The Prompter Room

For Sunday, February 28, 2016:


“There are three rules for writing a novel.  Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

W. Somerset Maugham

“Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does, or music.  If you are born knowing them, fine.  If not, learn them.  Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself.”

Truman Capote

I’m reading a novel right now that doesn’t fit the ‘rules’ – at least it doesn’t fit some standard editing rules.  As much as I want to go through it with a blue pencil, though, it’s become a good story.  It’s a very long book – here’s someone who is actually wordier than I am! – and it took me a little while to get invested in the story and the people who inhabit it, but now I find I will miss the characters when I finish it tonight.

This is one author who has rearranged the rules to suit herself who has made it work.  I’ve read other, non-fiction, work by this particular writer that I liked, so I decided to stick with this novel.  In this case I’m glad I did.

One thing I like about this writer is that she started her novel the old-fashioned way: slowly.  She didn’t jump the reader into the middle of an action-packed car chase or fight scene right at the beginning, like so many books do nowadays.  She’s given herself room in this 30-year saga to develop her characters.  They become our friends and neighbors, we understand the ‘perspectives of light and shade’ they grow into and out of.

I’d forgotten how much I enjoy the slower, casual pace of introducing characters and plot that I grew up reading.  I see a definite advantage for the more immediate immersion technique – and, in fact, have written about it in these pages – but there’s also much to be said for the story that plays out like most of our lives, moment by moment, step by step.  It’s more familiar.

I do wish the author had broken up her paragraphs more.  Some are a full page long.  That’s not just the editor in me speaking – it’s hard for me as a reader to wade through long paragraphs, especially when they contain both dialogue and narrative description, and they go on and on … and on.

Maybe it’s my aging eyes, maybe it’s my early journalism training (one to three sentences per graph, and preferably only one), but I’ve become rather ornery about overly-long paragraphs.  That is one rule I wish she had stuck to.

Still, we readers are forgiving people, for the most part.  This particular novel – I discovered when I brought it home from the library – is the second in a trilogy.  Each book stands alone, but I’m intrigued enough to search out the other two parts now.  Even though the paragraphs (and punctuation) are, in my opinion, still in the first or second draft stage, the author’s development work of and for her characters and their story is first rate.

This is one author who seems to have found at least one of those three unknown rules.


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