I’m not a big fan of rules, any kind of rules. When 3 publishers wrote to see my full manuscript I didn’t exactly celebrate. It was more how I tidied up my desk, cleaned the computer screen, bought a new desk lamp and waited for the storm to blast me sideways.
And it’s still blasting me sideways. Because I did ignore the rules — on purpose. I’d been writing different forms of fiction, including narrative non fiction, while teaching creative writing to university kids. I wrote a few books, took photos and spent many pleasant hours doing research. I did some of my research in the field, some at the computer. Not much in libraries, because I was in … countries that didn’t exactly have reliable libraries, quite a bit of the time.
When I was in Oklahoma last year it seemed only sensible to both write and do research. One day I saw a book about ignoring the experts, write from your heart. I decided to take a chance. I spent a year writing Sexy Oil Field Lover.
Publisher #3 has been kind and helpful (like Jane Austen’s characters said about almost everyone. By the way: Jane Austen really was the Queen of Irony. In this case, she shared a joke with her readers: everybody used that expression, but the people referred to didn’t always live up to being ‘kind and helpful.’)
But she’s a miracle. She’s been supportive and intelligent. She writes to me and has never once used phrases that drive me nuts, like ‘deep point of view.’ I get the feeling that she’s beyond that. I understand now why authors dedicate books to wonderful editors.
She immediately pointed out that Sexy Oil Field Lover had ‘structural’ problems despite all the wonderful words I’d sent her. And she discussed how I could change these things.
It’s harder work than I’d anticipated. I feel my characters’ voices grow fainter every time I must dance around, obeying this rule or that. I wish I’d written a play! People just say what they think, and get on with their lives…
On the other hand, I love these particular characters and I won’t abandon them.
Then there are Edward Albee’s wonderful words: ‘I’m not a nice person. I fight back.’ I’ll do this book, keeping my characters true to themselves. I might even write more popular fiction after this.
Just a word to the other rebels out there. Keep your integrity, but it’s a waste of time not to know what editors demand. I think we can still write what we feel, but publishers can afford to be choosy now.
An easy exercise I devised for myself is to analyze how a few authors use the point of view most used in fiction — 3rd person. I think you could use this exercise for any technique that you want to master.
Notice the way a successful writer uses it. I’d say avoid the thousands of discussions raging about a subject (like pov). Just pick up a novel and concentrate.
See how an author successfully writes (in 3rd point of view, for example). Then set yourself a topic or choose a scene — and learn how to write that way, too. Notice details. Maybe read an established expert on that author’s technique to make sure you don’t sail past something you’ll need to do.
Here are a few ideas.
All 3 editors said I should describe Cody’s life apart from her sexiness with her oil field lover. I’ve written several scenes now that do that.
You could write a scene about an imaginary person that shows both aspects of their personality. Or shows one side and hints at the other.
I also had to rewrite how they met. (Not the hot one posted on this site, for opening the book. She said to use that later.)
You could write about a first look, through one person’s eyes. Then learn to write narrative and dialogue the way the editor says to.
This shouldn’t take a lot of time. Sleeping on it helps, too. Then you’ll probably wake up with a more cheerful attitude about doing revisions.
I love hearing from you.
Much affection to you all. Julie