Where Did I Put My Tiara

The life unglamorous . . .

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Location: Utah, United States

see biography at http://www.marjoriejones.com

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Writing Tip #1 - Rules Schmules

Writing Tip Number 1 is more of a disclaimer.  Since this blog is dedicated to the process of writing, and I'll be filling the entries with my own writing style, techniques and knowledge, I want to begin with a few words about the rules of writing.
There are none.
There are rules of grammar, of course.  End sentence with a period or other punctuation mark.
There are formatting rules.  Set margins to one inch all the way around the page, indent paragraphs, don't use extra spaces between paragraphs.  That sort of thing.  I'll have a post regarding proper formatting later on.
But there are no rules for writing. 
Fiction writing is a creative process that depends on many factors.  To write well, one must blend the technical with the artistic.  Our voice, our style, and our stories must merge into a fascinating novel that will capture the attentions of our audience.  Rules, as we've come to know them, only serve to drown the all-important artistic ingredient.
So, what are these rules? 
If you have no idea I'm talking about, please, please, please, do NOT read the rest of this entry.  I don't want to be responsible for putting these rules into heads that aren't yet familiar with them.  But, if you're like me and you've been inundated with 'the rules' since you entered the topsy-turvy world of the romance novelist... read on.
Rule #1 : You can only have two Points of View : Hero and Heroine.  Maybe the Villian, but you better have a damn good reason.
Response:  Bunk.  Bunk.  Bunk, bunk, bunk, bunk, bunk.  Keep in mind I'm a "Single Title" author, so I have more words and pages to play with than a category author, so this may be a publisher's guideline for certain lines, like the Harlequin Series books.  I can't speak to that, because I've never submitted anything to Harlequin, nor have I ever spoken with their editors or followed their series books.   However, when speaking to the single title romance, you can have as many point-of-view characters as your story calls for!  I once read a book where one short scene was in a sub-characters point-of-view, and it was the only scene in his point-of-view in the entire book.  But it gave insight to that character that the author believed was needed.  I was happy to read it.  It entertained me as much as the rest of the book. 
Rule #2 : No Passive Voice.
Response: Okay, this one isn't ALL bad.  It's the "NO" that I have issues with.  Certainly, the active voice in writing is more emotional, more ... well ... active.  It draws the reader into the story better.  But absolutely nothing is absolute.  Passive voice is a part of our language, therefore, eliminating it entirely from a manuscript can weary the reader.  Passive voice, used correctly, is perfectly okay ... and here's the kicker ... in moderation.
Rule #3 : Eliminate 'THAT'
Response: The problem with this rule is that it isn't even a grammar rule.  Listen to how we talk to each other.  We use 'that' in sentences all of the time.  There is nothing wrong with it.  Strunk and White, as well as Stephen King, mention in their writing books that superflous words have no place in books.  Just like this blog is full of my opinions, so are their books.  It's their opinion.  If you agree with it, great.  But the hard and fast rule regarding 'that' is one of the writer's voice.  If you write a sentence that includes 'that' and it sounds good to you ... keep it.  Don't let well-meaning crit partners remove them.  You might be making extra work for yourself if your editor puts them back in, like mine did.  (The first 'official' writing tips post will concern this very issue)
Rule #4 : "Was" is a four letter ... errr... three letter word.
Response : Was is not bad.  Was is a part of the English language.  Certainly, if one can find a more powerful verb to use in its place, go for it.  I do.  But if the sentence calls for 'WAS', don't be afraid to use it. 
These are just a few of the "rules" I've come across.  There are plenty more.
So, it's your turn.  What are some of the rules you've found?  Do you have questions concerning these rules?  Opinions?  Shout it out!


Blogger Suprina said...

The POV issue is a pain for me. I'm trying my best these days not to head-hop, but at times it seems so necessary to tell what the other person is thinking.

I've been told never to do that. To stay in one person's head throughout a scene. Yet for me it seems so restrictive.

The kicker is, the books that I wrote before I got critiqued about head-hopping often sell better than the ones where I tried to stay in one head.

4:59 PM  
Blogger Marjorie Jones said...

The one thing I always remember about POV, Suprina, is that its a matter of voice. I'm a purist, which simply means that I believe in being true to ones own style. If you want to switch POV in your scenes, go for it. Who says you can't? A bunch of writers, that's who. Writers with their own opinions and motivations. I have a workshop that shows the benefits of writing in one POV for an entire scene, but that's just me. I write in one, maybe two POVs in a scene but I'll only switch POV in a scene in the middle. Never right at the end. Allison Brennen, author of The Prey and others, doesn't mind changing at the very end of a scene. That's her style, her choice.

Headhopping, for anyone checking in who doesn't know, is the too-subtle change of POV. A lot of folks will say that headhopping occurs when the POV shift is jarring and rips the reader out of the story. Not so. If the change is jarring, I know I've switched. It might rip me out of the story, but I know its there.

True headhopping occurs when we're reading, and we discover we changed POVs two or three sentences earlier and we're completely confused as to whose head we're in at all.

So, Suprina, I'd be willing to bet your not headhopping at all. You're just changing POV more often than the POV police would like.

Go for it, babe. Be a rebel!


8:48 AM  
Blogger Gabrielle said...

Suprina, it's not restrictive. It just calls on a different set of skills. It's a definite skill to be write in one character's POV, yet show the reader what the other is thinking. It also keeps the tension high because we're guessing what the other person is thinking but we have to wait until we get to their POV for the pay off.

Staying in one POV also helps with reader identification. A reader probably won't know what the technique is, but I'm betting you they know whether they're really connecting to a character or thinking "meh."

I don't think you necessarily have to stay in one POV for the entire scene, but changing back and forth can be jumpy and lessen the reader identification.

To me, it's not a rule, it's just a matter of doing what's best for the story. And sometimes, what's best IS to change POV. And just remember: tools, not rules!

9:24 AM  
Blogger Suprina said...

Okay, you guys have really given me a confidence boost here. I can even feel some of the tension in my shoulders leaving.

Thanks so much...now off to write...possibly in more than one POV (grinning mischievously). LOL

9:57 AM  
Blogger Marjorie Jones said...

That's great, Suprina... may your fingers fly!


8:08 AM  

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