October 17, 2018

When Authors Break the Rules

Girl lying down with headphones
Image courtesy of pixabay.com
When new writers visit our writing group or read some of my posts about the accepted rules of writing, they often object to the guidelines of good writing. An author they love doesn't follow these rules. Their favorite author uses adverbs, passive verbs, dialogue verbs other than "said," data dumps, and point of view shifts in the wrong place. Worse yet, they don't offer a hook in their boring first lines.

I understand the confusion. If those best-selling writers don't follow the rules, why should we?

Some well-established authors get sloppy. Their books sell, so they don't have to worry about getting the attention of an agent or publisher. They're a known entity. They have a fan base who will buy anything they write.

New writers need to follow the rules in order to get noticed. I'm always thankful to read books by authors who continue, despite their success, to follow the accepted rules of good writing. Their books are better. We tell new writers to find the writers who adhere to the rules and not to focus on what best-selling author A, B, or C does.

For example, I just finished an audiobook by a best-selling author with well over fifty published novels. I don't usually read this author, but the book's concept intrigued me, and Audible offered it in a special deal. If I hadn't been driving when I listened to it, if I'd bought the print book, I never would have finished it. This author violated many rules of writing, and her book bored me for long stretches of time. Add an anti-climatic climax, and you've got the recipe for poor reviews.

If I ever reach the point where I've published several books, I hope I never forget my readers in my desire to get the books out.

What rules did she violate?

  • The first three chapters provided the backstory of the characters. In fact, it focused on the characters who die early in the book, not the protagonist of the story. I thought we'd never get to the birth of the main character, much less action or dialogue. The author kept this up throughout the book, providing long sections of backstory that didn't offer anything to the story.
  • The narrative relied on passive verbs and weak verbs when stronger options existed.
  • Many sentences in a small section started with the same word over and over:  He did this. He thought this. He wondered this. He. He. He. This creates a juvenile tone in the writing. This was not a children's book, though.
  • The author told us what the characters felt rather than showed us. Sometimes she told us and in the next chapter or section told us again as if we couldn't remember what she'd already said. In some of these cases, the characters' action showed us what the author bothered to stop and tell us. None of the telling belonged in the story, but the cases where she did show us, it disheartened me to have her turn around and tell me, too.

I could go on and on, but the ones that bugged me the most were the long sections of backstory and the telling rather than showing. These are boring for the reader, and in the case of this audio book, the artist reading the story sounded bored with this approach, too.

Why did I finish the book?

Changing a book while driving is a lot like texting and driving, but there were times when I wanted to pull off the road and choose something else. I grumbled at the characters and the writer many times, shocked at the poor techniques. The plot, once it surfaced, held my interest enough to stick with it, but the resolution of the plot was too neat, too easy. I wanted the protagonist to act, but instead, just like the writing, she was passive. As I neared the end of the book, I wondered how the author planned to resolve the conflict. I think she didn't know a good way to do it because it came out of nowhere and felt contrived. After I stuck it out, I felt cheated by the anti-climatic ending. Even the love story part rang false.

I felt better when I went to post my review. Many of the online reviewers didn't finish the book, citing the slow pace as a serious problem.

So, yes, we tell new writers, you will find established authors breaking the rules, but they can do it because of their fan base and notoriety.

We can't.

We're better writers for that reason.

October 9, 2018

Let's Talk Jargon

  • Your sitting in the doctor's examining room staring at her while she rattles off a long list of foreign words.
  • Your mechanic starts describing what's wrong with your car, but you scratch your head in confusion.
  • Your teenager speaks in a new, incomprehensible language to you.

What's going on? Are you in a different country where they don't speak your language?

Yes and no.

Each industry develops it's own language, known as jargon. Someone in your business or industry understands these terms, but outsiders don't. They might figure out a few of the definitions but don't count on it, especially when you start using acronyms. In fact, some jargon has different meanings depending on the industry.

This happens in writing circles, too. We toss around words and terms, sometimes confusing the uninitiated who wander in wanting to learn about writing.

By no means can I list all of the words in a writer's specific language, but I thought it might be useful to define some of the common words and terms we use.

First, let's talk about a term I used above:  acronym. An acronym uses the first letter of each word in a phrase to create an abbreviation. Some acronyms spell out pronounceable words, for example ASAP which means As Soon As Possible.

Here a few terms inherent to the writing community:

What words would you add?

October 3, 2018

Does a Writer Need an Editor?

Do You Need an Editor?

The short answer to that question?


A more appropriate question to ask would be:  Why do I need an editor?

If you spend enough time reading posts from agents and publishers, you'll discover they prefer to receive work that's been edited by someone besides you.

Why Do You Need an Editor?

You know what you've written. Your story inhabits your soul. When you try to edit it, you will read into it what you meant...whether or not it really says what you meant.

I give the same advice to technical and business writers, by the way.

Editing focuses on more than grammar and typos. The internet abounds with posts about the kinds of editors you might hire, but here's a quick breakdown:

Content or Developmental Editor

This editor explores plot and flow, character development, setting, point of view, etc. Basically, this type of editing asks if the story works as written. It's not meant to find typos or grammar issues, although the editor might comment on those kinds of problems if they're glaring. This edit focuses on making sure the story works.

Line Editor

This kind of editing focuses on your manuscript line by line. Although a line editor might note some of the issues a content editor might mention, the focus is not story, it's about the words:  excess words, repetition, awkward sentences, etc. This edit does not focus on typos and grammar, either, although major grammatical problems might be mentioned.

Copy Editor

A copy editor focuses on the rules of writing.  This person should be familiar with the style guide(AP, Chicago, etc.) appropriate to the type of writing you're doing. They check grammar, punctuation, spelling, facts, etc. They, also, look for inconsistencies in your writing:  you hyphenated a word here but didn't hyphenate it in a different place.


This should be your final edit, although some people lump it in with Copy Editing. A proofreader catches errors in the writing:  misspelled words, missing words, and punctuation issues. In addition, this editor looks at any problems with formatting for print layout or ebooks. Hire this editor last, not first. If you don't take care of your content or line edit issues first, you'll end up paying for proofreading again later.

Odds are you won't find one editor who offers all of these services. I prefer to do Content and Line editing, although I will comment on and/or fix glaring grammatical issues if I have the time.

Also, be aware that many editors will request a sample of your manuscript before accepting you as a client. I do this to ensure two things:
1. I'm quoting an appropriate price for the level of work
2. Your work is ready for an editor

Often, I'll receive a sample and make some suggestions on problems they should fix before I accept the editing job. I don't want my clients spending money on things they can fix first.

A good editor will do that because they want your business and your referrals.