Wednesday, 22 September 2010

When rules get in the way

I think you all know I'm a writer by now. A British writer. A British writer who has become so ensnared by 'rules of writing' that they threaten to kill off any kind of creativity. I'm currently writing the second in my historical crime fantasy series, featuring Luke Ballard, apothecary and elemancer at the court of King Henry IX - yes I know we never had a King Henry IX, that's part of the fantasy. If your interest is aroused, go to and see how the book is progressing.

So, as I said, it's the second in the series, the first being 'Duty of Evil'. I loved writing it, which is why I'm doing another. I love the Tudor era, the setting of Hampton Court Palace, the magical ability of my elemancer - magic within strict rules - the fact that elemancers have very special dogs. The plot is good according to the other members of my writers' circle and, believe me, if it wasn't, they would come straight out and say so. We give each other a very hard time. So the plot is good, the characters are rounded, everyone is always desperate to know what is coming next. Sounds promising eh? But I can bet my golden retriever's weight in sausages that no British agent or publisher will look at it? Why? Because it can't be categorised. Is it crime? Yes. Historical? Yes. Fantasy? Certainly. Can't pigeon-hole it then, not interested. I've not followed the 'rules'.

Writers have lots of rules to follow. Show don't tell is a prime one. I'm reading 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo' at the moment. I've reached page 100 and most of what I've read has definitely been tell not show. How come, if that sacred rule has been so blatantly broken, is it then such a good read?

Never change the character's point of view in the middle of a section. Always make a break and then change POV. Why? J D Robb in her Dallas crime/SF series breaks this rule all the time. The books are brilliant. I freely admit to being addicted to them. Why? Because the plots are good, the 'family' of characters is beautifully drawn and it's a world I like inhabiting.

Robb also breaks another golden rule - don't move into authorial voice. She does it frequently. Doesn't take away anything from the books, though. So, perhaps the rules are just for some and not for others, but that can't be right. I agree that someone like J D Robb who is really Nora Roberts and who writes three books a year, must earn her publisher such mega bucks that she can write what she likes. I really wish her line editor would get some new spectacles, though because there are some horrific spelling and grammatical howlers. She deserves better.

Perhaps that's the secret. Carole Blake said in an interview that one of the most interesting query letters she received was from a writer who said he wrote what he wanted to read. Now I get it. Don't ever expect to get published, but stuff the rules and savour writing what you would like to read, because, even if that ambition to be a bestselling author never happens, you will have enjoyed the ride.

That said, it's obvious that agents on the other side of the pond appear to be more open to rule-breakers, so I shall let Luke loose on them and spend the intervening time enjoying him.