Friday, June 26, 2015

Writing: Different Strokes...

I guess I'm dating myself, but I was around when this saying was popular: "Different strokes for different folks." There are a lot of ways to apply that, but today I'd like to apply it to writing...and reading.

Writers hear about "rules" and "suggestions" that, if we follow them, are almost guaranteed to produce a best-seller. But the more I learn as I travel this road to writing, the more convinced I am that it's possible to ignore rules provided the final product is one readers enjoy.

One of the things about which we're warned is being unclear with our phrasing. Consider these two paragraphs:

A) Roger Leonides had been in London on the day of his father's death at Box House, the headquarters of Associated Catering.

B) On the day of his father's death, Roger Leonides had been in London at Box House, the headquarters of Associated Catering.

Which is clearer to you? The problem with A) is that it implies that the father died at Box House, whereas B) seems to more accurately depict what happened. Which is which? A) was taken from Crooked House, a classic by Agatha Christie that the Saturday Review of Literature called "a knockout." B is my own version.

Which one sold multiple thousands of copies? Yeah, that's right. Crooked House went through nine editions in English, not to mention something like thirteen in various foreign languages.

So, what do you think? What rules or suggestions do you think are important? Or does it really matter?

Tweet with a single click. "What writing rules are really important? Or are any of them?" Click here to tweet.

(PS--For those who didn't notice, the man in the picture above is wearing shoes of two different colors--different strokes).


Danielle Hull said...

Love this! I am a reader and reviewer not a writer. When I'm ready to write a review of a book I loved, I often look at a few negative reviews; they have me shaking my head. The negative reviews often didn't consider the category of the book, or they pick it apart based on their theology or compared to Shakespeare! Sometimes, it just comes down to the fact that I enjoyed the book, despite poor Kindle formatting, grammar and punctuation mistakes and all!

Richard Mabry said...

Danielle, It's true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I've seen some best-selling books that broke lots of rules, but people bought them and apparently enjoyed them. Thanks for your comment.

Patricia Bradley said...

To me story is king. I've kept reading a poorly constructed book because the author made me care about their characters and what happened to them.

Richard Mabry said...

I don't think there's any question about that, Patricia. In the end, the reader has to care about the characters and their story. Thanks for your comment. said...

Since I write character driven Womens Fiction, - I used to write Narrative - Third Person Past Tense and did a LOT OF TELLING - then entered contests where the judges' rule was to take out ALL TELLING - NO NARRATIVE ALLOWED. . .a rule I still fight. I've gone to showing - allowing the story to flow through characters - but - sorry - there are still SOME PLACES where TELLING (Narrative) has to be a part of the story.

I read a lot of LIH - and with the rule NO HEAD HOPPING - keep each scene to ONE character's pov (Which I do agree with) it's been interesting how recent LIH books are now FLOODED with head hopping and I find it confusing since I've learned WHY it's important to write a scene from ONE character's pov.

GOOD article, Richard.

Gail Kittleson said...

That old saying, "The proof is in the pudding…" comes to mind. I guess Agatha's point is clear! I like the way you and she put this together, Richard!

Richard Mabry said...

Joy, thanks for sharing your experience. And, like you, I think head-hopping is bad...although I've seen it in novels by best-selling authors.

Gail, thanks for your kind words.

And thanks to both of you for dropping by and commenting.

Tammie Fickas said...

Ah, the rules. I'm a writer who tends to want to do things my own way. I do think the writing industry can sometimes get too caught up in the rules. If the book or story reads well, then what's the harm in breaking a few rules?

As a reader who knows writing, the rules get in the way of enjoying a good story. I find myself mentally marking passages that shouldn't have made it past the editor. So, when I sit down to read for enjoyment, or for judging a book contest, I try to take off the editor hat and simply be a reader. If I judge a book by the rules that were kept or broken and not the overall quality of the story I haven't been fair to the author.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Richard.

Richard Mabry said...

Tammie, at my very first writing workshop, Alton Gansky warned us that, once we begin writing, we'd never read the same way again. And that's proven to be true.
I don't think the publishers are responsible for our having "rules" and suggestions--they seem, at least to me, to come from successful writers who are trying to communicate things that will draw readers into the story. I agree with you--it's best not to get too hung up on them, but since my name isn't J K Rowling or Tom Clancy, I tend to either follow those rules or know why I'm breaking them.
Thanks for your comment.