Friday, June 26, 2009

Styles vs. Rules

A couple of days ago I wrote a message to a fellow writer who is feeling a bit overwhelmed with all he is learning about writing Christian fiction in today’s world. I have his permission to post here what I wrote him.

A lot of what you are going through is familiar territory to me. I came to our writing group 2 1/2 yrs ago with a WIP [work in progress] I'd written years ago, and I hate to admit that I've been working every since to "bring it into today's writing styles." Among the many things I've learned and tried to put into practice are the likes of point of view (POV), sprinkling back story instead of dumping it, showing instead of telling, weeding out to be verbs and -ly words.

To keep my sanity in all this, I've come to distinguish between "rules" and "style." Subject-verb agreement is a rule, so is using the right tense of a verb. How often you say "he said-she said" or whether you say "arid" instead of "very dry" is a matter of style. Even the now-notorious "head-hopping" is a matter of current style; it didn't used to be an issue, even twenty years ago.

The point is that if we want to sell in today's market, we have to learn to write mostly in today's style -- i.e., what editors are publishing these days. One of the reasons for that is that our world has changed, people have changed, our culture has changed. Today's TV-saturated brains are used to quick changes and seeing everything--not to having it described as in Kaye's favorite example of the audience Dickens wrote for.

All this is immensely complicated by the fact that we are supposed to do that without abandoning, or losing, our own “voice,” which is pretty close to the same as our own style. Impossible? An oxymoron? Sometimes it feels that way, but it must not be since so many seem to be succeeding these days.

Sixteen months ago I started a blog in which I've talked about some of my struggles and challenges. It occurred to me that you might find some of them helpful. I did a quite stab in the dark and found one that says some of what I've tried to say here but which might also serve as a starting point to browse some of the others. The blog is at, and that particular one at For whatever it's worth....

Above all, hang in there! We're glad you're a part of our group, and if we can help you as others have helped us--well, that's pretty much what a writing group is about, no?

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