I read in spurts. I go months without a book and then read four or five in a short period of time. There is a reason for this. I have kids to take care of, dinner to cook, a house to clean. And when I’m reading I don’t really want to do any of it. A good book sees me on the couch, on the porch, at the dining room table with my eyebrows knitted together as I pour over the story. I can’t put it down.
Recently I’ve been in need of the retreat of reading. Writing is on hold until real life allows for a little more focus, but I still don’t really want to be in real life. Not all the time.
Because I’m a sporadic reader, I frequently forget what’s out and what has looking intriguing over the months between books. I’ll also admit that I’ve never been great at picking books. Growing up (and even now) my mom has acted as my reading agent. She picks up stacks of books from the library and passes her favorites onto me. Often I’ve forgotten to even note the author’s name because I open the book and just go.
So when it’s reading time and I want something new, I tend to fall back on classics, new and old that I haven’t read.
In this recent spurt I’ve been on, I noticed something I’ve always known. The great authors don’t give a crap about your writing rules. Not even a little bit. It explains alot of my bad writing habits because I learned how to write by reading more than anything else.
Show Don’t Tell!
You know who tells alot? Freaking everyone who wrote books before 2000. Okay, not everyone but the writing trend among many great authors was to go through lines and lines of lengthy explanation of the social, political, and personal climate of the story and characters. I’m looking at you Frank Herbert.
But then again, Dune was such an expansive and alien universe, telling the reader about it allowed the story to proceed, eventually. And it’s a great story.
Don’t change Point of View in the same passage!
Orson Scott Keys, who has just found himself firmly on my list of favorites, author of “Ender’s Game”, keeps his primary character as his primary point of view. But then he arbitrarily jumps to the POV of any other characters around him as well.
Pulling it off.
Start your story with a bang!
One of the great American novels, the one the caused such a stir that they made a movie about the author writing the book, starts with 72 pages of set up. And then when the big event finally happens, you know what, the reader only sees the aftermath through the eyes and POV of multiple witnesses. Frankly, I’m not sure I loved this method. The blunt foreshadowing was just enough to keep me on the hook, but it was also paired with over the top vocabulary and info dumps.
With “In Cold Blood” Truman Capote set out to paint a portrait with words, a portrait of a small Kansas town, a portrait of a perfect American family. A portrait of a gruesome American crime.
Just like an artist he started with the foundation and not the subject itself and the effect is a creeping tale that profoundly disturbed the country and the world.
No Backstory dumps, especially in the beginning
You know who tells us his life story in the first chapters of the book? Victor Frankenstein. In fact, he tells his parents’ life story too, and that of his siblings. The inklings of where the story is going start to reveal themselves, but amidst flowering language, pondering of the narrator and info dumps, Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” gets it all out of the way before the story picks up.
Now I’m not saying that because these great authors have ignored the rules, you can too. Not even a little bit. As a reader, I appreciate the beginning hook, the clarity of single POV, the slow revealing of setting and backstory. BUT, is something maybe not lost when we adhere too tightly to the new writing rules?