Saturday, September 26, 2009

What Rules?

In the critique groups I belong to, members constantly talk about the unwritten rules of writing. "Don't start a scene with dialogue." "No head-hopping." "Get rid of passive voice." "Lose the dialogue tags." "No back story in the first few chapters."

I've read at least six bestsellers this year, which break every one of these rules, from established authors and those just beginning their careers.

The latest book I'm reading has at least seven characters, so far, all narrating in first person. When I started submitting Sultana, which was originally four characters in first person, much of the advice I received from the crit group was that a first person story with four main characters was too confusing. Even though I identified each character at the opening of the chapter. So, I was very curious to see how a best-selling author would handle multiple characters in first person. I've found only one character in the novel distinct from the others. Yet, this is a best-selling book.

It seems clear if a writer is clever enough or well-known, he or she can get away with breaking the rules. What does it mean for those of us who are unpublished? Do the rules still apply?


N. Gemini Sasson said...

Lisa, I think we may have read the same book!

'Guidelines' is probably a more appropriate term than 'rules' when it comes to writing. Although there are sound reasons behind many of them, the danger is in interpreting them in absolute terms, just like your note says: "You can/can't". It seems that those who take them literally, tend to look at the process of writing as a matter of avoiding the negatives, rather than focusing on one's strengths or what is effective.

Anita Davison said...

Gemi has said it in her usual succinct, complete way. I'm only here to add my own confusion to this mix. I have read two books lately from well known authors that 'break' the unwritten rules of head hopping and omniscient PoV. In both cases their use served to show why these rules should be adhered to - I couldn't work out from paragraph to paragraph whose head I was in. But they still got published.

Glynis said...

Ooo, I hope the rules don't apply to the unpublished author! I am not one who always stick to them LOL

I enjoyed my visit, Glynis @

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