Friday, January 21, 2022

Rule breaker? Who you calling a headhopper?

We are SO PROUD to share the wonderful news: Our very own Rhys Bowen's VENICE SKETCHBOOK has been nominated for a 2022 Edgar Award for BEST NOVEL!

 HALLIE EPHRON: For my own writing, I have a definite rule about writing viewpoint: Each scene should be written from the point of view of ONE of the characters in the scene. If the viewpoint shifted or the time/place changed, you inserted a scene (or chapter) break to mark the shift.

I came to this after having an unpublished manuscript of mine raked over the coals by a classmate for allowing the point of view to slide from one character’s head to another, and for allowing the POV to wander (zoot alors!) into omniscience or, worse even, author-speak.

I realized early on that headhopping can be very confusing to the reader. Most non-writers will have no idea what I’m talking about.

Here’s an example of sliding viewpoint:
Bob entered the room. Preening. Bill was sure he'd never seen anyone as egotistical.

What an asshole. Why was Bill staring at him? He was probably admiring his piercing blue eyes.
We start in Bob’s head and then we slide into Bill’s. Why is this bad form? Because it’s confusing. It’s never a good thing when a reader has to ask, “who’s he?” and “whose is his?”

However, really good writers get away with sliding viewpoint all the time. Here’s an example from Louise Penny’s THE NATURE OF THE BEAST:
“Where’s Ruth?” Myrna never thought she’d hear herself asking that question.

“Don’t know,” said Clara, looking around the crowded bistro. “She’s normally here by now.”

It was five thirty, and every chair in the place was taken. They could barely hear themselves think for the hubbub.

Clara saw Monsieur Beliveau at the door connecting Sarah’s boulangerie with the bistro. He was scanning the room.
The first paragraph begins in Myrna’s head. The third is omniscient. Then in paragraph 4 it shifts into Clara’s. But at no point are we confused reading it.

I recently read (and loved) the first two books in “The Thursday Murder Club” series. Author Richard Osman plays fast and loose with viewpoint, too, breaking all kinds of rules. He even has some chapters in first person and others in third.

So I’m trying to temper my views on the subject of POV. If Louise Penny and Richard Osman can get away with it…

Is there a “writing rule” about which, over the years, your views have shifted?

RHYS BOWEN: This is what I always teach in writing classes. I think it’s fine to give viewpoints of various minor characters but it’s hard to shift away from a protagonist in a scene. The reader has to know who she is following and whose story it is.

Rules I keep to? Playing fair in a mystery. Introducing the antagonist early on. Laying clues.

Rules I break, constantly? Having a body before page 50. Never happens. I’m too busy introducing characters and setting up interactions

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I really truly do not enjoy headhopping. GAH. I notice it instantly, and it makes me so annoyed that I truly cannot read the book. It’s all I see.

In the Louise Penny, though, I could convince myself that Myrna saw Clara see Monsieur. And that it’s all Myrna’s POV. That one doesn’t bother me.

If it said:
“Where’s Ruth?” Myrna never thought she’d hear herself asking that question.
“Don’t know,” said Clara, looking around the crowded bistro. She wondered why Ruth was late. “She’s normally here by now.”

THAT would be totally wrong.

Some chapters in first and some in third? With the SAME character? Ah, I have never seen that.

Some chapters in first and some in third from different characters? I have done that, with much delight.

The writing “rule” I break, and will continue to break, probably has to do with commas and run-on sentences and sentence fragments. Whatever. It’s how I think, and how some of my characters think, and no one, not anyone, can take that from me, not even a copyeditor who insists I‘m wrong. The folly of youth.

JENN McKINLAY: Nora Roberts is a notorious head hopper, too, but she manages it masterfully. So much of “the rules” is subjective, I think. Some readers hate first person, some loathe present tense, and some despise the lack of quotation marks in dialogue. Are they rules or personal preferences?

I feel like quotation marks are a rule but then I read an author’s brilliant book without quotation marks in the dialogue and it makes a liar out of me, looking at you Sally Rooney, author of Normal People. Ha! Perhaps, there really aren’t any writing rules, merely suggestions. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

LUCY BURDETTE: I don’t enjoy head hopping either. In fact, UNSAFE HAVEN was the first book I’d told from more than one point of view, not to mention third person. The one thing you don’t want (actually two) is the reader losing interest because they’ve lost touch with the protagonist, or getting confused about who’s talking or who’s there and giving up.

Another rule is related to the use of adverbs. Use strong verbs and you won’t need the descriptors, I was taught. (In fact, it was worse than that–I was told by a teacher that I had the worst case of adverbitis she’d ever seen.) Stick to two adverbs per page.

Maybe the point is when you’re starting out, it’s good to have rules to help you figure out how to tell a story. With more experience, you can take off some of the training wheels.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I am rigid in my own writing about viewpoint. I try to make it clear at the beginning of a scene whose head we are in, and there we should stay throughout the scene. I find head-hopping very annoying when other writers do it, but I will tolerate it from a writer I really like. Still, it makes me grit my teeth.

I do break other rules, but I think you have to learn them before you can break them. I think the no-adverb rule is way over- stressed. Of course, using too many adverbs can be lazy writing, but I think it's just silly to throw out a perfectly useful part of speech. And now I will get off my soapbox… 

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: The rule is probably that brilliant writers get to break rules. Head hopping, alternate chapters in third and first, lots of adverbs and no dialog quotation marks - I’ve seen and accepted them all from skilled authors. Once you know the rules of composition deeply enough, you can choose what to embrace and what to leave behind.


But.


Are the examples we’ve been giving here BETTER because the authors break the rules? I don’t think so. When you jump points of view, even as naturally as Louise, you’re forcing the reader to work harder. Sally Rooney is amazing, but what purpose does leaving the dialog markers out, really? Margaret Maron is one of my personal writing heroes, but in some of her Deborah Knott books, she had chapters in first person and chapters in third and it irritated the heck out of me. It felt like cheating - like she couldn’t think of a way to tell her story with the usual POV, so she slid into another when convenient. 


If you can’t articulate why breaking a rule is necessary and preferable in your writing, stick to it.


HALLIE: Are there writing rules that you feel or too rigid, or one that's not adhered to rigidly enough.

92 comments:

  1. If the story makes sense to me, if I’m pulled into the story and staying there, then I have to say I really don’t care if the writer broke the “rules.”

    Unless breaking the rules is interfering with my reading, I’m not persnickety about how the author uses [or doesn't use] them . . . but I truly don’t understand the deleting of quotation marks in a story. I usually don’t have trouble figuring out who is saying what, but quotation marks are so deeply ingrained [thanks to all my English teachers] that I notice when they are missing . . . and that noticing takes me out of the story the author is trying to tell.

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    1. Joan, your first sentence says exactly what I think.
      I read for the pleasure, I don’t over analyse a book, I enjoy it or I don’t.
      For exemple, I enjoyed Louise Penny’s books and I never have been bothered by her writing.

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    2. It's one of the pitfalls of being a reading writer... we can't turn off our internal editor - I can't even listen to news commentators sometimes because of teh grammatical errors. It's really pathetic.

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    3. I so agree! I edit everything! I wish I didn’t, actually, it would be so much more relaxing :-)

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    4. Me, too. The grammar of news reporters is frequently atrocious. When I hear one say, "There's..." when it should be "There are..." I yell at the TV, "Plural. Plural. Plural." It's not rocket science, it's grammar.

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    5. I read for pleasure and will go with whatever the author does to tell me the story. Like Joan, I like quotation marks and like Hallie (and others), I like good grammar.

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  2. Congratulations Rhys! I love all you Jungle Red Writer’s books!

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  3. Hank, Louise does write scenes exactly like your second example. All the time. It drives me batty. I still read her books, but I get a little seasick sliding from head to head! If I ever shift my opinion on that rule, please call the neurologist, because I've clearly gone into dementia-land.

    Sentence fragments, when the body lands, adverbs? None of those bother me much.

    So many congratulations, Rhys! I loved that book.

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    1. Ha! Seems to work for her, though :-) …. Pretty darn well….

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    2. I think it’s a good reminder that readers are very accepting of different narrative styles.

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  4. I am an older reader, who grew up on novels where the viewpoint was consistent. I do like the modern trend of writing novels from various viewpoints, with each person's story intertwined into the main plot. However, I do find some writers have taken this to extremes and I feel like there is almost an arrogant, "Keep up or get out," message to the way some of them jump around and leave you in the dark. Most "good" authors (and by that, I mean considerate of their readers) will entitle disparate sections of their books so you know a shift has occurred, by using a character's name and/or a date to entitle the section. Others, less considerate, will let you wander on for paragraph after paragraph trying to figure out whose head you are in, where and when you are. I absolutely hate that.

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    1. Me too. It shouldn't be hard work, reading a novel.

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    2. I love marking the sections! “Today”, or “Sarah” or “1772” — because often, if you don’t, it takes the reader at least a sentence to figure it out, and why take up that time?

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    3. Mary: I'm happy to 'get out' if that's the underlying message of a very very clever (too clever) writer...plenty of other books on the shelf to read...

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  5. The one writing convention I cannot read is present tense. I don't know why, some authors handle it so well, but to me, nails on a blackboard. The one I break with great abandon is the use of sentence fragments and run on sentences. As far as I'm concerned, they are driving by the character's style and/or the voice used in that particular book. I'm all in for natural sounding dialogue and narration.

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    1. I know, I know - a lot of people hate present tense. I have no problem reading it. Go figure.

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    2. Oh, that’s so interesting! I once had a very enthusiastic person come up to me at a book event, saying oh, I have heard so much about you I cannot wait to read this! She picked up Prime Time, opened it, and closed it. I can’t read present tense she said. I have never forgotten that.
      It is just so fascinating! I not only don’t mind it, I hardly even notice it.

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    3. Just for research's sake, I'll add in here that I, too, find books in the present tense difficult to read. I think I prefer the story to have happened and to be reading about than for it to be happening while I'm reading it. Not sure what this says about me!

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    4. I don’t usually notice until there’s an awkward turn of phrase and then I really notice :)

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  6. What an interesting discussion.

    Until I started hanging around on author blogs I did not really pay attention to aspects of fiction like POV or other writing devices. I just read, devoured books. Now you've all spoiled me! Just kidding. But... it has affected how I read, and sometimes I get distracted by headhopping (Louise Penny), or the infuriating lack of quotation marks and identifiers in Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. That might be a brilliant novel, but I wanted to heave it into the compost pile multiple times because I could NOT figure out who the hell was saying what. It was too much work, especially in a story already thick with complicated relationships, and so much nuance. And wasn't that her first published novel? I noticed she included quote marks in the sequel, Bring up Your Bodies, and I wonder if others criticized Wolf Hall for that reason.

    Like Mary Alexander said, arrogant. And insulting to the reader, in my opinion.

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    1. I don't like no-quotation-marks-for-dialogue either... Because it's CONFUSING!

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    2. Speaker attribution is the phrase I couldn't think of earlier. Why not??? It's too lazy.

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    3. I want quotation marks, please! To not use them seems so affected. Maybe this is why Wolf Hall is still sitting unread on my shelf...

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  7. And woohoo! to Rhys! Well-deserved, my dear.

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    1. Yes, thank you. I just took another test, and it was negative. So relieved.

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  8. Hallie, I received THE MAN WHO DIED TWICE for Christmas and loved it. Now I want to read the first book in the series.

    Hank, it's not the same character in the different POV chapters.

    Me, I'm with Julia on the head-hopping. Yeah, really great writers do it. Doesn't mean I really like it. Pick a POV and stay with it.

    But more than that, I'm on the "no adverb" rule. As Debs said, why throw out a perfectly useful part of speech? I'm more concerned with using the "right" adverb than saying, "Nope, can't use that." If the adverb doesn't add anything, sure, then cut it. Just like with any word.

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    1. And yet and yet and yet - it sets my teeth on edge when I read something like, SHE GRINNED HAPPILY. Or SHE SAID GRUMPILY. There are just far better ways to write.

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    2. Hallie, I'm with you. Most of the time, there are more on-point verbs that can be used (SHE GRUMPED would be wonderful) or there are ways that more clearly convey the feeling than using the adverb. SHE GRINNED LIKE A KID GETTING THE FIRST ICE CREAM CONE OF SUMMER.

      However, there are places where adverbs add a nice spice - usually when they are unusual or they modify an unusual verb.

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    4. Hallie, those are exactly the adverbs I'd cut. As you said, there are better ways of saying it.

      Hank, the book isn't the same character in two chapters with two different POVs. For example, chapter one is in Mary's 1st Person POV, then chapter 2 is still Mary's POV but third person. I'm probably not explaining it very well. It's more all of Joyce's chapters are written in 1st Person and all of Elizabeth's chapters are written in 3rd person.

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  9. Congratulations Rhys on your Edgar nomination.

    As long as they story keep me involved, I don't worry about rules. It's only when I get confused or thrown out of the scene that I know something did not go the way it should have.

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    1. EXACTLY! Confusion is the killer.

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    2. Exactly! I teach it in every class. Confusion does not equal suspense. Confusion equals confusion.

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    3. Thank you, Dru. I hope to see you at Malice

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    4. Confusion equals confusion. Love this, Hank!

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  10. Long ago, before e-mail and file sharing, I was in a round-robin group of aspiring writers. A chapter typed on onionskin paper would land in my mailbox along with comments from previous readers and I would read it, add my comments, and mail it off to the next name on the list. The final name was that of the author.

    There is nothing like reading amateur efforts to point out what you might be doing wrong yourself. I remember one story that began in the P.O.V. of a bus driver assaying a young couple who had boarded his bus. But then they got off the bus and he never reappeared. Lesson learned: do not put your reader into the head of a minor character who is never coming back. It elevates that character, and the reader keeps looking for him again.

    Okay, so I can think of a time you might: a crowd scene at a disaster, or some other seminal event. Get into EVERY minor character's head to show the chaotic effect of the explosion-or-whatever as it happens. So yeah, for every rule, there's a contradicting exception-- if you can carry it off.

    I tend to play it safe-- I insert a break before getting into a different character's head. I limit the number of characters whose heads I get into. I bring them back so my readers won't be looking for them. This is all a part of Playing Fair With Your Reader. If someone is reading one of my books for pleasure, I see no reason to make them work to figure out what I'm trying to say. Yes, work at uncovering whodunnit or why, but not at what the hell a sentence means. If you have to go back and reread the sentence aloud to figure out what it means, I'm not doing my job.

    Nor am I doing it if you spent the whole read looking for that bus driver to show up again.

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    1. Every *rule* can be broken if you do it good enough. Thrillers are often flooded with narrators - minor and major characters get to talk to the reader.

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  11. RHYS: Congratulations on your Edgar nomination!

    ROBERTA: I will have to look for any extra adverbs in your future books. Adverbitis is a great term.

    HALLIE: Thanks for this discussion about the head-hopping POV within a scene/chapter. I also loved the two Richard Osman books. Maybe I had less difficulty in the head-hopping since I listened to the audiobook version of both books.

    I don't mind if the body is introduced early in the story, even in the first chapter. Instead, I don't like it when the victim shows up too late. I remember reading one book last year when the victim was found after page 250! The last 50 pages of the story seemed rushed after that, trying to tie up the story.

    The unreliable narrator in a book is fine. There seems to be a glut of them in recent books.
    But I still prefer that the author plays fair with the reader. Put in some clues and don't have the villain come totally out of left field!

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    1. Right, the villain shouldn't be the butler if the butler's been nothing but wallpaper up to then.

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  12. Congratulations to Rhys! Head hopping does really bother me, and it feels like crazy writing. I am okay with chapters being from alternate POVs but definitely not within the same scene. I've read and enjoyed many books in 1st or 3rd person, but generally prefer 3rd and don't understand the current trend -- it seems many, many books are in 1st and present. Not a fan!

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    1. That was supposed to be lazy writing, not crazy, although I guess you could make an argument for either!

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    2. First person, present... I wonder if it's because you can write an unreliable narrator from that perspective more easily. And unreliable n's are hot.

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    3. I’m a big first person present fan. That’s why there are so many books— we all like different things! I think it is the most revealing way to go on a journey.

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  13. Congratulations Rhys on your nomination. I loved Venice Sketchbook.

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  14. There are several things that annoy me, first and foremost two grammar rules that were drilled into me in school in the 50’s when grammar was taught.
    1 – adverbs end in ‘ly’. I think this started as an American affectation, but I may be using a black paintbrush; anyway, it is now endemic. This bothers me so much that I add it to the offending word in my head, which then breaks my concentration. I am an audio-reader, so I really should back up at that point, but it is usually too much work.
    2 – Starting a sentence or a paragraph or anything else with And or But. No, No, No! These are conjunctions meant to join two parts of the sentence. If you really think that it should be a new sentence, use a semi-colon in the previous sentence before the and or but. This is especially noticeable in a newspaper article, but that may be because for some reason they think a paragraph is a sentence long, and this would make another sentence, therefore another paragraph.
    As for jumping – there was one person in our book club that this annoyed so much, especially in time travelling (we seem to read a lot of WW2 books and they flip from then to now and back again), that she would go through the book, and put stickies on the pages when the time changed. Then she would go back and read all of one time in the book, and then all of the other. I can’t imagine how this translated the book in her mind, but she always had interesting comments.
    As an audio reader, I find this time flipping or even chapter changing really annoying when the reader does not give a suitable pause, or read the chapter date changes in the story. Many a time I have wondered where I am, what time is it, and who on earth is talking. When I go back to Book Club, and pick up the paper copy, there is often a delineation in places that did not turn up in the audio - sloppy work!
    Thanks to whoever suggested Richard Osman. I started on book 2, realized it was book 2, and then stopped, read book 1, and now am really enjoying The Man Who Died Twice as I know the important characters. Book 1 ended with a long chat with the author, which I don’t always listen to, but this was so enlightening, that I think it is making me enjoy book 2 even more, as I now can see it through the eyes of the author.

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    1. Margo! Lots to think about in your comment. Yes zigzagging timelines can be really challenging, and sometimes it just feels unnecessary. But Several of the REDS have done it (looking at you, Julia... Rhys...) and done it very well.

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    2. Margo, I was wondering if anyone would pick up on the fact I broke a rule by having a single sentence, consisting of the word "But" in my part of the chat! And I frequently start sentences with, well, the word starting this one.
      I do the latter because it reflects the way people talk - including myself. If I start a sentence with And or But, it's strictly within dialog or close POV.

      The reason I use single word sentences is to control the reader's pace. If I were reading aloud to you, I could say, "But..." and emphasis it and pause afterwards, so you would know something good was coming. Sadly, I don't get to sit in your living room and read to you! So I use single word sentences, broken sentences and, occasionally, run on sentences to create the effects I want the reader to experience.

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    3. Julia, I will add that I eagerly await both yours and Deborah's books - as well as my favourite Louise Penny. She is one who suffers from a bad-spaced reader - I just wish he would pause a half a pace longer! As for the one in the book club who read each section separately, in my opinion, I think she must have missed so much of the book.
      If 'reading' a book book, or an ebook, it is easier to understand dialogue - wherein ands and buts don't really matter. My big writing phopaw (I have no idea how to spell that, and neither does spellchek) and I know it are hyphens and droning on...

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    4. Margo: faux pas (French for "false step")

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  15. I had heard use only a few POV per novel. Three or four. No more than six. But skilled and successful authors (Deborah Crombie, Richard Osman) have ten to twelve. And their books are a delight.

    Also heard modern manuscripts should only have characters who "said" something, or perhaps, "asked" something. But I often see characters who - suggested, remarked, agreed, qualified, answered, etc. Sometimes I'm halfway through the book before I notice. So, clearly not a problem.

    What I don't like to see is "said George" instead of "George said." If you replace the character's name with a pronoun it becomes "said he" instead of "he said." And that sounds archaic.

    Adverbs - if something is red, it's red. Or maybe ruby, vermillion, scarlet.... I agree with Debs that you can't through out a perfectly useful part of speech. But the -ly adverbs can show weak writing. (She walked slowly). Show don't tell.

    Head-hopping. Can't see any reason for it. It ALWAYS takes me out of the story and leaves me confused. I agree with Julia that it doesn't make the work any better. But wasn't Louise Penny published in the UK first. I notice that UK writers break more of these "rules."

    Finally - maybe publishers/agents/whoever shouldn't worry as much about rules if so many authors who break them are so popular - and successful (ka-ching!)

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    1. Hmm, I wonder about the UK writers, too. Hilary Mantel was published there, too, right?

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    2. I realize I combined adjectives with adverbs - my typing got ahead of my thoughts

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    3. "said George" instead of "George said." -bothers me, too. Clanks like a broken bell.

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    4. Oh, I so agree with said George! I really hate that. It stops me every time.

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    5. "Said George" IS archaic, isn't it? I associate it with writing from the late 19th and early 20th century. Which is another good point (and maybe a future blog post) about how rules and conventions change over time. No one would start a novel today with, "I was born in the small town of Pudding-on-Rye in the year 18__" but it was considered good standard practice in 18__.

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    6. I don't know, Julia. Now I'm tempted to start a novel with "I was born in the small town of Pudding-on-Rye..." That is irresistible!!

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  16. Congratulations, Rhys! That book should get an award for the cover, too!

    Hank, I'm with you. Whatever works for the story, the characters. Your choices as a writer reflect your 'voice,' I think. I also believe you have to master the rules before you can break them--as in any art form. The only times I notice how an author bends, breaks, or adheres to the rules is when the writing is so poor that I don't want to struggle with it or finish a book.

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  17. Rhys, congratulations and kudos. The story is amazing. Months after reading it, I'm still thinking about it. BTW, for those of us who like audio books, the audio version is terrific.

    Gee, I didn't even know there were rules, so, I'm easy. Or not.

    I have found that some authors (I'd be specific if I could remember now who does this.) will have pages of dialogue and I have no idea after the third sentence who said what. Then, I have to go back to the beginning and try to assign the statements to the characters I think are speaking. Oh, my. That is something that I just abhor. (Next time I notice it, I'll make a note so if we ever discuss this again, I can be specific.)

    I do not mind if authors break any of the rules that have been mentioned. I like adverbs. You may use them. Point of view changes are fine as long as the head we are meant to be in is clear to me. Same with time frames, but I want to know which one we are in, so author, be clear. Drop the body whenever, I'm not in a rush. I'm reading to be entertained. Run on sentences and incomplete sentences are okay in fiction, NOT IN THE NEWSPAPER.

    I haven't read an author who dismisses quotation marks but that would be frustrating, so yeah, there's a rule I want followed.

    Although I do like many very popular authors, there are some books that critics love and that make all kinds of lists, that I just don't care for at all. I prefer to discuss the books and authors I love.

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    1. Judy, the extremely talented Lawrence Block says your characters' speech should be distinctive enough so the reader can tell who is saying what even if there's no dialog attribution. It's a rule I try to follow and I always teach my students to do so as well.

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    2. Yes, but even if the speech is distinctive, I like a tag every few lines. I hate having to go back to the beginning of a page of dialogue.

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  18. Thank you for this topic, Hallie. What really bugs me is the use of pronouns when I'm not sure who it is referring to. A particular author is "guilty" of this is my mind. Things will be going well, I turn the page and the sentence begins with he. I'm thinking it refers to the last sentence I read but then that doesn't make sense. I have to read on and on for more clues as to who exactly the he is.

    My other big pet peeve is dialog that goes on for a page or more, without identifying the speakers. After a while I lose track and then I am lost. I gave up on an author for just that reason. I keep hearing really good reviews for his books so I might try again.

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    1. Judi, the solution to that last problem? Listen to the audio book! I'd bet good money the performer distinguishes between character voices.

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  19. Good morning everyone! Though I do not know the answer to Hallie's question about writing rules, as a reader I can share my experiences with the shifting POVs.

    As a reader, whenever there are multiple POVs and timelines, which I notice is happening more and more in recent novels, it is a BIG struggle for me.

    For example, GREAT CIRCLE and THE OTHER BLACK GIRL novels had multiple POV and timelines. As a reader, it is really hard for me to follow the story.

    In THE VENICE SKETCHBOOK, despite the multiple POV and the dual timelines, it was written so well that I could still follow the story. I visited Venice years ago and it is my favorite city in Italy.

    Congratulations to Rhys on the nomination!

    Diana

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    1. Thank you. Diana. I’ve done time hopping in a couple of books now It’s a challenge to make it smooth

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  20. Hooray for Rhys!
    This was a thought provoking post, Hallie. I have never loved Louise Penney's books as much as I expect to, and now I wonder if the head hopping is the problem.Because of that, I never feel fully committed to the story? I should probably re-read one for analysis and see what I learn. Yet I had no problem with Osmans' two books and enjoyed them tremendously. I hate when authors play games with punctuation - quote marks exist for a reason! - but I adjusted to Mantel's style with only a little effort and was very, very impressed. (I know quite literate people who hated her books, though) Lots here to think about. Thank you

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  21. I have had to re-read so I can tell - where that person came from? Unless I am reading about a crowd scene, when someone absolutely new starts talking, who hasn't been mentioned, I get confused. My other personal writing problem is this - does the quotation mark come before or after the period of question mark?

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    1. Ooo! Ooo! I know this one. In American English, periods, commas, question marks, etc. fall WITHIN the quotation marks. In British and some European languages, punctuation falls outside the quotation marks. It also switches for quotes within quotes: "My mom always said, 'no supper, no dessert.'" versus, 'My mum always said, "No dinner, no pudding"'.

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    2. This is why I am permanently confused...

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  22. Congratulations, Rhys! I loved this book. And I appreciate authors who play fair.

    I am trained as an academic writer. For the most part, I don't know the creative writing rules so I don't know how they are being broken, though sometimes I can feel it. My own writing tends toward run-on sentences, sentence fragments and starting sentences with "and" and "but." But I hate sentences that end in prepositions. I prefer unadorned verbs to overused adverbs though I use too many adverbs. They are just way too easy.

    When reading, I mind coming out of a story to figure out who is talking, or why. I had this problem with Robert Galbraith's latest book. Still, I finished the book and will read the next one.

    I am equally distracted by content mistakes. I dislike factual errors, anachronisms and certain language choices.

    I must say that reading JRW has improved my critical reading skills.



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    1. As Julia mentioned above, writing conventions have changed markedly. Strunk and White say its fine to end a sentence with a preposition. Winston Churchill, replying to criticism that he ended sentences with prepositions, said, "This is the type of errant pedantry up with which I will not put." Still, if its off putting to any given reader, than its off putting and that's all there is to it.

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    2. I think this rule is becoming archaic. "Do you know from what this is made?" sounds awkward to modern ears.

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    3. Probably true. Maybe it is just the memory of my shrill voiced 4th grade English teacher that I object to. :)

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  23. Congratlations, Rhys, on the Edgar nomination!! So well deserved!! I loved The Venice Sketchbook!! As Judy said above, I still think about it, and I read it even before it was published.

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  24. I hate head hopping with a passion. However, I love books told from multiple points of view, even first and third. As long as each view point gets a scene break or a chapter break, I'm fine with it.

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  25. First, a big congratulations to Rhys for your Edgar nomination! That is a big deal indeed!

    Now, for the writing rules. I was shocked, gobsmacked shocked, when I led a book discussion in a group for the first book in one of my favorite series. There were people in the discussion that absolutely attacked the author's use of present tense. I had no idea so many people disliked that. As for me, I wasn't bothered at all. The story was well-told and well-written, and the present tense suited me just fine. But, now I'm aware that there are two finely drawn sides to the use of present tense.

    I don't like the lack of quotations or conversation markers in dialogue. I'm a bit of a stickler on that and on wanting it to be clear who is doing the talking. I've read some books that were rather fast and loose with attributing the dialogue to a particular person, and that's frustrating for me.

    Adverbs. I think they are way too demonized in writing. I am all for the precision of verbs, believing it should be taught to students early on. Not only authors should be aware of this rule. But, I enjoy a nicely placed adverb, so I doubt I'd ever criticize that. Of course, being too liberal with the use of adverbs doesn't work.

    Head hopping can be like the confusion in who the dialogue belongs to for me. It does indeed make the reader work harder. I'm not saying it can't be acceptable, but it can be distracting, too.

    I do enjoy multiple points of view, but I like for there to be chapter delineations for them. Just like different time periods, I want a clear distinction. A scene break, like Mark mentions above, works, too, but, again, a distinct break is needed.

    And, Hank, your rule breaking with run-on sentences and fragments and commas is okay with me. I agree that it follows the way we think or characters might think. And, your characters are always deeply developed, so I think it definitely works.

    Rhys, I think you mentioned one of the most important rules for mystery writers, to play fair. I recently finished a book in which the epilogue had a character do something that the entire almost 400 pages had not prepared the reader for. There was nothing previously presented about the character's make-up that prepared the reader for it. Using the last two pages of a book to introduce that element of the character didn't seem at all fair.

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  26. Congratulations Rhys. It is wonderful to watch talent being recognized.
    I have not thought about writing rules. I thought writing was an art form. Classes were about learning techniques, weren't they? Really never thought about this until just now. Thank you for bringing this point to my attention. Now all of you can go chuckle. Yes Coralee there are rules. you do have to put a period at the end of a sentence

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  27. Congratulations, Rhys!!! Fantastic!!!

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  28. Clarity is what it's all about. Head-hopping: the question is is it necessary for the story? Can the story be told in a different way, maybe a different POV, to strengthen it. I'm with all of you--you need to know the rules and why they exist before you can break them. I'm one of those writers who likes to be in my character's shoes. It's like being an actress. Head-hopping for me would be schizophrenia. 🤪

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