Rules

 by Pari

“Can I pick your brain for a moment?” said my friend.

“Sure.” Here it comes.

“I’m taking this dialog-writing class . . .” He looked down at his feet, cleared his throat, scratched his nose. “And the instructor said that if we don’t have a lot of dialog on every page, no one will want to read our work.”

Oh, for Heaven’s sake. Tell your instructor to go to —

“What do you think, Pari? Is that right?” he said. “Do we really need to have so much dialog? Because when I open the books I like, they all have a lot of description.”

Oh, man. His fundamental question gave me hives. I’ve met so many new writers who try to adhere to all the how-tos and must-dos, they end up with can’t-reads.

So what’s the deal with rules? Which ones are useful? Which ones have lost their meaning? And how is a writer to know the difference?

In order to talk about this, I divided rules into three categories. They include a few examples. Use them as a launchpad for thinking about this topic and for our discussion.

Grammar
No repetition.
Never start a sentence with “And” or “But” or “Because.”
And watch those commas; don’t ever ever ever split an infinitive!
Or what was I thinking of? Ah, yes. No prepositions at the end of a sentence.
Or sentence fragments.

Every writer I know has had an encounter with Ms. Corrector Lady (always a woman, in my experience) whose raison d’etre is to send us emails every time we err grammatically. While it may be a civic duty to give her life meaning, I can’t help wonder if she’s living in the past?

Genre Specific
In writing traditional mysteries, I’ve met:
You have to introduce the killer somewhere in the first two chapters.
You have to introduce the killer within the first 50 pages.
You can’t have a series that switches location from book to book. (Pshaw. I did that with Sasha and no one seemed to complain.)
You have to start with a dead body.
No multiple POVs; those are for thrillers.
Not more than 80,000 words.

You get the idea.

What are the rules for thrillers, romantic suspense, science ficiton, fantasy, YA, romance etc.?

General
No prologs.
Use a lot of dialog.
Don’t use a lot of dialog.
Don’t pitch a series.
Pitch a series.
Edit and polish and edit and polish again.
Don’t overedit your work because it’ll lose its heart.

“Know the rules so you can break them.” Oh, come on.
“Cut the stuff that bores people.” Yeah. Sure. Right. Clever sentiment. Totally useless to a beginning writer.

Observations
#1
  Grammar is changing. It’s always changing. Yes, a person needs to know how to form sentences and paragraphs. However, there’s a lot more freedom in this area than there used to be. Is this a good thing? A bad one? Hell, I don’t know. What do you think?

#2  “Genre” is becoming a useless concept. While purists might be upset with all the blending between various literary traditions, I’m dancing a jig. Someday, I hope the only hard genre distinction is between Fiction and Nonfiction.

#3   Many general rules stem from pet peeves. Like the one I mentioned at the beginning of this post, they’re literary soundbites that have become codified because people want a magic bullet.

What do you think?

Which rules still rock?
Which ones have outlived their usefulness?
Are there new ones that you like, find helpful?

I’m looking forward to this discussion.

๏ปฟ

 

54 thoughts on “Rules

  1. Barbie

    What an interesting blog post!!! It’s always nice to get these writing lessons from authors! I can’t wait to read everyone’s answer.

    I have a question for whomever wants to answer it: Why do so many people have a problem with Prologues? I’m a HUGE Prologue junkie, but I’ve read so much criticism to it. What could possibly be so wrong with having a Prologue that will spark people’s temper like that?

    When I get a contract, they’ll have to threaten me out of writing a Prologue. I find them essential in a book.

    Team Prologue!!! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
  2. Vicky

    I think the rules serve to hamper the creativeness of the writer. No one scorns the poet who follows no rules. The poet appears to be given creative permission to break every rule, with no rhyme, only reason. The same should hold true for the writer of novels. Woven within the plot, there is emotional depth and meaning and if that can best be told by breaking a few rules, I say go for it.

    Reply
  3. Margaret A. Golla

    Excellent post, Pari!

    For beginning writiers, I still think there is some validity to sticking to one POV during a scene. Transitioning to another POV during the scene works, but I don’t think many beginning writers know how to do it without jarring the reader out of the story. I’ve judged numerous RWA contests and this is the problem that gives me the biggest headache. Jus’ sayin’.

    Reply
  4. Spencer Seidel

    Barbie, I’m with you! I see nothing wrong with an appropriately written prologue. For every example of a bad prologue you can come up with, I’ll show you a good example.

    And I agree with Margaret. As a reader, I generally like 1 POV per scene, so that’s what I do as a writer. It is a personal "rule" for me. But, just the prologue, you can find good and bad examples of in-scene POV switching.

    Reply
  5. Cornelia Read

    I’m interested in Barbie’s pro-prologue stance. Good to know that there are people who like them. They kind of drive me nuts–especially third-person prologues where you’re watching someone get killed by the serial dude–almost always a young woman as victim, with a little torture porn thrown in– and then ending with "and then everything went black…" with a segue to the hardboiled detective having breakfast or what-have-you just before he finds out he has this new case.

    Reply
  6. kathy

    Gotta love it! I’ve spent the last month or so writing a rough draft, just letting it flow which means throwing all the rules away for a while… then I had to write an English Placement test essay,to return to College (ahem, age forty is an old memory)… I scoffed at writing the test, heck, I’m on my fith manuscript, I can write 5000 words a day when pressed.
    Well wasn’t I surprised at the slap of the test marker when she listed all my terrible ‘breakage’ of rules! (read fragmented sentences and commas etc)
    oops.

    Reply
  7. Brett Battles

    Excellent, Pari! I CONSISTENTLY break every single one of the grammar rule you’ve listed. If it helps you tell the story in an interesting way. Screw the laws!

    I will say the one rule that I’m best at keeping (but will probably break someday), and one, if broken by an unsure writer, will instantly take me out of a book, is POV. That is, sticking to a single POV throughout a scene. If you want to change, fine, stick in a scene break. That said, there are some pretty damn good writers who break this rule all the time, and it never bothers me. Stephen King has done this affectively a lot. But he’s got a very strong grip on his narrative, and I’m never thrown from his prose.

    Reply
  8. Louise Ure

    In my current reading, I find that the books that stick strictly to traditional "musts" feel flat, antiseptic and too planned. The books I’ve enjoyed the most (and I’m thinking of Daniel Woodrell here) have broken at least several of the "laws."

    Reply
  9. Fran

    What the Critic Queens conveniently overlook is that novels aren’t the same as formal essays and technical writing and things like that. Essays and whatnot have specific rules. Novels are art. Art is fluid and flexible.

    At least that’s my take on it.

    Reply
  10. toni mcgee causey

    There are only two hard and fast rules to writing:

    1) It must make sense

    and

    2) It must not be boring.

    I think you can exploit grammar rules and break them for voice/style purposes, as long as what you’re doing makes sense and isn’t confusing the reader. I think you can have as much or as little dialog as you want, as long as the reader isn’t bored.

    Everything else is a matter of personal style.

    Reply
  11. Ron Scheer

    A difference between fiction and nonfiction? Good luck with that.

    Breaking rules can make writing interesting, so the rules have to be there to get that effect. Recently I was reading a novel where there was a single character but the POV kept changing between first, second, and third person. Listen to yourself think, and you may catch yourself doing this. "You did it again," I may say to myself when I’ve done something stupid. More interestingly, "He did it again," still referring to myself (and with heavy irony).

    I was bewildered when I was reading this in a novel, and then suddenly got it. The way the POV kept shifting kept me a little off balance, but it gave me a real insight into how the character perceived and made sense out of his life. It was unsettling because it was supposed to be.

    Great discussion. Thanks for bringing this all up. I teach expository writing, and I’m continually surprised by the "rules" students have that get in the way of their writing.

    Reply
  12. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Writing is communication. If you communicate the story effectively, with a consistent style of your own, it doesn’t matter what rules you break. Are there really "rules" for communication?

    Reply
  13. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Interestingly, I never thought I’d be a writer when I was growing up. I understood that there were a lot of rules to learn, sentences to diagram, and I wasn’t interested in that. But I liked to write stories, and I did, knowing that they were written improperly, because, of course, I didn’t know the rules. The process freed me to actually write things. Years later I would discover that I was a writer. I still don’t know what the hell a dangling participle is. But it sounds great, and I think I’ll use it in a limerick some day.

    Reply
  14. Tammy Cravit

    This discussion reminds me of the famous story about Winston Churchill’s response to a criticism of his ending sentences with prepositions. That said, I wholeheartedly agree with Toni – in my world, just about anything’s fair game so long as it doesn’t knock the reader out of the story. If my gentle readers suddenly sit up and say "whoa!" and scratch their collective heads about some rule of grammar, that’s a failure. Otherwise, pretty much anything that furthers the story is fair game, so far as I’m concerned.

    I am also reminded of a (rather rude) holiday card my daughter found last year. The front of the card showed two ladies talking. The first said "where’s the Christmas party at?" The second woman reproved her: "Don’t end a sentence with a preposition." On the inside of the card, we found the first speaker’s response to having her grammar criticized. "Where’s the Christmas party at, b*tch?"

    Reply
  15. Barbara_NY

    Bravo! And, I especially enjoyed the Grammar section. Yes, the Grammar section. The Grammar section rocked. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
  16. pari noskin taichert

    Holy cow! I come back from a long walk and see an entire discussion has started without me.

    Barbie,
    Generally, I don’t like prologs because they often seem like cop outs. It’s as if the author has all this back story he or she wants to tell, but doesn’t want to take the time to figure out how to integrate it into the story at hand. If the information is so important, why isn’t it Chapt. 1? I’ve only read a few that actually work to enhance the story rather than water it down.

    Vicky,
    An interesting perspective. But I wonder . . . in poetry, part of the joy of it is its ambiguity. In prose, I’m not sure that’s an advantage. I work very hard to make sure that what I write makes sense to a variety of people. James Joyce could get away with an entire book of stream of consciousness . . . I’m not sure I can.

    Margaret,
    That’s exactly what I’m talking about — a rule that really does help a writer, especially at the beginning, to master the craft and tell the story well. Thanks so much for bringing it up.

    Spencer,
    Can you give us some examples of good prologs that couldn’t have been Chapter 1 just as easily? That enhanced the book BECAUSE they’re prologues? I’d love to know.

    Reply
  17. Wilfred Bereswill

    First of all, WHAT BRETT SAID.

    I haven’t seen the "Show, Don’t Tell" rule.

    A well-crafted, prologue that is essential to the plot, but not obvious is fine by me. Otherwise, I’d prefer to just start with a first chatper.

    Reply
  18. pari noskin taichert

    Cornelia,
    You’ve hit on another reason I often dislike prologues, they feel lazy to me. Like the author didn’t want to bother with transitions.

    I bet we’re both looking forward to Spencer’s answer.

    Kathy,
    Brawhahahaha! I know what you mean. I keep my hand in with nonfiction — features and public relations writing — where I don’t break many rules at all. It’s good practice. It also creates a nice distinction between the two mindsets for me.

    Brett,
    I know you do!
    Look at Margaret’s response. She’s right there with. It sounds like this rule is a fine one for beginning writers at least.

    Louise,
    I like those words: "flat" "antiseptic" "too planned." I’ve hit those books and wondered why they weren’t working for me. Over-edited, over-thought.

    Reply
  19. pari noskin taichert

    Fran,
    I’m soooo with you. Sometimes when I get one of these emails, I want to mouth off and tell the person to get a life. But my irritation is that person’s joy. Why take it away from her?

    Ron,
    What book was that? I’d be curious to read where that kind of change in POVs works well. The author must be damn good to pull it off.
    And I love that you teach expository writing. What are some of those rules that "get in the way?"

    Toni,
    Okay. That’s it. I’m going home now. <g>.
    Of course you’re right.

    Sylvia,
    Thanks. What’s the last book that bored you?

    Reply
  20. Gayle Carline

    What a great post. I can definitely overlook grammatical "errors" if the writing is not clunky and the story pulls me along. I couldn’t get into Twilight for that reason – passive writing plus whiney teenager do no make me want to keep reading. I’m also guilty of breaking some rules, but I know I’m being a scofflaw and I’m doing it on purpose. My first book has a prologue – it’s not what I wanted, altho I’m not anti-prologue. I wanted a one-page Chapter 1. As a matter of fact, I wanted a few one-page chapters, because they seemed to make sense and I’ve seen the big kids do it. My editor made the 1st chapter into a prologue and blended the other one-pagers into other chapters, divided by that spacey-asterisk divider thing. I didn’t argue, because it was my first book…

    Author of FREEZER BURN (http://gaylecarline.blogspot.com)

    Reply
  21. pari noskin taichert

    Stephen,
    I’m not a total anarchist. I do think some rules work. That’s why I wrote this particular blog. The ultimate goal is to develop a style of one’s own. You’re fortunate that you didn’t let rules get in the way of that when you started out. When it came to stories, I did. Now I’m not so hung up on things, but it took a while to find my voice.

    Tammy,
    Leave it to you to bring up that card. Thanks for the laugh.
    I do think you’re right. That’s one of the values of having proto-readers. I use my critique group for it. We don’t talk about rules at all, but if there’s something that all four of them comment on, I sure take a look at it.

    Thank you, kindly, Barbara.
    I figured most people would catch the playfulness there. If you liked it, you might like a post I did ages ago called "Commas ‘n’ Sh*t" — it’s in the archives here or you can find it at Meanderings and Musings on April 12, 2009. I think it would amuse you.

    Wilfred,
    Yeah. That rule is probably the one that stands out the most. I can’t think of a place where it’s not useful.

    Alafair,
    If more writers, especially newer ones, kept that rule top of mind — rather than obsessing about dos and don’ts — I bet a lot more wonderful books/stories would result.

    Reply
  22. TerriMolina

    I’ve been working with a new critique group for a few months now and one of our members is so focused on the "rules" that it clearly stalls her work and our discussions because she feels the need to point out the rules we aren’t following. She recently became concerned that she had too much dialogue because it went on for two and a half pages–there was interaction within the dialogue so it wasn’t like a couple of talking heads.
    I know I break the rules, especially with POV–switching within a scene without a scene break, but those who’ve read my work–although they point out that I jumped POV–don’t have a problem with it, because it still flows.
    One rule I really hate—and never follow–is that the ‘hero’ and ‘heroine’ must meet in the first five pages.
    Btw, I like Toni’s comment!

    Reply
  23. pari noskin taichert

    Gayle,
    You bring up an interesting point. We can do what we want, but what happens when an editor wants to change it? Do we protest, defend it to the death? Do we agree because we’re so grateful to be published? I know that in my copyedits, sometimes I go along with a particular "correction" simply because I don’t care that much. Other times my manuscripts have "STET!!!!" scrawled all over them.

    Reply
  24. Michael

    Genre exists so libraries and bookstores can have sections so the reader can find books that interest him or her. Publishers prefer it because it is easier to sell. Blending of genres is growing more accepted as with the modern cozy which blends romance and mystery together. The current mashups between classic lit and horror also shows an acceptance of the blending of genre by the readers. However, one genre still has to be the focus, don’t you think?

    For those interested in grammar might I suggest checking out the book "Lexicographer’s Dilemma" by Jack Lynch. The book tells the history of the "rules" of the English language.

    Reply
  25. Mike Dennis

    Somerset Maugham delivered the final solution to this issue when he said, "There are only three rules of writing. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."

    Reply
  26. pari noskin taichert

    Terri,
    Interesting example with the woman in your group. Also, the rule in romances. I’m curious, do you switch POVs within a scene often?

    Michael,
    I’ll look for the book.
    As to the reasons for genres, I do buy the idea on a general level. But as a writer, I’ve found it limiting and incredibly annoying. I guess it’s because I’m such a contrarian. I don’t like being shoved into boxes even though I understand the reason for it.

    Barbie,
    You’re certainly welcome. What have you found useful?

    Mike,
    Hah!
    The only problem is that I think many, many people think they DO.

    Reply
  27. Zoรซ Sharp

    Hi Pari

    Great post, and once again Toni has beaten me to what I would have said, if only I’d been here earlier, dammit!

    To that I’ll add only that good writing is like watching good stage actors. If you can forget the confines of the fact that these are not real people, only characters speaking fake dialogue and involved in action that does not really exist. If you can KNOW this, and still be totally transported by the story, that’s great acting. The same goes for great storytelling. The books that make people miss their flight because they didn’t hear the final boarding call. The books that cost people a night’s sleep, a burnt dinner, an overflowing bath. Anything else is arguing about the colour of the paint on the scenery, or the brand of bulbs in the footlights.

    Reply
  28. anonymous

    It bothers me when I read "He’s smarter than me." or "He’s taller than me." When did the "smarter/taller than I (am) " rule change?

    Reply
  29. TerriMolina

    Pari, yes, in my first two novels, I would often switch pov within the scene. But, aside from my critique partners, I never got called on it, especially from agents and editors. To be honest, i dont’ think they even notice because the switches—if I can say so myself–are pretty flawless transitions. =)

    In my defense, I was an avid reader of Nora Roberts when I decided to try my hand at writing. Had read nearly all of her books….so…yeah…I learned it from her. hah I’ve tried to break myself of the habit with my newer works and as I do revisions, but I still tend to switch within a scene because it’s what the scene calls for…imo.

    Reply
  30. pari noskin taichert

    Oh, man, Zoe . . . great analogy. Totally apt.

    Anonymous,
    Thanks for the example. I don’t know when and how these rules change. I think it has to do with different sensibilities. Remember when we used to use "one" in formal writing? Now, often, "I" is accepted as the norm.

    Terri,
    Nora Roberts, huh? Well if you’re going to break a rule, why not learn from a master? (A "Mistress" just doesn’t sound right, does it?)

    Reply
  31. Spencer Seidel

    Pari —

    That’s a great question! And no, I can’t off the top of my head think of an example of a prologue so good that it seemed necessary. I think as readers we all have pet peeves. Prologues aren’t one of mine. That said, bad writing is bad writing, and that includes prologues. Haha, I’ve actually books with interesting prologues that turned out to be awful, so maybe you’re right.

    I’m reminded of the James Bond movies, tho… The opening sequence is always a thrill ride and does at least serve the purpose of showing you what Bond is all about. Sure it’s junk food and has no nutritional value, but it’s kind of fun anyway ๐Ÿ™‚

    Spence

    Reply
  32. judy wirzberger

    I love to be so engrossed in a book that I forget the "rules" — the one thing I hate is reading a chapter ending with the "Had I known the trouble walking into the strip joint would cause me later, I would have turned and walked out again. But that night I kept going right through the morass of smelly bodies and unshaved armpits."

    I figure that is a cheater’s way of trying to incite me to turn the page…and after the third chapter ending like that …well I’ve learned that I do not have to finish every book I begin.

    Reply
  33. Allison Brennan

    I love prologues ๐Ÿ™‚ I have one in all my books. They are usually a snippet from the past–long before the start of the story–that shows one of my main characters and his/her motivation as that motivation is created. It’s usually short, tense, and a pivotal changing point in a character’s life. I remember one contest judge told me that my three page prologue in THE HUNT should be integrated with the story and that the heroine should tell the hero what happened to her. But–the scene had much greater impact to SHOW it as it happened (I could have done it as a flashback, but because my heroine was bitchy in the opening chapters, I wanted the reader to immediately be on her side so showing this scene was essential.) AND my heroine wouldn’t tell the hero, at least not with the high emotion that was in the scene.

    I have a rules breaking workshop I’ve given, and am giving again at RWA with Shauna Summers, a fabulous editor at Random House, and our own JT Ellison ๐Ÿ™‚

    Other rules for romantic suspense? The hero and heroine have to meet in the first chapter (NOT!); no prologues; no love triangles; must not introduce strong male character before the hero; no graphic violence; no politician characters; no musician characters; must have equal parts romance and suspense; you name it, I’ve heard it.

    Reply
  34. Allison Brennan

    Just saw Terri’s comments about POV. Yes, I was nailed on changing POV mid-scene and for having multiple viewpoints. I’ve heard no more than hero/hero and maybe the villain; I’ve heard no more than four. I’ve heard no more than five (from a bestselling thriller author.) I’ve had as many as 13 POVs (though usually 4 or 5 of the characters have 90% of the book.) In my upcoming Lucy book, I have only 5 or 6 POVs, fewer than I’ve ever written, but it fit the story.

    Reply
  35. becky hutchison

    Interesting post, Pari. In my critique group, we rarely discuss grammatical rules. There’s still the occasional question about how many commas are needed in a sentence or how to use unusual words correctly, but we let our writing styles speak for themselves. Our group’s only hard and fast rule is one adverb per chapter. It’s to challenge us to write better descriptions.

    I don’t like to read a book with all kinds of POVs flying around. I don’t mind it from chapter to chapter, or even within chapters when the passages are separated, but when it changes within paragraphs and sentences, I start to zone out. But that could change.

    When I first started reading mysteries, I had a rule to never read a book in first person. But now I’ve discovered the joys of reading and writing in that POV. My next goal? Getting used to books written in current tense. It’s weird for me, but I need to branch out and discover new writers.

    And I’m particularly fond of starting a sentence with a preposition.

    Reply
  36. KDJames / BCB

    I really love Virginia Kantra’s take on this subject. She says there is no right or wrong, there is only what works and what doesn’t work.

    The only proviso I’d add is that a writer who is relatively new or inexperienced (like me) might not be the best judge of whether something works. And if a bunch of people who are more experienced are telling you something isn’t working, probably you should find a different method of accomplishing whatever it is you’re trying to do. Even if it means obeying a few rules rather than flaunting them. I’m a big fan of rule-breaking, but I’m also convinced that knowing what the rules are is more help than hindrance. For me, it comes down to knowing what you’re doing, whether following or breaking, and then doing it well.

    Also, re genre rules, it’s not just about knowing where to shelve books in the library. It’s a matter of satisfying readers. If I pick up a book that seems to be a lighthearted romantic comedy and it turns out to be a grim complicated psychological thriller in which people die gruesome deaths with a few jokes thrown in for comic relief, I’m going to be unhappy. And I won’t trust that writer ever again. Comedies should be funny; horror should be horrible um, scary (sorry, not a fan); romance should have that HEA; thrillers should be thrilling; sci-fi should… well, I’m not sure what sci-fi should do. You have to deliver on that implied promise to the reader that they are going to get the reading experience they’re expecting (and here I am totally paraphrasing, no doubt badly, something I’ve heard Alex say many times — because I agree with her).

    Reply
  37. pari noskin taichert

    Spence,
    I’m all for thrill rides, just not sloppy writing. I suspect we’re of a similar ilk.

    Judy,
    Oh yes. I’ve hit those too. It’s like watching CHOPPED or SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE and those f**king commercial breaks right at the climax. Enough is enough already.

    Reply
  38. Jake Nantz

    Pari, I apologize, but I’m going to interrupt your post and subsequent discussion to say:

    GO TESS!!

    Just got done watching Rizzoli and Isles, and it rocked. It must be very cool to see it from a creator’s POV. I also saw TNT put up the trailer for ICE COLD too. Awesome stuff.

    Okay, sorry, back to the discussion (which is very helpful for us hopefuls, btw!)

    Reply
  39. KDJames / BCB

    What? WHAT?! Rizzoli and Isles is on ALREADY?! Why did I not know this? It was just being filmed. I thought maybe in the fall… Thank god for networks that repeat shows. Calendar reminder set for Saturday at 10 AM. And next Monday at 10 PM.

    Reply
  40. TerriMolina

    must not introduce strong male character before the hero;
    OMG Allison, I’ve been nailed for this too with my first book…even had contest judges mark off for it!
    Ridiculous!!
    You know, I read a variety of genres, notjust romance, and I’m a "do as they do" kind of writer, so these crazy rules they come up with for romances can really kill my muse sometimes!

    Reply
  41. Allison Brennan

    Terri, I’m a "do what feels right for the story" kind of writer . . . which is why I tend to shun the so-called rules. In Lucy’s series, I introduced FBI Agent Noah Armstrong–a very strong male character–before Sean Rogan, who is the "hero" . . . I wouldn’t even mention that Sean is the hero, except they put it on the back cover copy so that takes out one of the mysteries.

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  42. Barbara_NY

    Pari… you were so right about your Rati post, "Commas ‘n’ Sh*t." Loved it. Like — pop rocks for the brain.

    Reply
  43. pari noskin taichert

    Allison,
    I love it when you add your $.02. Prologs work when they work — as you demonstrate.
    Rules are meant to be broken when in the hands of a master.

    Oh, Becky, if you didn’t read 1st person . . . you’d never read one of my Sasha books. Ouch. <g>. And I’m with you on present tense. I’m almost always aware of it in a negative way though I still try to read it. And I like sentences that start with AND too.

    KD,
    I think you’re right about delivering on the promise, but what happens when those promises become the only thing people look at? The only thing editors, booksellers, reviewers etc look at? Isn’t that incredibly limiting? I don’t have an answer here, just this sneaking sense that we’re closing off our imaginative/creative experiences as readers and writers with all of this effort to define define define.

    Jake,
    You’re forgiven. Just don’t do it again <g>.

    Barbara,
    I’m glad you liked it. I had a blast writing it.

    Reply
  44. Susan Shea

    I re-wrote my entire first book because someone told me to get rid of the prologue. Its value was in showing something that happened several years before the action picks up – it was a crime that needed to marinate. Making it work in a short chronological timeline wasn’t easy. Having said that, I’m with Cornelia on some prologues that have become cliches.

    Many wonderful writers, including Murderati authors, are experienced enough to break certain rules to the story’s benefit. They must have understanding copy editors. How do you deal with those – and publishers’ proofreaders – who try to snip out all signs of life in a manuscript?

    Reply
  45. KDJames / BCB

    Pari, I know what you’re saying and I agree. But I have read several excellent genre books that deliver what’s "expected" of them while also being wonderfully different and creative. I think (hope) there’s always going to be room for that.

    And then there are books that don’t comfortably fit into any genre definition and are best defined as "a novel." I hope whoever is making decisions about what to publish will always find a reason to publish those. An example that springs immediately to mind is Per Petterson’s OUT STEALING HORSES. I had no expectations when I picked up that book and, frankly, had someone told me what it was about or tried to define it for me, I would have passed. But I was curious about the writing of a guy named "Per" — how could you not be? And once I started, I couldn’t put it down. Once I finished, I immediately started it again. And I never do that. It may be that only the smaller publishers recognize or (more likely) are willing to take a risk on that kind of unique genius. I guess we have to hope that someone always will. I haven’t read any of your books yet (I’m getting there, slowly but surely) but I suspect your work falls into that category as well.

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  46. pari noskin taichert

    Oh, man, Susan. That must’ve been a horror. I agree with Allison: STET!!!!
    One of the copy editors I had put adverbs after every one of my "he said" and "she said." That’s when I learned Stet.

    KD,
    Of course you’re right — every point.
    I’m going to have to find that book. Wow. I’ve love for that to happen, read it and then immediately want to read it again!

    My Sasha books are definitely mysteries but I do think they stand better as general fiction.

    Reply
  47. Ronald Tierney

    I don’t believe I can determine rules for other people. I can see how each one listed above could be violated creatively. I do believe in rules for me. One that I find helpful is that all adjectives must be concrete. That is, concrete versus empty. In the narration at least, I wouldn’t use "beautiful" or "lovely." I would use words like "yellow" or "plump," words that provide a specific description. The second is that I try to break up long sentences and with that in mind, I question any use of a semicolon. I love sentence fragments both in narration and in dialogue. I think when a writer finds his or her voice the idea of outside rules are less important. Fortunately, I’ve not had an editor who screws up my style, but I do need an editor for an errant comma and verb agreement.

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