By Karen Payton Holt (AKA: KPHVampireWriter)
I have learned the hard way that writing for fun is not the same thing as writing for publication.
If you are a writer who believes that editing rules of publishing do not apply to you, and that your writing is perfect ‘just the way it is’, I hate to tell you, but you are kidding yourself. If you feel that to conform is to sacrifice your creative voice, then by all means self-publish.
But even then, rules are rules… some can be ‘bent’, but for the most part, insisting on throwing them out of the window will get you nowhere.
‘My writing is perfect just the way it is’ is very rarely true. We are not the best person to make that judgement. There are ‘vanity publishers’, and even some ‘editing services’ (I must say here, a good editor is worth their weight in gold) who will tell you ‘you are great’, because at the end of the day, you are paying them money.
A comment that makes you bristle is often the one you need to give due consideration. A publisher rejecting your work will hurt much more, and you can bet they will rarely provide a reason you can work with, so take the opportunity to learn from the opinions of those who share them.
If you don’t agree with opinions offered, that’s fine too. But disagree from a place of cold hard calculation, and not from a knee jerk, emotional standpoint.
I find many rules hard to swallow, but I will say this, in my trying to obey them, tighter writing has resulted, even when I fail in the ultimate goal.
For example: ‘Rule of thumb’ – only use ‘has/had’ or ‘was/were’ 2-3 times PER PAGE.
If you go to your bookcase and grab a volume, I would lay bets on the fact that the rule is broken, and in some cases, smashed, in almost every book you own.
I can tell you Stephen King’s THE DARK HALF is littered with pronouns and passive verb usage.
Anne Rice’s vampire chronicles uses passive verbs in 4-6 paragraphs per page, and sometime 8-10 times in a paragraph… yes, I counted them, and even the winner of the Pulitzer Prize ‘THE KILLER ANGELS by Michael Shaara used more passive verbs than this rule dictates, so where does that leave us?
As a ‘yet to be published writer’, you are expected to write to a whole different set of rules. Passive voice verses active, showing verses telling, and culling pronouns and adverbs are just a few of the demands which haunt us.
Every time I find out a ‘new rule’, I shudder. The latest I have come across is you must ‘name a character’ in the first pronoun use in a paragraph…
So, in theory, I can no longer say, “When he arrived at the council building, Connor took the steps three at a time.” as the opening sentence of a paragraph.
Needless to say, I shan’t stick to that rule as it alters my ‘storytelling voice’ too much, but I shall, however, try to apply it wherever I can, because even in failing, it is my experience, I will be left with writing which is better for the attempt.
So, what is the truth?
The truth lies somewhere between the two points ‘my writing is perfect as it is’ and ‘I must follow every rule to the letter’. Again, in all honesty, most writers have to travel a long way from the first point and get pretty close to the second to arrive at the place where READERS truly engage with what they have written.
It is not enough to have a good story. There are a lot of those. Think of yourself as the ‘Wizard of Oz’. You are hiding behind a curtain, and no one should see you. You are not there to show off to your reader, neither are you there to boost your own ego. You are there to take the reader past the words, to build pictures inside their head, and to take them on a journey.
The moment you come out from behind that curtain, you take your reader out of the story, they see the ‘man’ and not the ‘Wizard’, and you have lost them.
The difficulty is creating that powerful illusion in every single paragraph throughout the duration of your novel.
I would suggest that it is impossible, and not necessarily needed. An omnipresent voice, delivering details which your reader needs to know is an unavoidable part of the process, but again, the reader should not be aware it is happening. The details should be interlaced between the action and emotional content, and if you can do that, you remain the ‘Wizard’.