Friday, 29 May 2009

The Rules of Writing

Have you ever noticed how much time and energy people waste on writers' boards debating the "rules" of what constitutes good/bad writing or more importantly acceptable/unacceptable to publishers?
As a wide-eyed newbie I soaked it all up like a sponge at first, but inevitably you reach a point where you're getting conflicting advice.

Here are a few I've heard along the way:

Adult fiction should be 80k words long.

Changing POV mid-chapter will get you rejected.

Using adverbs is a sign of sloppy writing.

On the word length question, I have it on very good authority - I'm talking editor at a major publishing house - that a story is as long as it needs to be. If they love your story they couldn't give a tinker's cuss for the word length. So, reading between the lines if you're rejected on the basis of word length it's just another way of saying your writing isn't up to scratch.

The fact is - and this has taken me a while to realise - there are no rules. If you tell a good story well, you can get away with just about anything. It's all in the writing, and don't let anyone tell you different.

As an illustration, here is another great blog from The Book Deal to prove my point.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Writing and music

Another love of mine is music. I've dabbled with guitar and piano, written a few songs along the way, even taken some OU courses to learn more about the theory side. You might think there's no connection between writing and music but I think there is. Both music and good prose have a definite rhythm; it's the thing that pulls you along when you're reading a good book. It's so subtle you aren't aware of its presence. It's in the length of the sentences and the choice of words. Of course we expect to find rhythm in poetry, but it should be there in good prose too. And it's only when our eyes skim along the page without interruption that the magic of the story can ignite our imagination.

Where the rhythm is missing, we notice it as "clunk"; unwieldy sentences awkwardly arranged - usually too long with too many clauses. Ever had to go back and read the same sentence several times to get the meaning? It's very frustrating and the thing most likely to turn off the reader.

Word choice is important too. There should be poetry in prose, just as it's essential in the tight structure of a song lyric. The right word in the right place is a joy to behold. The sound and resonance of a word can evoke an image or emotion better than a page of description. Getting the right word is an art in itself.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

The Writer's Life

How natural is "the writer's life"?

I spend hours, days, weeks living in my own dream world, drifting around Tesco's or walking the dog muttering dialogue to myself like some inebriate down the precinct. I agonize over plot points, tuning out my spouse's conversation at mealtimes, until I come round and realise I haven't heard anything anyone's said to me in the last twenty minutes. This morning I woke in the small hours and lay awake playing scenes in my head. It makes for an odd existence, all this story weaving. I'm not at all sure it's quite sane behaviour.

But I love it. And ultimately that is why I do it. Oh, I know, the lure of the name on the bookjacket is seductive, but if I never make it into print I'll still write stories because it's a way of creating my own world. It's the ultimate power trip. I am God in my own little make-believe Kingdom. Nothing can happen unless I say so.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Publishing and marketing

I'm pushed for time this week, so I hope you'll excuse me for posting a link to this excellent talk on book marketing which I found recently.

Stacey Cochran has many interesting talks posted on YouTube and they're worth a look. This one is with John Fuhrman on the joys of getting an agent, shopping for a publisher and useful tips on marketing your book.

Hope you enjoy it and I'll do a proper post shortly.