Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Mornington Crescent

Carla has commented on one of my breaking the rules blogs. Anyhow, about rules ... Do not be in any doubt - there are rules in this industry. Two that instantly jump to mind are regarding publishers and actual writing style.

Publishers
Try writing exactly what you want for DC Thomson's My Weekly Stories and you'll find yourself rather disappointed, for example ... There's strict length and content rules for starters. Same goes for Mills & Boon. Simon Scarrow was asked to up the 'mystery 'content in his Eagle series, because mysteries sell. The best advice is to write what you want, then try to place the piece - and that is where your fun will really start. Fingers crossed what you've written appeals, but you should know how much you're prepared to compromise. It's down to genre on that front.

Writing style
I can put it no more simply than 'show - don't tell'
If-you-do-not, you'll find yourself criticised to within an inch of your life, never mind even trying to sell the piece ...

The Camulod Gambit
Mr Whyte's books obviously sell, so he can write what he wants, how he wants. Never mind how long his sentences are. Fair enough. But the next time some b****r says my sentences are too long they're likely to get a very British two finger salute.

Them's is some rules. I'm sure there are others, but those are the ones that are currently ticking me off. Once I get my head round these, I'll move on to some more, not doubt.

Oh, there are rules, and to say otherwise is probably rather unhelpful and risking the re-invention of the wheel for the poor s**s who are just starting out. Not that they're likely to listen, of course ...

(Blast, I've already broken my New Year's Resolution of being a bit less jaundiced about things)

7 Comments:

At 8:03 pm GMT, Blogger Stephen said...

I reckon that the "The Rules" should be treated in much the same way as the Pirates' Code - more like a set of guidelines. You won't, after all, find them written down anywhere, and there is no real point in looking for them.

The only answer, in my opinion (which is possibly not as humble as my status as a yet-to-be-published novelist should perhaps militate), is to read, and read, and read, and to learn what works and what doesn't by a process of absorption. You don't even need to take notes. Just read, and then read some more. If the stories are inside you, then there will come a time when they start pouring out, with most of the right words in mostly the right order (then you redraft, of course).

Creative writing courses are useful, but in moderation. Critique partners or groups have their place, but before all that comes the reading.

 
At 10:07 pm GMT, Blogger Sarah Cuthbertson said...

I second what Stephen so eloquently said. I think the most important novels to read for this purpose are the ones that captivated you the first time you read them. What is it that draws you back to them and never fails to move and delight you? BTW, I don't think there's any real danger of you unconsciously imitating their style because what you learn from them will bring out and strengthen your own authentic voice.

I've had some dire experiences of the blind-leading-the-deaf-variety in critique groups and I wouldn't want to go there again. But maybe I was unlucky.

 
At 2:15 am GMT, Blogger Olga said...

There are certainly lots of rules in this industry. To be honest, I learn them, study them, and then break anyway.

 
At 10:32 am GMT, Blogger Carla said...

I like the Douglas Bader quote I put in the comments field under the 'Pale Horseman' post. That says it all for me.

I differentiate between rules ('No sentence may be longer than 3 lines') and guidelines ('Sentences longer than 3 lines may be complicated to read, so it is a good idea to use shorter sentences unless there is a good reason for a long one').

Of course if you are determined to sell your work to a particular publisher you have to write what they want (if they tell you what they want - not many are as specific as Mills and Boon). Why else would they give you their money? If you are determined to write whatever you want, you have to accept that it may not sell. It's up to each individual to find their own position along the compromise continuum between those two extremes.

 
At 11:28 am GMT, Blogger Alex Bordessa said...

I seem to remember hearing that Bader was pretty well insufferable, leg - er - difficulties notwithstanding :-)

Actually I think we're broadly agreeing, it's just the slight differing of language-use. In my experience, if you don't stick to guidelines, you're stuffed, so they may as well be rules ... Just follow them and you're fine.

Disclaimer: the sentence length is an example. I don't normally write extremely lengthy sentences, and have been critted only once for it.

 
At 2:56 pm GMT, Blogger Carla said...

No idea, never met him :-)
Agreed - slight difference in semantics, is all.
As for why I have been rabbiting about sentence length, it wasn't a comment on your work (which of course I have never seen), it just struck me as such a profoundly silly thing to have a rule about. As if length was somehow a determinant of quality. Click over to Miss Snark's blog - there's a link from mine - for some supremely awful sentences of all lengths.

 
At 4:20 pm GMT, Blogger Alex Bordessa said...

I've already had a look - and wow are they bad? So bad they're funny. Even I could tell they were awful!

 

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