Thursday, July 25, 2013

Readers Don't Give a Damn

Raise your hand if you're an aspiring author who's been to an online writer's community. Chances are, the senior members (those who have been doing the whole aspiring author things for years, who have been to writing workshops and attended conferences, some of whom have landed agents) have lectured you at one point or another about the "rules" of writing. No passive verbs. No adverbs. No dialogue tags. Did you just switch POVs in the middle of a paragraph? Shame on you! And what is all this excessive description in the middle of an action scene? Kill that darling! And for Heaven's sake, don't let your manuscript run too long!

These little nagging voices have pecked at me for so long, I figured only self-published books ever broke the rules. Because I've been wrapped up in indie books for this blog, I haven't had a chance to read any mainstream fiction in a while. So this week, with Flynn edits done, I decided to dive into Cassandra Clare's "Infernal Devices" series for a bit of market research. I bought the first two solely because of their shiny steampunk covers, and I figured it couldn't hurt to see what all the kids are reading these days (I'm a little behind on the times - the last YA book I read was The Hunger Games).

If I'd read it two years ago, or even one year ago before Artificial Absolutes went into edits, I would've just giggled at the cheesy romance and shameless emotion porn (not criticizing them - just saying they make me giggle). But after having spent so long with my head in the writing "rules", the little red pen in my head went berserk. Cassie Clare! Did you really write two YA books that are both about 150,000 words long? Why, that's almost as long as Mansfield Park! And what are all these dialogue tags? And floating heads - aren't your characters doing anything other than running their mouths? And did you really just interrupt a tense scene to tell us about your character's dress? Oh my, you switched POVs in the middle of a paragraph! Your character can't see her own mouth! Passive verbs? Adverbs? How dare you use "this" and "now" and "today" in your prose when you're writing in past tense? Shame, shame, shame!

Except the fact is, readers don't give a damn. The "Infernal Devices" books have sold millions of copies and have raving reviews on Goodreads. Which are well deserved - Cassie Clare tells a helluva story. No one mentioned the fact that she was breaking all the "rules" because frankly, it doesn't really matter.

Of course, the "rules" are still helpful for beginners. The last thing you want is to bog your story down with random problems. However, I've decided to stop fretting as much about the "rules". I'll still abide by them for the most part because, in my case, I do think they make my manuscripts flow better, but I won't obsess as much. Because ultimately, it's the story that counts, not the writing. If you're writing fluffy/pulpy tales of adventure like me. Things are probably different for high-falutin' lit fic.


  1. Bwa ha ha! I hate writing "rules." If you're good enough, you can break all the rules you want and if you're not good enough, no matter how strictly you follow the rules you're still not good enough. It's as simple as that.

  2. Finally, someone else has said it. A lot of the "rules" of fiction these days are made to be broken. I especially take issue with POV switches. I've read a lot of mainstream, popular writers who have been fluid with Point of View in 3rd person narrative. If you want to stick to a single person's viewpoint, write it in the First Person.

    Of course, that being said, there is such a thing as jumping POV too much, which is why the "rule" exists. It takes a certain amount of experience and skill to shift point of view without making it confusing to readers. But those who know how to do it, they do it well!

    And this is my opinion as an editor, as well as a writer.

    1. That's a very good point. The "rules" are a good starting point, but we certainly don't need to consider them ironclad.

  3. I say, we need to follow the rules as a road map, but veering off into our own course, as long as it doesn't get the reader lost, can still mean a great read.

  4. You are so right (or should that be 'write'? ;) Mary. In moderation, the rules don't really matter, and if you're already 'in', like Clare or whoever, they don't apply at all. I say, take what rules you find useful to guide you through and use them in moderation like anything else, and forget the rest.

  5. Great points!!! I think we forget about the many authors who were nobodies way back in the day (not just ten years ago) that broke the "rules" and redefined writing.

    I think most of the time the rules dont matter, but if it blatantly does not make sense.. then problems.. most people just want to be pulled into a story and get lost.. not whether or not you kept your tenses lined out!