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Friday, March 20, 2015

When Authors Break the Rules

So you’re reading your favorite author to take a break from all that tedious writing practice, but something jars you out of the story. Here, in a bestselling book by an author that should know better, you spot a sentence ending in a preposition.

Yes, that’s right, a preposition!

How dare that author do such a thing! Everyone knows you’re not supposed to end sentences with a preposition. How did you ever think this guy was worth reading?

So you toss the book aside and grab a different book off your shelf and begin reading. A page in, you realize that this author is just as incompetent as the first. Look at all the info dumping at the beginning. How did you ever find this story interesting the first time you read it?

You hurl this book across the room because, well, what else does a mediocre book written by an author that betrayed you deserve?

You pick up a third book and begin to read. This one has tons of glowing reviews from the highest authorities in the industry. It has sold millions of copies. Surely this author can’t be a quack.

But right there on page twelve, what do you find but a wandering body part, a hand performing an action rather than the character herself. And two lines down, this author has italicized something they shouldn’t. And three lines down from that, there’s an -ly adverb in the dialogue tag!

This time, fueled by rage, you rip the book in half, throw hunks of it out the window and rip the rest into a wet mass with your bare teeth. You get online and blast all three authors for theirs stupidity.

Afterward, you sit back from your computer disquieted. No matter how satisfying you found dissing those incompetent, clearly inbred writers, you cannot escape the fact that the industry let them get published while your novel sits limp and rejected from all the abuse it’s gotten from failed queries and publishing attempts. You wonder perhaps if fiction as an industry is simply a cheap hoax played on the ignorant masses. If these authors who are considered top sellers and craftsmen can’t write correctly, what does that say for everyone else? What does it say about the state of humanity? Of the very fabric of the universe?

What does it say about you?

While I doubt that few of you have ever literally eaten part of a book in rage at spotting an -ly verb in a dialogue tag, I’m sure that all of you have spotted writing no-no’s in novels that are supposed to be superb. How can authors acclaimed for their brilliance get away with this sort of stuff? After all, your writing group rips you apart every time you do something like that.

The simple fact is that no author is perfect. Even fantastic writers break the rules on accident, sometimes on purpose. Editors miss things on occasion. It’s part of being human. Yet these books sell like mad and gain nations of adoring fans. But why?

In truth, a book needs little more than to connect emotionally with a reader to snare interest. The plot can be full of holes. The characters might be two-dimensional. There could be glaring flaws in craft, but if that book speaks to readers, it will gain momentum. When you have a novel that’s well-written, for the most part, and speaks to readers, it can skyrocket. Even books glaringly lacking in good writing technique have mesmerized masses of fans. I’m sure, like me, a title or two has already popped in your head.

Think back to before you got serious about writing. Did you know about not ending sentences on a preposition? Did you know to avoid ly words? Probably not. Rather, you probably spent happy hours blissfully oblivious to authorial mistakes, and it did you no harm. Most readers are like this. When you get down to it, writers are the most critical of others’ writing. We think we know what to look for. We can get snobbish about it if we’re not careful.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work hard to create the best written, most solid fiction we can. It doesn’t mean we should gleefully toss in sentence fragments, run ons, or info dump to our hearts content. It doesn’t mean we should surrender to laziness and wallow in passive voice or tell our readers what’s going on rather than showing them. It does mean, however, that we shouldn’t get so wrapped up in the correct way of doing things that we lose sight of the main purpose of fiction: to entertain. An engaging story is far more important than perfect grammar, and it certainly isn’t worth losing sleep over, bashing our writing friends about, or abandoning favorite authors or books.

Do your best to write well, but don’t obsess about the minutia.

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