Write by the Rules

I read an article this morning about why you should write romance novels only in third person point of view. In the past few weeks, a few people made comments on the writer’s groups I belong to about writing in a certain point of view and being criticised for their choice.

I gag a little in my mouth every time I read something along these lines.

First of all, there’s a major difference between critique and criticism. The first is said to help the creator better their work. It’s straightforward, but kind. Every point is probably accompanied by a suggestion, and the good things about the work will be highlighted too.

Criticism is often condescending. It’s neither constructive nor accompanied by suggestions and will leave the creator with a WTF kind of feeling. Criticism usually focusses on what is wrong with the work and ignores all that is good.

You’ll get a little of each, no matter what you create – from food to graphic design to modelling to writing, someone out there will know better than you.

Still, bashing on someone only because they write in a point of view you don’t like? Not cool. Different strokes and all that.

I personally prefer third POV to first, and I’ve never tried to hide the fact. I don’t truly feel at home in the head of a middle-aged man, so first POV is often lost on me in that regard. Having said that, many books narrated by middle-aged men, like the Arthurian Trilogy by Mary Stewart, and all the Fitz-Chivalry Farseer books by Robin Hobb, are among my favourite books ever. Books that changed my life. ◄ Not a cliche. Mary Stewart’s Merlin novels are the first fantasy books I ever read (before that, it had been Sweet Valley 🙂 ) and inspired a teenage Yolandie to write her first (suck-ass) story.

Not to mention, gasp, I liked writing in first POV when I tried it.

Hanging around writing forums, you’ll find a lot of rules. Don’t ever do *insert here* makes me shudder.

And I don’t mean the rules of grammar or style – those are meant to be followed (though there are still exceptions to most style rules).

For example, there’s a reason why filter words are supposed to be avoided in writing. First of all, they’re repetitive. The eye picks up on the regular use of ‘she saw’, ‘he heard’, ‘she wondered’ etc, and this lulls the reader. You know the feeling – you’re reading this book, but when you turn the page you can’t really remember what happened in the section you just read, so you keep having to go back. Repetitions in text will do that. It’s boring.

Secondly, filter words create a barrier between the reader and the characters. Ever wonder why you just don’t feel sorry for the hero after this family is killed? Often it’s because you never really merged with him, you kept reading him via the narrator. Instead, if you see what he sees through vivid description, or if you feel the rain on her skin, you become almost the same person and their emotions become yours. And it doesn’t matter in which POV you read this!

Sometimes, filter words are unavoidable. The sentence won’t make sense without them. When you reach that place in your manuscript – write the damn filter words. Just try to avoid them the rest of the time. 🙂

So, aside from following grammar and style rules, there’s no right or wrong way to write. Whether you plot or pants, you revise while writing or don’t, you go with first, second or third POV, you have one or ten viewpoint characters, or you only write naked under the full moon – NONE of it matters, so long as you’re making words. Somebody out there is going to like the story.

Sure, some will hate it. We creators just have to learn to separate the critique from the criticism and surround ourselves with people who offer constructive advice. Difficult, I know. The point is this, don’t let someone burst your bubble just because they didn’t like what you did. They’re entitled to their opinion, but you are a person and have a right to an opinion too.

Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is written in the weirdest style I’ve ever read and many of the major plot points are exposed in the first few chapters. You know who’s going to live and who’s going to die before you get to know the cast, but I still bawled for days, despite knowing what was coming. That book left a profound footprint in my life. Can you imagine if someone told the author to change his experimental style? The events might have been the same, but maybe the impact of the story would have changed.

Today’s moral? Find your voice, then use it. That’s all.

Have a good weekend, folks.

Yolandie