. I sold the novella, and I've received 5 really good reviews in a row. The reviewers don't seem to mind what POV I used.

Lynn Raye Harris said...

Thanks for the hugs, Nalini. You are so right about how comments like this could affect a newbie. I didn't even think of that because I could tell from this judge's comments that SHE was a newbie. I do remember when I first started writing and someone waved the POV rule at me. I was leaping all over the place, but it was natural. Stopped me for the longest time while I figured out the whole POV thing. :)