Thursday, 19 July 2012

Knowing and Understanding - Two different things?

After knowing Ray for over 49 years now and married to him for well over 47 of those years, I believe I do know him very well.  But then, knowing his little habits and the way he thinks about myriads of things, do I still fully understand why he thinks like he does, why he may  respond the way he does?

As a writer over many years now, there is so much I have heard about, thought about, tried to put into practice of the craft of writing novels. I may claim to know certain of these  because I have heard, pondered on and even tried to put them into practice many times now, but are there any aspects of what I’ve been told, read, taught and tried to put into practice that I do not fully understand?

I am afraid there indeed may be, but after all these years I certainly hope and pray there are not too many!

In recent blog posts I have written about more and more “rules” that fiction writers seem to keep having to know about these days. I have to ask the question, “Does knowing the rules also mean understanding those rules well enough so they can be used correctly?”

We certainly live in a world very different from those writers of hundreds of years ago, perhaps even only decades ago. Many much loved novels published back then may not be acceptable to first of all some editors today because many modern day readers would not buy them. Certainly, there are still basics like the use of words correctly, grammar, spelling, a beginning, a middle and a conclusion to novels. I mentioned once in an email that some aspects of writing novels have changed since I first started writing back in the 1970s and was asked to give some illustrations.

One that sprang to mind was the way dialogue is often written today. It seems that most readers in our “instant, throw-a-way, entertain-me” society prefer fast-paced stories. This can affect several thing, including our description of settings and also dialogue. We are told to use action to show which character is speaking more often than those dialogue tags like he said, she replied. The use of punctuation has also changed. And we must realise there are new words created each year and the meaning of some older ones which have changed. There may be many reasons which I cannot go into here but it all highlights the fact writers need to keep on learning but above all keep on understanding how to use the changes.

One change I have mentioned in previous blog posts has been what the publishing industry calls “Point Of View”. This topic regularly appears in discussions on writing association email loops and at seminars and workshops for writers. We want to know about Omniscient POV, Single POV, Dual POV, Multiple POV, and one of the latest ones I’ve been noticing is called Deep POV. We need to know what each is and more importantly understand how each one can be used, which one is best suited to my own particular story and style of writing to give the reader the greatest Emotional Experience as my unfolds. Perhaps the most important fact about POV is if the reader’s enjoyment of a book is diminished by that lack of understanding just how to choose which character – or characters’– “head” to tell the story from and when and how to change POV so it is not such head-hopping the reader becomes confused and pulled out of the story instead of deeper into it.

So, I believe understanding how to adapt and use the knowledge I have about aspects of writing is so very, very important.

And we must remember that while some things do change over the years, the most important thing to remember is that “Story Rules.” No matter how perfect our “technique” as a writer may be, if the story and characters are weak and do not grip the reader so they have to keep turning the page to see what happens next, we had better go back to learning AND simply understanding “story”.

I read an email during a POV discussion recently from multi-published historical romance author, Anne Gracie - She put this next important point so well I asked her permission to share it off the email loop

“Nora Roberts, the most popular and prolific romance writer in the
world, breaks POV conventions all the time, swapping POV frequently
(head hopping) and doing all the kinds of things that contest judges
in RWA would pull contestants up for. She's a smart cookie and I'm
sure over the years (before she became famous) there were heaps of
people telling her she was "wrong". She could have easily learned how
not to change POV so often, and to stop doing the things that everyone
points out that's "wrong" in her writing, so why hasn't she?

Because she wants the effect that she creates on the page when she
does it the way she does it.”

Let me say this again. STORY RULES.

Some things may never change but people do. Ray and I are basically the same and yet both different now after all these years. Sure, I may think I know him. I may think I understand him. Then he does something unexpected, responds differently that might amuse and even annoy me! One thing is sure, life with Ray will continue to never be boring!

A question for readers:
Can you remember anything in a book (especially like head-hopping) that the writer has done – or not done – which has dragged you out of the story too much? What kind of thing makes you stop reading?

A question for us writers who are always on a learning curve:
Is there anything you may know about techniques of writing a good book but which you find very difficult to understand and put into practice correctly?


  1. Hi Mary
    What great comments! More and more I've come to appreciate deep POV as a writing technique. I've recently been reading the series, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, for review and can't help but notice the head-hopping. It's not so irritating that I want to stop reading but it's irritating enough to pull me up occasionally with the thought: 'This book would be so much better if the point of view was consistent.'

  2. Like so many writers with their first manuscript, I'd never heard of "head-hopping", Anne. It seems that more and more editors these days want change of POV indicated by a double space or even a new chapter. Too many changes in the same scene can certainly drag me out of the story, but as long as not too many times and skillfully done so I know immediately which "head" it does not worry me over much. However, that also depends of course on the power of the story. Story rules!