Monday, August 10, 2009

Monday Mania... or Maniac

I'm so confused. Just when I think I'm getting a handle on the rules, someone changes the guidelines or adds a little twist.

In conversations with other authors and editors, I've really become more aware of how a story begins. We are told we should SHOW the story from the character's POV rather than telling the reader what is happening, so I'm wondering why so many authors start their novels by using a narrator's voice to set the scene. POV is the window through which we let the reader peek inside, and I become confused when a third-person narrator steals the show.

Now I know there are different rules for romantic fiction, mystery, etc., but I'm not sure how to apply them. Doesn't it seem that fiction writing should be writing? I've been told to avoid semi colons, try to stay away for using 'it', and instead replace it with a solid noun so the reader knows what 'it' is. I also avoid duplication of words where possible? So what makes some authors exempt?

I recently opened a NY best selling novel and read this:

**** **** ran his hand along her smooth, naked thigh, up to her waist, and then down along her flat stomach. His body was pressed against hers; front to back, her head resting on his arm. This moment had not been part of the plan, but it shouldn't surprise him. There had been signposts; furtive glances, comments made only half in jest. The tension had built for the better part of a year. Each of them silently wondering. Neither knowing for sure if it would ever go to that next level. And then they arrived at the private villa overlooking the tranquil beach. The warm, humid air, the crashing surf, the shots of tequila; all coalesced to create a situation of overwhelming sexual tension.


If I wrote this, following the 'rules,' the story would read:

**** **** ran a hand along her smooth, naked thigh up to her waist then across her flat stomach. He pressed the front of his body against her backside and enjoyed the tickle of her hair as it draped over his arm. He'd never planned for this moment to happen, but he wasn't surprised.

I think you get the idea. Following the rules set by publishers can affect the outcome of your manuscript. Some want you to stay away from 'ly' words, instead using stronger verbs. Others require you to avoid passive voice and "to" phrases. I really adhere as much as possible with the last rule because if a characters reaches "to grab", then he/she really isn't accomplishing anything. Why can't he/she just grab? Actually, following the rules have made me a much more polished writer. What becomes confusing is when you're instructed to avoid pitfalls like: seems, reaches, feels, was. Stay in the present tense, avoid passive voice, stay away from author intrusion. Lord...my head is spinning.

Care to share any of the rules you've learned lately? Or what pet peeves you find in mainstream published books? Any books? I always like hearing another's perspective. Why not add more fodder to the frustration?

4 comments:

Katie Hines said...

I know what you mean about following the rules, Ginger. According to all I've read and studied about creative writing, it is okay to use sentence fragments. But, when I do that, my publisher marks them to be changed. I find that the rules aren't always the same for everyone. go figure.

Maryann Miller said...

Some of the rules vary from publisher to publisher, especially regarding fragments, internal dialogue, and some others. But there are other rules that simply apply to good craft, such as using strong verbs, showing instead of telling, and avoiding too many adverbs.

And I especially liked that you pointed out the benefit of replacing "it" with a noun, Ginger. I used to be horrible about overusing the pronoun until a helpful editor pointed that out to me. :-)

unwriter said...

I try not to use double words and being a member of Toastmasters has helped in this regard. I don't use tags. I embed the names, such as:
"Mandy, ready for another adventure?" followed by: "Let's go Alex:

Show but don't tell is trickier and I'm working on that one.

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Ginger,
For what it is worth, I think it depends on who you are. If you are a "big name" writer the editors/publishers have to let you get away with anything, but they can take their revenge/frustration on the "little guy"like us.(That's provided they will even read our work). Let's face it, different editors, have different rules. I have worked with about 8 different editors, and they all tell me something different, and they all have their own personal pet peeves. Makes your head spin.
Regards
Margaret

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