Hello, and welcome to Tabby's Nocturnal Nights. This is an old blog I wrote mouths ago, but I wanted to drag it out, dust it off, and post it.
When I first decided to write a novel I knew nothing about the many rules we writers must learn. I often wonder if my lack of knowledge hindered me, or did the 'not knowing' allow me to just write?
Armed with only the facts I learned in high school, I sat at my computer and wrote—start to finish. Though pleased with the characters and world I had created, I knew the writing wasn't up to the standards it needed to be to submit. So I joined an on line writing group and proceeded to learn the golden rules.
The first rule I learned was show don't tell. I had no clue what this meant. How do you show action? How do you show what a room looks like or a character's face? Isn't it easier to just tell the reader what your heroine's expression looked like after she got an eyeful of the hero's hot body? I was baffled. How do you show not tell?
The answer is by using strong action verbs, clear, uncluttered descriptive words, and by using the senses:taste, touch, and smell. Let the reader see the action happening, smell the scents your characters smell, taste the hero's lips, feel his muscular arms as they crush the heroine to his warm, hard chest.
As I went back over the first chapter of my novel, I realized most was telling. It was riddled with LY adverbs which is a good indication you are telling.
I scratched my head. What's wrong with that? It told the reader how my characters spoke.
She said, quietly.
He shouted loudly.
Told how my characters walked, ran.
She walked slowly.
He ran quickly.
Even told the readers how my character was feeling.
She felt his touch. She felt sick to her stomach.
Then I realized yes, I was telling when I should have been showing.
The next rule I learned was tense. Once again I was in the dark. What did my instructor mean by don't change tense part way through the story? When she showed me the error of my ways, it was like a light bulb going off in my head. Pick one tense and stick with it. Present or past tense.
Present tense: I walk to the store.
Past tense: I walked to the store.
The next rule was POV. Point of view. There are three basic POV's: First person, third person and omniscient.
First person simplified is the “I” voice. It is useful in allowing the reader to become deeply involved with one character. Though on the other end it can be limiting since you can only write what your main character could know.
Omniscient simplified is scenes written in more than one point of view. If not done well it can be very jarring. Plus it is harder to become intimate with the characters.
Third person simplified is a balance between first and omniscient. You write with distance yet with intimacy since a scene is written in one character's POV at a time. Everything that happens is filtered through that character until the writer changes POV, usually when you start a new chapter or at a scene break. But unlike first person where you use I, me, we and us, third person you use, she, he, they, them, him and her.
Again, I went through my first chapter and realized I had head hopped like a flea. I constantly switched from one character's head—from one's thoughts and feelings to another--without a new chapter or scene break.
But you may say, I've read books where the author head hopped and I loved it. Yes, you're correct, but they are usually experienced writers who have learned the rules, taken their lumps, and came out the other side better for learning and following the rules in the beginning. In short, they have earned the right to head hop and they do it well, without jarring the reader from the story. For an inexperienced writer it is best to stay in one POV at a time.
So back to my original question. Did my lack of knowledge of the rules hinder me when I wrote the first draft to my first novel? Undoubtedly, it would have made the rewriting easier, but in my ignorance, at the time all I worried about was getting the story from my head onto my computer. And that I did. Rough, but it was written. Since then I have learned the rules and I realized they make writing much easier.
Here is a small excerpt from my second novel. The first example is written without the basic rules applied.
Catherine rubbed her forehead, slowly and sighed heavily. She looks over at Kal. “What do you want from me?”
Kal smiles tightly. Damn she was sexy and he loves her temper. “You really want to know?”
She nodded her head.
“I want you naked on my bed. That is what I want.” he said.
Stunned, Catherine's mouth dropped open and she blinked her eyes rapidly. Did he just say what I think he said? “I . . . I can't believe you just said that!”
“Well, you asked,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.
Now here is a more polished version with the rules applied.
Catherine rubbed her forehead and sighed. She glanced at Kal and crossed her arms over her chest. “What exactly do you want from me?”
Kal smiled. “You really want to know?”
She nodded, tired of the games. Tired of always trying to analyze him.
He leaned a hip against the dresser, his grin widening. “I want you naked on my bed. That's what I want.”
Stunned, Catherine's jaw dropped. Did I just hear him right?
She narrowed her eyes and clenched her hands. “I . . . I can't believe you just said that!”
Kal shrugged. “Well, you asked.”