Monday, June 6, 2016

About those “Writing Rules” …

Recently I posted on this blog about my sense of what an author needed to be aware of when writing; basically, learn the “writing rules,” but don’t be afraid to break them if it works for the story you are weaving. Some of my writer friends took exception to what I had to say, reminding me that many beginning writers hadn’t had the education I had enjoyed, nor the life experience, and might misunderstand the comments.

Let me be very clear: anyone who wants to write needs to know how to spell and when to look up a word if they are unsure of the spelling. How to use these words correctly. How to construct a sentence which not only makes sense, but flows well. How to figure out paragraph breaks. The importance of dialogue and description. These are absolutely vital if you want a reader to get past the first chapter in your book. 

And it is very true that I was fortunate enough to have an excellent background in the English language, by virtue of diagramming sentences and learning vocabulary (which included spelling tests) while a high school student in the 1950s, and writing essays and book reviews in high school and through two years of college English. I was also a voracious reader from a very early age and love to read. The joke with my kids was “if Mom is reading, the house could fall down around her ears and she still wouldn’t put the book down.”

So I think what I more likely should have addressed was style, particularly as applies to current literary practice. I grew up reading mostly nineteenth century novelists. Fictional prose written today is quite different from that of Charles Dickens, my favorite author (I’m currently reading Bleak House, one I missed when I was young. Great read!) So when I tackled my first book at the age of seventy-five, my writing was influenced by that style, which is now considered old hat. Many of the books I read, though I didn’t know it at the time, were from the point of view of an “omniscient narrator,” also considered old hat these days.

Three novels later I’ve learned more about current preferred writing practices, and I have begun to use these more and more. I’m fortunate to belong to two local writing groups, and we read sections of anything we are currently working on and make suggestions. These are always made in the most positive way possible and have definitely been a help to me in improving my skills.

I do have to qualify all this by saying when I sat down to write How I Grew Up on May 6, 2013 (yes, I remember the exact date) I had no thought of ever writing another book. It still surprises me how much I fell in love with writing and I already have a start on book number six. I’ve had some modest success with the five books I’ve written and self-published (at my age, I didn’t spend a lot of time sending query letters to agents and attempting to go the traditional route).

So when I wrote recently about not being afraid to break the rules, it was in the context of what you will see in Jamie’s Children: written in third person point of view of the two protagonists, but with a few sections in the book using omniscient narrator.

If I had read the above paragraph on May 6, 2013, I would have no idea what I was talking about. Nor through the next two novels, Eli’s Heart and You Are My Song. They are still good reads and strong stories, though I’ve been advised recently I used too much exposition. A recent comment about Eli’s Heart: “A very enjoyable read. I hated the style of writing but the characters are very well defined, the musical element is powerful and the ending is brilliant.”

Another recent comment: “I started reading "Eli's Heart" and it was totally worth all the emotions it invoked. Without giving too much away I can only say that the relationship between Kristina and Eli was so beautiful and their love so pure even with all the obstacles that they had to overcome. I loved the progression of the story over the years and since I love music that was a plus for me. But even though you are not musically inclined this is truly worth reading!

I guess it all depends on your P.O.V. Back to the drawing board … er, computer.

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