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August 29, 2012

            At our writer’s group meeting a week ago Monday, one of our readers presented a novelized fairy tale. Fairy tales could fall under the category of fantasy, but in reality, they’re geared toward children, or at least very young adult. I’m taking that as the definition for this discussion.

            After she read, we were giving our critiques. Her story is pretty good and I only found a few things with grammar. However, the biggest problem was that she head-hopped between two characters. I pointed this out and one of our members, Gregory Kompes, who I highly respect, spoke up. He’d attended a romance writers conference somewhere (I can’t remember if he said where) and during a panel discussion (I think), they talked point of view in fairy tales.

            Despite the usual rules for grammar and structure, the consensus was that specifically for fairy tales, it was okay to head hop between characters if done well. Many thousands of fairy tales have been sold and told using this style so it has been generally accepted that head-hopping is okay in this instance.

            I was surprised to hear this, but agreed to keep my mouth shut at least as far as this reader’s fairy tale is concerned. However, I will not let that rule pass for any other genre! Just because it is a pass for fairy tales doesn’t mean it will work for more complex stories.

            Keep in mind the relative simplicity of fairy tales and the audience. Also consider the usual length. In the case of this reader, she’s making a novel or novelette out of it.

            Just because it works for one narrow example doesn’t mean you can throw away the rules for everything else! Keep in mind my post a few weeks ago about breaking all the rules. That author had a killer story that was ruined by his incessant head-hopping that made the story almost unreadable at times.

            At the meeting yesterday, the discussion came up again about rules. Gregory said that at that conference the discussion on POV and other rules was that every rule could be broken if they were done well. Of course, that made me wonder if everything I’ve learned and all the effort and practice I’ve put into honing my skills has been for nothing. If I even open my mouth to bring up something during a critiquing session, what’s the point? If all the rules can be broken, why bother saying anything at all?

            Crappy writing is still crappy writing. Crappy writing can ruin a great story. I remember reading stories years ago, before I had a clue what any of these rules were. I knew there was something wrong with what I was reading, but I couldn’t put a finger on the problem. The story was cool and interesting, but it was so damn hard to read, I struggled or kept losing my place, or my mind kept wandering, or I kept mixing up who the characters were, or I got bored with certain sections and skipped them, or I got pissed off because the author kept spoiling the fun by revealing things.

            Now that I know why, I could go back and define the problems. I could see why those books sucked, or why I couldn’t enjoy them as much as they deserved. They were poorly written!

            When you hear stuff like the rules are made to be broken, don’t think you are that hot stuff that can throw out all the rules of writing and slap down a story on your hard drive (or paper) and expect to have a agent or publishers fighting each other to get a contract from you. Great story or not, the odds are that breaking the rules is going to get you into the reject pile as fast as they can flick their wrist.

            Don’t sluff your lazy crappy writing off as your “style.” Do it right the first time.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 29, 2012 4:26 am

    The conference was the RWA national in Anaheim. And, it wasn’t actually a panel, but workshop speaker after speaker kept saying, you can break the rules, so long as you do it really well. And, yes, they applied this to POV.

    I agree with your take, Fred. As I learned over and over as a professional musician, you can’t break the rules until you know them, and know them really well. If you’re going to break rules, you first need to know them and be making a very conscious choice for breaking them. That’s why we played scales for hours on end. Learn them so well that when you improv your fingers and your head know where you can go.

    That said, I do think it worthwhile for writers to play around with their style and find their own voice and the voice/style for the story they’re telling. Try different POVs; head hop until you find the best voice or view for that scene; play with every possible perspective. For, the job here isn’t only telling a great story, but telling a story that’s interesting and fun to write (as well as read).

    Love the journey you’re on, Fred!


    • August 30, 2012 1:20 am


      Welcome to my site and thanks for the kind words!

      I agree. You need to know the rules before you can break them properly.

      Rock on!


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