Reading books that don’t follow the writing rules

I treated myself over the weekend and read an entire book – called ‘All She Ever Wanted’ by Patrick Redmond.

I really liked his writing style. It wasn’t too formal and he made it very easy to get under the skin of the main protagonist – Christina. He’d written it in sections so that, as a reader, you got a clear understanding of her childhood and how the events during it contributed to her adult-self. You can relate to his characters with some degree of empathy because of the way he writes, even though many of his characters aren’t really all that admirable. They’re human – which I suppose is what makes them good characters.

However, I did find one of his writing techniques very off-putting. Strangely, had I not been a writer myself I probably wouldn’t have noticed this and would have just taken it as given. But, he switched viewpoints a lot – not consistently, not regularly, but at odd, random intervals. On top of this, toward the end there were recorded interview notes between characters that had never been introduced before and that seemed to just hang in the air, providing vital clues as to the climax, yet somehow taking away from it.

The main story is told in third person, from the view of Christina. But throughout the book there are occasional paragraphs or whole pages told from the viewpoint of others in the novel – Aunty Karen, Christina’s mum, various boyfriends, even the swimming instructor. This does provide an objective impression of Christina so that you comprehend how others see her and how this develops throughout the novel, but as a fledgling writer who has been told to be consistent with viewpoint it does grate a little.

I know that there is a saying that suggests that you need to know the rules before you break them, but as much as I liked  Redmond’s novel – including the suspense that built up to the climax – I was put off by the awkwardness of the various glimpses into other people’s heads and how random this was. I didn’t really care how Jack saw Christina, or what Aunty Karen was thinking, or if Meg considered her a decent swimmer: that wasn’t at the crux of the novel.

It frustrates me that such inconsistencies can be considered publishable writing when so many advise new writers to stick to the rules so rigidly, rather than explore their own style and determine their own rules. I’ve been going through so much of my writing over the past year or so and altering it so that it has a consistent viewpoint, yet here is a novel that has been published that blatantly disregards such conventions.

No wonder I feel confused about whether or not my writing has any merit when the industry ‘out there’ can’t even offer us any reassurances that the advice we’re being given will see us succeed. They only lesson I learnt from reading this novel is that ‘stories sell’ – and this was a good story. It’s just such a shame that every character had to have their thoughts spread over the page to the point that I lost faith in the writing itself.

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4 responses to “Reading books that don’t follow the writing rules

  1. Hey, Cat. Yes, this really sucks. I hate what appears to be double standards for published authors. Has this guy published before? Sometimes I wonder if once a writer is established if a publisher doesn’t cut him/her some slack simply because they sell. I too get frustrated with a writer who is a best seller and they seem to flaunt every writing convention. For me, what bothers me the most is cliches, unoriginal plot, too much exposition, and worst of all– no hook. It can be demoralizing, but I also think if this bonehead can do it, so can I.

    • Ha – you’re right. If they can do it – so should we, and do it better I say!
      I think, being writers, we are possibly a little harsh on other’s work: but then, I don’t think we set the standard any lower for ourselves so it seems fair to me.

  2. It drives me nuts when the point of view is changed either in regular intervals or in a strange pattern as you described. I get rather attached to the main character and I don’t like being ripped from their vantage point.

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