As a writer, I’ve always thought that there were certain rules that writers had to deal with if they wanted their books to end up in book stores.
Stupid, logical stuff, like: start the book at the beginning, make sure there are no spelling mistakes, etcetera.
But lately, I’ve been reading books that ignore all these unwritten rules and make the rules up themselves. However, they still succeed in reaching a broad audience and even in being popular.
I’ve decided to come up with five conceptions about writing that authors tend to keep in mind, but are, on second thought, not that solid after all…
Grammar is important!
Of course, your grammar and punctuation should be impeccable, flawless even. Readers shouldn’t be able to understand your words in a different way than you intended them to be read.
But is this really always the case? A few weeks ago, I read the highly praised and admired debut novel of Eimear McBride, called “A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing”.
The thing about this book is that the entire book is written like it’s a stream of consciousness, meaning the writer is explicitly focusing on the thoughts and feelings of a character. He or she is doing this by free writing in such a way that a long and an incoherent sort of internal monologue arises.
Punctuation and grammar rules are suddenly completely forgotten and the writer just writes writes writes without stopping its just a story with no question marks or full stops just a lot of words without an end or. Very many. Punctuation marks to. Put emphasis on. Certain. Words.
It’s fun, isn’t it? “A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing” has got these same half-formed sentences to show how chaotic and complicated the life of the main character is.
Although it can be a little bit hard in the beginning to understand the ramblings of this complex character, they do add a certain depth to the story line.
So, we’ve learned our first lesson: you don’t have to keep your grammar super tidy if you have a reason not to.
Your main character should be your best friend!
One thing is for sure: your main character should always be sympathizable and their actions should be acceptable, no matter what.
Sounds plausible, right? I mean, if your main character acts in a weird and ununderstandable manner, how can a reader bond with him or her?
Well, when I read “A Pleasure and a Calling” by Phil Hogan I actually started to question my own personality a bit. How the heck were I able to sympathize with such a crazy psychopathic kind of man as Mr Heming?
And how could I be actually understanding and even agreeing with his behaviour?
Had I gone insane too?
Eventually I found out that this is the fun thing about writing: you can duck in someone’s head and look at the world from a very different point of view. Or, as Harper Lee put it: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.“
I mean, isn’t that wonderful? How you can actually become someone else for just a moment?
And isn’t it scary, too? Being able to decipher a serial killer’s motives and connect with him (or her, cause, I mean, a serial killer doesn’t necessarily have to be a man) on a personal level?
A book should be written in perfect English (or any other language of course), without any mistakes or typos!
Alright, this one sounds pretty obvious, right? How can a book be readable if the writing is not 100% typofree? Yeah, yeah, of course, you’ll be able to read over a few mistakes, but if every single page contains a typo, you’ll be highly frustrated at the end of the book – or you wouldn’t finish the book at all.
But wait… remember the book “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker? This classic novel is written from the perspective of an uneducated, black woman who writes letters to God to explain her feelings.
Because she hasn’t really had the opportunity to go to school, she also doesn’t write completely grammatically correct.
Actually, not at all. Even though Walker’s writing style can sometimes by a little annoying, it also adds something valuable to the story: not only the stories of intellectual people out of the highest classes should be heard. The stories of other, seemingly “ordinary” people should matter too.
Do not put too many main characters in there!
I don’t know if this is a rule I made up myself or not, but I’ve always thought that a book shouldn’t have too many main characters, because it will make it hard for the reader to connect with them and understand the story line.
I always tend to stick to one (or sometimes two) main character(s), because I’m afraid the different writing styles will eventually start to get very similar to each other and my story will lose its clear overview (if it had been there in the first place – confessions of an insecure writer).
But if you read “And then there were none” by Agatha Christie you’ll be surprised (or not, if you were already familiar with her magnificent writing skills) about how well Christie puts it off while writing about ten (I repeat, TEN) main characters.
It’s not like you will get really close to all ten characters (at least, I didn’t), but you do get a sense of the differences between the points of view of all characters. This is actually what the story makes so special: you get to see how all these ten characters develop as soon as the tension rises to the extreme…
Books should (obviously) always make sense
Until recently I still believed in this unwritten rule. I mean, if a book doesn’t really make sense, why read it?
But when I read “The Elephant Vanishes” by Haruki Murakami I absolutely totally changed my mind.
This story contains a couple of short stories that don’t make any sense at all.
For example, there’s a story about an elephant that suddenly goes missing, but the main character believes has actually just mysteriously disappeared together with his owner. Or what do you think of a story about a dancing dwarf that wants to take over a human’s mind?
Still, despite (or rather thanks to) all its bizarreness you still keep reading and sometimes even start laughing out loud because of the hilarious situations Murakami puts his characters in.
In short: real “rules” for writing do not exist.
Of course this doesn’t mean that you should just start writing and turn a blind eye to all grammar and interpunction rules.
It just means that you shouldn’t be bothered so much by certain requirements other writers tell you your book should meet.
The most important advice is: just write! Writing should be fun! Who cares if your story doesn’t turn out to be the high quality bestseller you’d hoped it would be? You still have plenty of time and opportunities to grow in your writing.
For now, just keep writing. Keep enjoying what you’re doing! 🙂
Good luck with writing!