Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Rule Breakers

It's Tuesday night. That's the night the Critique Group meets. Tonight's group had a fascinating discussion on the 'rules of writing.' 

"I didn't know there were rules," I said.
"Sure there are, if you want to get published."
"Did Dickens follow the rules?"
"No. There weren't any back then."
"Does everyone know the rules?"
"You have to learn them, usually the hard way."
"Everyone just follows the rules?"
"Just about."

Then somebody said, "Well, there are some exceptions. Some really bad writers still get published, even though they break all the rules."

This really got my attention. Who could these deficient writers possibly be?

"Could you give me a couple of examples?"
"Easy," one of the ladies said. "Nicholas Sparks. He's an awful writer, but a great story teller, so everything he writes gets published and read."
"I love his books," I said.
"Yeah. Me, too," she admitted.

Someone else spoke up then. "J. K. Rowling. Terrible writer. Doesn't follow any of the rules."
"Harry Potter?" I asked.
"Yes. Poorly written, but fun to read." 

Everyone agreed with the edict. Well, everyone except me. I was sitting there in stunned silence. I hadn't noticed any problems with the text. Was I deficient somehow? A generation of children learned to love books because of Rowling and the Harry Potter series. 

I don't think I like the rules. Maybe I should break a few myself. They say I have a good start with that...


schmath said...

So what are the rules? Besides grammar and spelling, I can't imagine what they would be.

schmath said...

Are any of the writers in your group published? That's funny that they feel entitled to call famous authors bad writers. There's tons of published stuff out there that I don't enjoy reading, but I don't think that makes it bad writing--just not my type of writing.

Kathleen said...

None of them are published yet, but two or three have finished books that they're trying to sell. One has a series of three YA books she's editing or rewriting after rejection letters. Another is a mystery writer who won a writer of the year award last year. She's really good, and very nice.

The rules include stuff like, don't include information in the book your character doesn't know.

Don't ask too many questions in the first chapter. You'll confuse your reader.

Don't have so many characters. You'll confuse your reader.

Stuff like that. Those are the ones I remember at 5 a.m., since those are the ones they say I break in my writing.

You read my first chapter. Were you confused? Feel like I asked too many unanswered questions? I intended to ask those questions and not answer them. I think if you answer all the questions up front, why should they read the book?

Of course, these people have all been writing novels much longer than I have, and they're probably right. My book will sit around gathering "so sorry" letters while I run through hankies and red pens.

Kathleen said...

Giving credit where it's due, I should add that, although it's fine to be funny, which I love doing on my blog, it's been much easier editing my first draft with their comments about point of view and repetitive words.

One of them said I sounded like I was being "paid by the word." When I read it over, I realized I could tighten it up considerably. Maybe she didn't phrase it too nicely, but the comment sure stuck in my mind and turned out to be a huge help.

Ri said...

I say keep writing and keep breaking rules! :-)
If J.K. Rowling is a terrible writer, then there must be something wrong with the rules!