Monday, May 16, 2011
Review - Writing tip
Question: I sent my book, Tape, to the review site you posted last week and the reviewer complained bitterly about my skills. I did manage to glean a quote for my web site, but she trashed my prose saying the viewpoints were confused.
That reviewer should read Nana. Zola was the master at showing a room (or a theater) full of people all talking at once from their different viewpoints without ever confusing the reader. There, I feel better already.
After seeing the full review, I think she's talking about the writing rule that says you can only have one character THINK anything in a scene. Others can be observed by the viewpoint character, who is the only one allowed to think, and what other characters are thinking may be surmised from their words, attitude, or body language, but the rule, NOW, is only one character's viewpoint (inside his or her mind--behind his or her eyes -- in the thoughts) per scene. The viewpoint character can shift at scene breaks, but not at other times. If more than one person thinks within the same scene, editors today call it "head-hopping."
Some also feel that a viewpoint should be "authentic." That is, if your character is a blacksmith, you can't truly put yourself in his place unless you, too, are a blacksmith...
Now I know this wasn't the standard in Dickens's era and probably not for Zola, either. They lived in a time when the Godlike (the narrator knows and TELLS all), Omniscient viewpoint was not only standard, but popular. Reviewers, today, frown at Telling and Sneer at the Omniscient viewpoint, except for fairytales, even as the dictionary disdains to-morrow, with a hyphen, which was also perfectly correct spelling back then.
Readers, however, are looking for a good story and don't give a hoot in hades one way or the other. They buy for story and if they like the story, come back for more from the same author. As long as what they read isn't Confusing, and they understand perfectly well who is thinking and saying what, and when, and where they are and when it's happening, they are happy.
I was a writing teacher for 25 years and the hardest lesson I had to learn or teach as a writer was viewpoint. Some people could learn it. Some never could. And some understood perfectly well and decided to ignore the whole thing anyway. Reviewers, however, will always be sticklers for whatever the current trend is!
Stephen King was royally trashed by reviewers for his Delores Claibourne, since he was a man and couldn't possibly write "authentically" from a woman's viewpoint. I believe reviewers were largely unsuccessful in discouraging sales on that one, though.
Let me list some authors who didn't think the viewpoint rule was important and if you never heard of them, look them up.
LaVyrle Spencer, who once wrote the sentence, "She thought he was the best-looking hunk she'd ever seen, and he thought so, too."
Jude Devereau is the author of thirty-seven New York Times bestsellers. There are more than 50 million copies of her books in print worldwide.
Dick Francis ( who once had TWO "I" narrators in a book.) So much for first person being inviolable.
Patricia Cornwell, who wrote from the dog's viewpoint in one book...
Several mystery writers are quite fond of writing from a cat's viewpoint, too, but I can't recall names just now.
My own first writing teacher, poet Michael Waters, was fond of saying, "First you learn the rules, then you figure out when to break them." To that, I'd add, it's important to know when you are breaking a rule and to have a good reason for doing so.
But no rule is inviolable. Story should always come first.