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Monday, May 10, 2010

Readers and Writers (is there a difference)

Before I started writing I was a reader. I read all of the time. It was not unusual for me to read a book in a weekend and probably two or three more during the week. Yes, I went without sleep – A Lot. My husband considered taking out stock in my favorite bookstores because I spent so much money there. When birthdays and Christmas came around, the family only needed to decide on a gift card from my favorite bookstore or my favorite gardening place. Either one was good.

But, then I started writing. I loved my first novel. Loved my characters, the story and everything about it. Then, I learned the rules. First, I had to cut over 100,000 words from that first draft. Yes, 100,000 – that is not a typo - the manuscript was 225,000 words. But, the problems didn’t stop there. I had more that one point of view (POV) in a scene, used too many “ly” and “ing” words. Of course, the word “that” appeared far too often to be acceptable in the market. I probably could have cut the manuscript 25,000 words by just removing “that”.

The thing is, I didn’t notice these rules when I was reading. I fell in love with stories, other worlds, and incredible characters. I didn’t notice if there was more than one POV or something may have not been written in past-tense. If I did notice a typo, no big deal. These things happen, right? Did it take away from the story? No. But now, I notice when the "rules" are broken in a published novel. It doesn't happen all that often, but I wonder how the author got away with it. However, the unpublished need to be very careful with the rules if they want a publisher and/or agent to notice them.

Personally, I think rules are good. It does make for a cleaner, less confusing story. But, some rules can be broke (in my opinion). If each and every rule was followed to the letter I feel the story would be dry. Of course, that is just me.

So, is it just writers who are conscious of the rules when reading a novel? I am curious, and this question is for the reader in you, and all readers out there, what pet peeves do you have when you are reading? Is there something that makes you want to put the book down? What is it you want to see in a good story and what drives you nuts?


  1. Amy great post! I can remember as a reader, I didn't know the rules on writing but I did have opinions on the stories. And some were better written than others and I could tell that.I couldn't pin point what exactly didn't read right or what made it a bad story though. So yes, I think even readers can tell a bad story when they read one. I think the one thing that jerked me out of a storythe most as a reader was inaccurate information.

  2. Great blog, Amy. One thing I have noticed is that there are trends in the rules. So your writing style, and which rules you adhere to, can 'date' your manuscripts. Look at a book published in the seventies, and you'll see what I mean.

    Right now there is a trend to write the hero in 3rd person and the heroine in 1st. From a writer's point of view, I can appreciate the challenge. But from a reader's POV, I really, really hate being jerked around like that. I hope it's a trend that passes quickly, but I guess that depends on whether the other readers like it. Or even notice.

  3. The things that pull me out of a story are a bad plot, melodrama and characters being silly when they aren't written to be that way (think of the woman going to investigate a sound in the attic and walking backwards into the room). I like to read about fairly intelligent characters, and I love intricately entwined plots with a satisfying conclusion. Wally Lamb is a master in that domain. Love him! And I'm really enjoying Amanda Quick at the moment.

    I'm not distracted by the rules being broken unless the writing is sloppy, but I don't really see that in published books. I'm more interested in a compelling voice.

  4. I never really noticed the rules being broken in books before I started to write. I knew what, to me, made for an interesting story, and what didn't. I didn't care if there was too much back story up front, if the writer used adverbs, if they told more than they showed. None of those things made me raise an eyebrow.

    I have to admit that I find I'm focusing on these things a little more as I read. Not to say "How come SHE can do that but I can't?," but instead to focus on why they chose to break one of "the rules" in a particular spot. Did it draw the reader's focus in to a certain plot point? Did it make the section stand out for effect? Or was it just sloppy writing?

    I think that all writers choose to ignore "the rules" at various points. But as with everything, there are times to ignore and times to comply.

  5. Nice topic, Amy! Yes, I certainly admit I tend to notice some of these "rule breakers" now that I'm a writer as well. More than anything, though, I'm always saddened and disappointed less with typos, etc - sometimes it was the writer's fault, sometimes poor copy-editing, etc - than with sloppy writing. When books are repetitive, contain obvious errors, leave unanswered questions, and leave me, as a reader, dissatisfied. However, these can provide great learning tools - analyze what didn't work and make sure it doesn't show up in your own writing, or in the same way, what does, and learn to incorporate this.

  6. Great topic, Amy! I personally feel that rules were made to be broken. But you have to *know* the rules in order to break them with finesse.

    I do notice them now that I'm a writer...I don't think any of them occurred to me as a reader. But most of the time they don't bother me.

    The main things that will make me put down a book are bad writing and contrived plot lines. Other than that, I'm not terribly picky :)

  7. I want to put a book down when the author goes on and on about the history surrounding the story without weaving the history in. If I pick up fiction I do not want mini lecture on Napoleon's military tactics, I want little snippets here and there that let me learn Napoleon's tactics without me having to wade through a bunch of facts that truly don't contribute to the story.

  8. This is hilarious - besides the 225,000 word thing, this read like my own experience with writing my first novel! I totally didn't believe that(ha) that could be left out of a sentence... until I went and scoured my old favorite books. How did I miss that?? Man, I have learned so much about writing in the past few months, it boggles the mind.

    As for other books, I can't take too much description or flowery prose. If I know more about the fabric of the settee than I do about the character's thoughts, something ain't right ;)

  9. If the story is great, then I tend to lose myself in the story and forget about the rules. But if I'm not hooked in, then I notice EVERYTHING! lol

  10. Oh, melodrama. Can't stand it! And I also don't like when you see something in one POV, then at the scene break, go back a few minutes so you can see the same thing in the other POV. Throws me out every time.

    It is more difficult to read as a writer, at least for me. I notice so much now that will sometimes pull me out of the story. But with writers I love, even though part of me is analyzing, I live for the moment, that line or two, that perfect bit of dialogue or that beautiful description that makes me say, "Wow. How did she do that?" ;)