|How to survive while Mommy looks at paint samples - for the umpteenth time . . .|
RULE-BREAKING 101, Part 2
Do you remember that "rule" about all manuscripts must be Courier 12 at 25 lines per page? And any word we wanted in italics should be underlined? These relics of the Typewriter Age should have been obsolete by the time I began to write seriously circa 1992. They should, in fact, have been obsolete within in a few years of the dawn of the PC with its ability to produce manuscripts in that most common proportional book font, Times New Roman, and produce actual italic type with the click of the mouse. And yet, oh horrors, this "rule" was so sacrosanct that some authors got positively hysterical if it was broken. Some RWA chapters would not even accept TNR manuscripts as contest entries - the excuse given that the authors could actually get more words to the page, and that just wasn't fair!
Sigh. I solved this problem by submitting contest entries only to chapters that did not specify "Courier 12 at 25 lines per page." It wasn't just that I was determined to fight City Hall; I knew I tended to write outside the box, and any chapter that was bound by obsolete "rules" simply wasn't going to "get" my manuscript anyway.
Those who are new to writing are likely incredulous at the above, as almost all manuscripts are now written and submitted in TNR 12 at however many lines per page a 1" margin all around allows. And of course we use italics! [Ah . . . but do you use auto tabs? Those, I hasten to say, are not a rule, but a technical issue, something needed to accommodate our Computer Age.] And of course manuscripts are submitted electronically, edited electronically, and/or judged electronically (if entered in a contest). But it's downright embarrassing how long this change has taken. I bought my first computer in 1981 and it's now 2014. So we're talking about close to a quarter century. You know, that's really sad. How fortunate reading electronically did not lag nearly so far behind. E-publishing and e-reading have outstripped all initial growth estimates to become the great revolution of our times. And I love it. Yet although I was writing articles predicting the success of the e-book industry way back c. 2000, I never anticipated the indie-pub explosion. It has brought opportunities for fresh ideas, fresh approaches, across the board. I doubt even Amazon would have become such a powerhouse if not for the thousands of authors who swept away the New York cobwebs and expressed themselves as they had never had a chance to do before.
So "Hats Off" to Smashwords, Amazon, and all the other e-distributors and e-publishers out there. They broke just about every rule of publishing and made New York conform to them. (For the most part, that is - most NY publishers are still setting outrageous prices on e-versions of books they had to have their noses tweaked in order to produce in the first place.)
~ * ~
To continue the list of questionable rules begun in RULE-BREAKING 101, Part 1 . . .
3. Strict Point of View - Use only the POV of the Hero, the Heroine, and possibly a Villain (if applicable).
I can understand this requirement in a 50,000-word "Category" romance - keep it simple. And yet I recently re-read a whole shelf of short romances I valued enough to keep when I moved from Connecticut to the Florida Gulf Coast and again when I moved to Orlando seven years ago this month. Obviously, it had been quite a while since I'd last read them - maybe not since I learned the "rules" of romance writing - and I got quite a shock, discovering something I had simply never noticed before. These books not only had Multiple Points of View, they contained a lot of Author Intrusion, and - would you believe? - Head-hopping? Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
Did I have trouble understanding these books? Did the "jumping around" put me off? Not at all. As I mentioned, on first reading I didn't even notice it. On second reading, however, I admit to cringing at the archaic attitudes in stories written back when "feminism" was a mere gleam in the eye. But being told what a secondary character was thinking, even a very minor secondary character didn't put me off a bit. I found these "asides" (mostly from the Author's POV) added to my enjoyment of the story.
And yet to this day, even in the e-world, some publishers still specify exactly how many POVs a story can have. Sigh. I hasten to add there is a genuine reason for publishers being leery of multiple POVs. Unless an author is very good at it - such as Nora Roberts, who does it all the time - inserting the POVs of secondary characters can kill a story, diminishing the impact of the Hero and Heroine and of the romance itself. I have seen this over and over again in contests I have judged and manuscripts I have edited. The secondary characters end up telling us the story by "observing" the interaction between the Hero and Heroine when readers want to experience that interaction up close and personal, through the Main Characters' eyes only. So, yes, there is a reason for this "rule," particularly for newbies, but I would like to see a return to the era when an author can insert information that does not originate solely from the heads of the Hero and Heroine and not be villified for it. My all-time favorite example of this being Nora Robert's incredibly well done description of the hero in Carnal Innocence, which I have previously quoted in this blog. A description seen through no one's eyes but the author's.
Summary. If you can use the Points of View of certain secondary characters to add depth to your story . . . If you can give these characters brief POVs without letting them overshadow the Hero and Heroine, then I would like to see authors feel free to go for it. Warning: even the most liberal-minded reader tends to find "head-hopping" a bit twitchy, but perhaps that's because it's been anathema for so long. Certainly, I never batted an eye at the swift POV changes in those romances mentioned above. (And that's what "Head-hopping" is - jumping quickly from one person's POV to another's, say, within the space of a paragraph or two.) How many times I've I pointed out this "fault" when judging contests - yet is it really wrong? Unfortunately, as things currently stand, it's "wrong" if the editor or agent you're submitting your book to thinks it's wrong! Although I've known authors who wrote multiple POV with brilliance the first time out (Karen Rose, for example), even Nora Roberts wrote a lot of books with strict POV before she broke out into the style for which she's become famous. So keep in mind that all I'm saying is that I would like to see a more liberal approach to POVs. And way less horror when an author breaks the death grip of Hero/Heroine/Villain only.
~ * ~
There's quite a bit more to come. If you have a pet "rule" you'd like to see bent or broken, please share with us. I'm still struggling to complete my list of all the "preaching" I've encountered over my years as a romance/mystery author.
Thanks for stopping by.
For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.
For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.