This
week, I had a budding author ask me about the latest release by a bestselling
novelist. She has read previous offerings from this author, and she had never noticed
the problems she found in his current work. She has been studying the elements
of storytelling, she has been getting advice from fellow critique partners and
authors, and she was curious as to why this bestselling author could break the
rules.
I’ve
thought about the issues she mentioned: an excessive use of “ly” words
(adverbs) in dialogue attributes, a switch in tense within scenes and/or
chapters, a lack of description to enable the reader to envision the scenes, as
well as a predictable plot.
I know
what some would expect me to say: “His books sell in the millions. He can
do whatever he wants.” Or what about this one: “The author is experienced, and
he knows when to break the rules”?
While I
suspect that, to a certain extent, the above comments might be true, I’d like
to point out that this multi-million dollar author has a reader who sees a
decline in his writing style. Might there be other readers who may not notice
the “ly” words, but who could stumble over the change in tense or fail to get a
good grasp of a scene? I’ll give the writer the benefit of the doubt. The current
books seems to be a book outside this author’s usual genre. Maybe the outcome
of the plot wasn’t as important as the events that led up to it.
The
questions asked of my friend and budding author brought a few thoughts to mind:
An author must
never get to a point in his career where he believes that there is nothing new
to learn. He might have gotten away with head-hopping a few decades ago.
Today, a manuscript written from more than one point of view per scene screams
amateur. Other stylistic changes throughout the decades are seen in the same way.
A bestselling
author should not lean on his past record. He should always strive for
creativity and innovation. Failure to do so will eventually catch up with him.
An author must
not break the rules just because he can. There must be a reason to break the
rules, and they should be broken sparingly so that a reader never questions the
author’s knowledge versus his voice or style.
New authors who
are reading experienced authors and have the ability to spot the problems in a
published book are seeing their knowledge blossom right before their eyes. Once
a writer begins to critique, she’ll never look at a published book the same. For exactly that reason, experienced
authors should work hard so that newer authors can learn by good examples and
not by poorly written ones.
Something else
that came to mind as I studied on this issue is that quite possibly the
greatest gift an editor can give to an experienced author is to treat him no
differently than he would be treated if the book were his first creation.
Likewise, an experienced author should take special care to self-edit and look
for those instances where he breaks the rules simply because he knows he can get
away with it.
Happy editing.

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