Rules for Writing Novels by Christine Duncan was a time when I would have told you that there are no rules to writing. The very thought conjured up visions of hackneyed plots put together according to some regulating editor’s vision of what a book should be.
I’ve changed my mind. And what changed my mind was once again, reading.
As a reader, I am not willing to wait very long for you, the writer, to tell me what the book is about. No, I’m not expecting you to announce, “Hey, reader, this is a Sf/Fantasy/Mystery but you better intro the way your world differs from mine PDQ and I want the body on the floor fairly quickly too–although I do allow you time to make me care about the victim. Still I’ve discovered I have no patience for too much meandering.

As a reader, I like hybrids. Witness the SF/Fantasy/Mystery mentioned above. I actually liked “Cowboys and Aliens.” But don’t throw in some other genre on page 150 just because you’ve decided it’s probably popular. I can figure out all by myself that you don’t really like writing in that extra genre but you think you should. Those books hit the wall. I once was one of the judges for a contest where the writer was writing a coming of age novel but felt it needed more action, so somewhere around page 75, he killed a character off, so his hero could solve the crime. Then he decided to enter it in the mystery category, because he felt it had a better chance there, because coming of age novels are more literate than mysteries. Yes, he actually told me that. His score for the contest was not very high, and he was protesting it. His protest did not make me raise the score.

As a reader, I’m not much into head hopping. I’m not talking about for instance, Angels and Demons where a chapter goes to the bad guy and another goes to the hero. I think that works. But don’t give me a paragraph in the heroine’s head and the very next paragraph or worse, sentence, tell me what the hero is thinking back at her. I can’t ping pong like that, although many new writers write that way, and defend it all the time. Stick with one head per scene, please. It makes me dizzy otherwise.

What rules for writing have you come to believe are mandatory? Or do you believe there are none?


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