Published authors don’t follow the “rules”

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Direwolf of the chrons
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#21
There are no "rules" in most areas of creative arts. What there are is guidelines and conventions as well as theories.

As such they only work by reading the "rule" and ALSO the justification behind that rule. To not just read the title of the theory but the information that goes with it. By understanding this you can come to realise why some "rules" are suggested guidelines, esp to newer writers. You can see the easy to fall into pitfalls, or understand why certain things are done a certain way to achieve an effect.

Once you understand that you can better see if those guidelines line up to your writing or not. It might be that you can "break" several rules by following other ones, or by understanding the limitations and problems and making use of them or overcoming them in another means.



It's also important to realise that there is concept of perfection. There is no steady linear progression from bad to good that takes place in creative arts. There's good, there's bad and there's a VAST mess in the middle (which is where most things are). Furthermore its not just on the merits of technical writing and method that something becomes popular (and by extension starts to impact upon the popular theories and rules of the time as to what can be viable to be published). Marketing, market awareness, other publications, real world events, chance, price, where its sold, title, the front cover, the blurb, conventions, drama/politics around the writer/work etc...

You can bet that when Harry Potter started to become big publisher were chasing other similar works; for a period of time that style of book was what they were after. It would start to define guidelines that would be advised to writers and which would be on the thoughts of publishers when considering what to work with.
Not self publishing has blown those gates wide open ,but they are still there, they are still a viable route in. Furthermore self publishing doesn't get around the fact that there are likely many outstanding books that never become popular; which might only decades after their author dies; or which might never get read by more than a handful of people.


It's darn complicated and tricky to navigate, but I'd stand by the view that each time you're told a theory or rule - read up on it and understand WHY it is what it is. Then make your choices.
 

sknox

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#22
I'm not sure what the worry is here. Is it that other guys break the rules and get their stuff published but I've broken the rules and I'm not published, or I get dinged in reviews for breaking those very same rules? Is it that the rules loom so ominously that it is affecting my ability to write at all? Is it that I have tried to follow the rules but the results feel remote and wooden?

I'm just trying to identify the purpose of the original question.
 

janeoreilly

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#23
I have a book coming out in July (I think) which starts with the heroine waking up. Trad published, so it's been past an agent and an editor. It's not the waking up or the weather or the prologue that's the issue, it's how you go about it. Very often as a new writer, you think you've produced something which is exactly the same as something you've seen in a book written by an experienced published author, but you haven't. They've got story and conflict and you've got boring waffle. We skirt round this when we crit because we want to be helpful, not unkind.

So in the example toby frost gave, it was raining the night Joe died, you've immediately got something interesting, because Joe died, and the reader wants to know more. Unless there is something unusual or interesting about the rain, it's not going to hold a reader's attention. My heroine wakes up but she's in a prison full of men, she's been genetically modified, and she's happy about it. If you wake up to find it raining frogs, again, it's not the waking up or the rain that matters, it's the frogs. So these ordinary things work if you put a twist on them.

The opening to the Stephen Aryan works because he says in line two: 'winter should have been over.' It's all in that sentence. The winter is important. It means something is different, something has changed. That's story.

The Ryan Kirk has almost exactly the same thing - it's about the weather because the weather is wrong. He ends the first paragraph with 'it felt as though the world was broken.' So again, something has changed, something is wrong, and the weather is how they know.

Neither of these paragraphs are just about the weather, they're using the weather as evidence of something, and that's why they work, and why these books sold. Story and conflict in the first paragraph.

A really good thing to do is to take a couple of hours reading through opening paragraphs of newly pubbed titles in your genre (you can do this on amazon for free using the look inside feature) and breaking them down and seeing exactly why they work.
 

paranoid marvin

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#24
One of my favourite books HHGTTG starts with Arthur Dent waking up. Following the rules won't necessarily make your work better, but if you want it to be published, it's got to first be read by thode that matter. If not following the rules means that they don't read your work, then you know what you have to do...

Established authors may get guidance, but it's all about making money. As long as readers continue to buy , the aithor can write any way they like.
 

Phyrebrat

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#25
The aim is to make your reader reach for the popcorn, not their smartphone (Nokia, if you’re HB :p ) or TV remote.

A lengthy description of weather isn’t likely to be compelling unless there’s something particularly idiosyncratic about it. Like, hot hail, giant snow or maybe a tornado. Often it’s just the author getting into his or her stride at the writing stage. If it helps you write like that, then do so, aware that you can edit it out later and jump to the action.

pH
 

goldhawk

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#26
As Orson Scott Card says: the first paragraph is free. He means you can do anything you want in it providing you have a conflict in the second paragraph. One example is the Wheel of Time series. Each book in it starts with a description of the wind. But what does the wind have to do with the story? Absolutely nothing; it's just an introduction device.

One could go on and on with examples that break the rules but one rule a good story never breaks is: start the conflict as soon as possible, by the second paragraph at the latest.
 

Martin Gill

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#28
I'm just trying to identify the purpose of the original question.
The question I'm wrestling with is the challenge I think we unpicked in the first few posts - our/my perception of the "rules" that the professional gatekeepers (agents/publishers) apply vs what is actually entertaining to an average punter.

For instance... the last thing I wrote and had on crits here starts with the aftermath of a storm - the storm is fundamental because its caused a shipwreck, which is the catalyst for the two MCs to meet. But common wisdom/"rules"/writing guidelines strongly imply not to start with the weather, and to do so would be agent-attention-dooming and would instantly banish your manuscript to the bin. I'm interested in the tension between received wisdom on what works, and what I see when I read actual published books that commonly run counter to that wisdom.
 

Martin Gill

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#29
The opening to the Stephen Aryan works because he says in line two: 'winter should have been over.'
I missed that - I didn't read it in detail. It was written well enough, and personally I don't think the first paragraph harmed the book at all - the lack of pace afterwards did me in - but again I'm curious about the tension between the advice we'd have given here. I strongly suspect we'd collectively have told him to cut that paragraph. And also not start with the MC waking up - just start with him trudging through the snow.

It would be kind of interesting to post real, published first chapters in crits and see what people thought.
 

The Crawling Chaos

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#30
I also think that maybe there are still too many people out there who think what you write about is more important than how you write it, and don't want to hear the truth.

Your story has been told before. Your story of a guy waking up has been told before. Your story about that crazy world of magic and dragons, spaceships and rebellions, it's all been told before. Now it's how you will write your story that will make it stand out or relegate it to the sin bin.

Same thing with films. People place all the emphasis on the script and don't realise that if all you had to do to get a good film was to have a good plot, no bad movie would ever see the light of day. But the words from your script never make it to the audience's eyes and ears. It's how a script is realised in film form (cinematography, sound, editing, acting...) that will make it exciting or a dud.

In the end, form is what matters. How you do it, not what you do.

The best authors will make reading a recipe for carrot cake a thrilling experience. The not-so-great authors will have you bored after three words of their "epic battle scene".

Don't worry about agents and other gatekeepers being bored by what you write, and be more concerned with whether or not they are bored by how you wrote it.
 
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#32
All great artists know and understand the rules before they break them. But they never ignore them.

The reason people have come up with rules like "Never start a story with your character waking up" or "Never start with weather" is because so many books --- especially in the Fantasy genre --- have done this that it has now become cliché. People are tired of it. It doesn't necessarily you mean you can't do it. But if you do, it had better be good.
 

sknox

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#33
>to do so would be agent-attention-dooming and would instantly banish your manuscript to the bin.

I think this is a false presumption. My evidence is exactly what you yourself notice: there are plenty of published books that start with <insert "rule" here>. Since the evidence shows that alone is not a bar to publication, there must be other factors in play.

As others have said, do be informed about these rules. They will help you to make good decisions, to be critical of your own work. But never use them as the reason why this guy succeeded while that guy didn't. Rule X is a factor, but is not the only factor. Although, if you have a character wake up and see the weather in a mirror, it had better be a satire. :)
 
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