Author Archives: Alicia Dean

About Alicia Dean

Author of paranormal and romantic suspense. Follow her on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alicia-Dean/131939826889437) or twiiter (https://twitter.com/Alicia_Dean_)

Be a Rebel…Break the Rules – by Alicia Dean

I have received a number of submissions over the years where the authors tried very hard to follow the ‘rules of writing.’ They tried so hard, in fact, that their stories were stiff and poorly written. I’m guessing it was the work of well meaning critique partners and overzealous contest judges. Don’t get me wrong, having input on your manuscript can be beneficial. All comments and suggestions should be considered, but if they don’t improve your writing, ignore them.

Some of the rules that actually shouldn’t be rules are…

1)      Do not use ‘was,’ especially ‘was + ing’  (sometimes, they just work)

2)      Be descriptive (to a degree, but readers don’t need every little detail)

3)      Show don’t tell (this is a good rule, but shouldn’t always be followed)

4)      Do not end a sentence in a preposition (Sometimes, you just gotta)

5)      Do not use adverbs (use them sparingly, but adverbs can be your friend)

6)      Do not use fragments (Sometimes, they add emphasis)

If I followed all these rules, I might write something like this:

I drove down the street when a figure shot across the road in front of me.  I slammed on the brakes and shoved the silver gearshift with the black vinyl knob into park, then opened my car door and climbed out.   I scanned the sidewalk. The only people in sight were a couple standing outside a convenience store.

The woman shouted, “This is it. You’ve cheated on me for the last time.”

“It was nothing. You’ve got it all wrong,” the man said.

“Yeah, right.” The woman clenched her fists at her sides. “Don’t lie to me! I’m sick and tired of all the lies.”

Whoever had run in front of me was nowhere in sight. To where did he disappear?

The roar of a motor caught my attention. I whirled. A man was behind the wheel of my car, driving away. I stumbled after him and fell to the sidewalk, scraping my knees on the concrete. Pain radiated up to my chest, and tears sprang to my eyes. I rose to my feet. I was screwed. I was totally screwed.

Here is the same passage where those rules are ignored:

I was driving down the street when a figure shot across the road in front of me.  I slammed on the brakes and shoved the gearshift into park, then opened my car door and climbed out.  I scanned the sidewalk. The only people in sight were a couple arguing outside a convenience store.

Whoever had run in front of me was nowhere in sight. Where did he disappear to?

The roar of a motor caught my attention. I whirled. A man was behind the wheel of my car, driving away. I stumbled after him and fell to the sidewalk, scraping my knees on the concrete. Pain radiated up to my chest, and tears sprang to my eyes. I gingerly rose to my feet. I was screwed. Totally screwed.

This is not a great scene, for many reasons, but it serves the purpose of providing examples of the rules that shouldn’t necessarily be followed. Below I’ve pointed out where the first passage went wrong.

I drove (This sounds like something that has already happened instead of an action that is happening now) down the street when a figure shot across the road in front of me.  I slammed on the brakes and shoved the silver gearshift with the black vinyl (We don’t care what the gear shift looks like) knob into park, then opened my car door and climbed out. I scanned the sidewalk. The only people in sight were a couple standing outside a convenience store.

The woman shouted, “This is it. You’ve cheated on me for the last time.”

“It was nothing. You’ve got it all wrong,” the man said.

“Yeah, right.” The woman clenched her fists at her sides. “Don’t lie to me! I’m sick and tired of all the lies.”  (You don’t need to ‘show’ the argument, just tell us they were arguing. In this case, inserting the argument only clutters the scene and moves the focus away from where it should be.)

Whoever had run in front of me was nowhere in sight. To where did he disappear? (This sounds unnatural until you put ‘to’ at the end)

The roar of a motor caught my attention. I whirled. A man was behind the wheel of my car, driving away. I stumbled after him and fell to the sidewalk, scraping my knees on the concrete. Pain radiated up to my chest, and tears sprang to my eyes. I rose (gingerly indicates caution due to the pain) to my feet. I was screwed. I was totally screwed. (“I was” sounds repetitious and doesn’t have the same emphasis as simply ‘Totally screwed’)

The secret is to write your story to where it sounds natural and vivid. Read it aloud, listen to the rhythm, and if breaking rules makes it sound better, then by all means, break them.

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Why POV (Point of View) Matters

Good morning and Happy Thursday!

First of all, a brief explanation of the difference between POV switching and head hopping, although the two are similar. A POV switch is when you write a paragraph, or a few paragraphs, or half a scene, in one character’s head, then the remainder of the scene is in a different character’s head. (I’ve often seen writers switch back and forth from paragraph to paragraph, which is extremely jarring). Head hopping is when you are in a character’s head, and that character mysteriously knows the thoughts or feelings another character is experiencing.

As an editor, I’ve heard all the reasons why POV switches and head hopping should be acceptable. I’ve heard the argument that it is okay if it’s ‘done well.’ In my opinion, it’s seldom, if ever, done well. And, just in case you’re not doing it well, it’s best to avoid it altogether. I’ve also heard, “Nora Roberts does it.” True, but Nora Roberts can do pretty much whatever she wants, and she’ll still sell books. If you’re already successful, then you don’t need to take my advice. But, if you are an untried author attempting to publish, you’d probably be wise to heed my words.

Head hopping is jarring and oftentimes confusing. Just when a reader is starting to relate to a POV character, jerking them out of that character’s head and into another character’s can be a tad disconcerting. Confusion pulls readers out of the story, and they’re likely to stop reading. The last thing you want as an author is for a reader (or editor) to stop reading!

Some examples of how the POV rules are violated: (In each of these, we are in Mary’s Point of View)

Mary didn’t notice the man lurking in the alley. – If your POV character didn’t notice something, then it can’t be mentioned in her scene. We can only know what the POV character knows.

Mary was tired of the same old argument. Couldn’t they ever agree? John stared at her, trying to formulate his words. – Mary wouldn’t know he was trying to formulate words.

Mary’s face beamed with happiness when he said he loved her. – Mary can’t see her own face beam. She can feel the happiness, (Mary’s heart lifted with joy when he said he loved her)

This one is a little less obvious, but it’s still a no-no:

Mary’s blue eyes filled with tears. – Mary wouldn’t be thinking of the color of her own eyes.

Some people believe that, in a love scene, the thoughts of both characters should be revealed so readers can get a sense of how each of them feels. Not so. If you want a love scene from each of the character’s perspectives, let one of them have a scene, then do a scene break and ‘finish’ from the other character’s POV. Also, you can convey what another character is feeling without dipping into their thoughts:

Mary slowly undid the buttons on his shirt. He gasped when her fingers stroked his chest. His hand closed around hers. “If you keep touching me like that, I can’t be responsible for what happens.” – We know her touch affects him, that he wants to make love to her. We know, at this point, he has some control, but he’s on the brink of losing it.

Even if you feel you can smoothly switch POV’s in a scene, you would be better off not attempting to do so. Most editors prefer that you have control of POV, and pleasing an editor is the first step to publication. Hooking and holding onto readers is the second.

If you have trouble staying in one character’s head during a scene, try writing a draft in first person. This method will help you to know, feel, hear, see, and think only what your character knows, hears, sees, feels, and thinks.

Best of luck and happy writing! 

Alicia Dean lives in Edmond, Oklahoma. She writes suspense and paranormal romance and is a freelance editor, as well as an editor for The Wild Rose Press (as Ally Robertson). Find her at…Website: http://www.AliciaDean.com Twitter: @Alicia_Dean_ Facebook: Alicia Dean

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