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.


  1. Passion rules. Number one - write from the heart and it will be so good that eventually they will not be able to ignore you however hard they try. get a database of fans - I am one! - and build that up; keep to what YOU know is good although make sure you get advice and thoughts from everybody! You already do that! never put down another writer but hold true to what you do and develop your style. Embrace ridiculous ideas adn thoughts and other ways of writing even if it is not your instinct - that way you will be even surer about what your style is doen the last full stop - or if you are going over the Pond - period!
    Where is your local radio station? get on it - get interveiwed by local papers/ magazines. Like me. We don't have a publicity agent to do it for us - so we have to up the anti ourselves and increase our profile somehow. I believe in what you do - ironically I think Luke will be your calling card, much as I would like it to be Georgia! You have to sex up how you sell you and your books. focus on that when the pen has temporarily dried up - your brain will start throwing out ideas. Dismiss none at first thought - gradually assimilate how others are going to see oyu and your writing xxx

  2. Great post! Rules were definitely made to be broken.
    And I hate the way have to have a 'label' before publishers will look at them. Especially when the same publishers insist they're after something fresh and new.