Monday, February 11, 2013

Writers' Rules and Breaking Them

When I started writing mystery novels, a number of rules for beginning writers were beat into my thick skull. Here are a few:

  • Do not insert yourself as an author in your work, e.g., editorial comments or things that would take the reader out of the story
  • Show don’t tell
  • Maintain a consistent point of view
  • Keep a consistent tense
  • Choose a person first or third and stick with it and don’t even consider second person
  • Wrap up all the story threads and don’t leave them hanging
These are excellent guidelines for a starting writer, but an experienced writer can violate them knowingly. I just finished reading an intriguing book: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino. I highly recommend it as a commentary on the publishing and writing world and an entertaining romp through rule violations. The whole story is based on author intrusion and interrupting the story to remind you that you’re a reader and to pull you out of the story. It’s full of telling and lecturing. It jumps from a narrator, to a reader to ten other points of view. It mixes both present and past tense. It shifts from first person to third person and even to the dreaded second person. It presents ten stories that are never completed.

This said it’s a wonderful read. It comments on the vagaries of the publishing industry that we can all relate to. It demonstrates that an experienced writer can violate numerous rules and turn a book into a masterpiece.

Mike Befeler

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