Indie writers, I love ‘em, but sometimes . . .

I love indie (also known as self-published) writers. I really do. My Kindle (which I also love) is chock-full of outstanding indie fiction, indie memoir, and indie writing advice. I am in several indie writing communities.

But, I have to tell you that every time someone raises – usually under a flag of neutrality, but sometimes with his freak flag flying and daring you to tell him that some rule actually matters – *takes a breath* Where was I? Oh, yes. Sorry. Whenever someone raises the subject of rules and do we really have to follow them, I just want to reach right through the internet and knock some sense into people.

I could end this now. YES, rules matter. They are there for a reason. DO NOT break them until you are quite sure you completely understand them. Grammar rules. Punctuation rules. Sentence structure rules. Point of View rules. Plotting rules. Sure, most of these can be bent and some can be broken if you’ve got good enough a reason. But if you go breaking them without knowing right down to your bones what you’re doing, you will write a mess.

Point of View is one of those tricky little beasts. I’m not going to write a whole book about point of view. There are are excellent books on that subject. Here are two just off the top of my head:

The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley

Write Great Fiction – Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress

You can find others.

Let me just say now that skipping around merrily from one character to another giving the reader the thoughts of each of them all in the same scene on the same page will eventually wear out our patience. And, no, just because Johnny is kissing Sally at the same time Sally is kissing Johnny we still don’t need to be inside both their minds at the same time.

One last thing. NO! George R.R. Martin is not breaking the rules of POV characters when he uses ONE, count ‘em ONE, POV voice for each separate chapter of his epic Song of Fire and Ice books. Because, ladies and gentlemen, that is the rule: One POV per chapter. It’s been further sliced to one POV per scene but classically and traditionally One POV Per Chapter is totally correct.

Why in the name of all that’s writerly would someone use Martin as an example of someone who is breaking the rules?

My own preference – not always adhered to – is to write in first person. Yes, it’s limiting. I like that. I like showing the reader only what the narrator sees and hears and knows. Because, guess what, the narrator can be wrong. She can trust the wrong person. She can misinterpret what she sees. And she takes the reader right along with her. Then I write third-person chapters (NOT just paragraphs and not usually scenes, usually whole chapters) that take place away from the first-person narrator, showing events of which she has no knowledge.  After all, Joan Hess and Elisabeth Peters use this technique all the time. Not that I’m in their league, you understand. It’s just an effective technique.

I’ve said it before and will no doubt say it again.

Indie writers have got to be BETTER than traditionally published writers. We have to write cleaner, fresher, prose; we have to make fewer typographical errors; we have to create stronger plots and more lifelike characters. We have to be twice as good to be thought half as good.

As long as we settle for almost as good – heck, as long as we settle for the faint praise of “just as good” – we are doomed to live on the edges, kicked to the curb, and ignored.

Even good writers stumble

I like the Alexandra Cooper books written by Linda Fairstein. They have the unmistakable air of “yes, the writer knows her stuff.” And for good reason. Ms. Fairstein was the Chief of the Sex Crimes Unit of the District Attorney’s Office of Manhattan for more than twenty years. The plots all involve a fictional version of this unit.

Linda Fairstein is a good writer, too. She writes compelling stories filled with vivid characters and interesting themes. The books are all first-person point-of-view narration, told by Alexandra Cooper.

Ms. Fairstein can also write a paragraph like this one which appears on page 195 in the paperback edition of Hell Gate:

“Or it’s cash stashed away in shoe boxes in someone’s closet,” Mercer said. He was thinking of the find at Salma Zunega’s apartment today.

The first sentence is fine. The second sentence is all kinds of wrong. First, it’s telling us something. Just telling. One of the Big Rules of Writing is Show Don’t Tell. Second, it’s not in Alexandra’s point-of-view. It’s inside Mercer’s head. Alex can’t know what Mercer is thinking. Big Rule of Writing First-Person Narration: The narrator can know only what’s in his/her own mind. Unless, of course, she’s Sookie Stackhouse and is psychic. Finally, the sentence is that worst of all possible things, unnecessary. The discovery of the shoe boxes filled with money had been made only a few pages before and had taken up quite a lot of attention. Your readers are not stupid. They can remember things for a few pages.

Am I going to fling the book across the room and refuse to read any more because of one clunky paragraph? Of course not. In fact, I recommend that if you like mysteries and haven’t tried the Alexandra Cooper books,  you give them a try.

However, it’s a reminder that even the best writers with the best editors can write some clunkers. If you are thinking of self-publishing a book, be sure you find the best editors you can to help get the clunkers out of your work.


Lightning bugs, doggone it!

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

These are famous words by Mark Twain, a man who knew a thing or seven about picking exactly the right word.

This weekend I read two books by well-known writers. Their names are not the point of this little rant so I won’t mention them. Both writers used the word “disinterested” to mean “uninterested.”

Uh. No. Sorry. Lightning bug!

Disinterested simply is not a synonym for uninterested. Disinterest means impartiality, to be above the argument. A disinterested person is impartial. Uninterested means not to care, to be indifferent. An uninterested person is bored. Not the same thing at all.

Last week I read that a character was “totally nonplussed.” Okay, fine. Except that in the context of the sentence, what the writer meant was not nonplussed (bewildered, at a loss, perplexed) but nonchalant, unfazed. Uh. Really not the same thing.

When you use a word and it’s not the right word, you can say something you completely don’t intend.

The difference between lightning and lightning bugs, people.

And, sometimes, the difference between sense and nonsense.

Rein/Reign/Rain Down on Me

On an infamous and pitiless website, I found this little bit of a sentence today: The Voice reined supreme in the ratings.


Reined? Really? Well, that sentence awoke the pitiless word-snark in me. I see this word confusion all the time. “Reign in your emotions!” or “She reigned in her anger.” Uh, no. That’s “reined in.” Why? Because it’s a figure of speech, comparing the emotion or anger to an out-of-control horse. And the reins in question are metaphorical reins comparable to the literal reins you’d use to control the horse.

However, The Voice reigned supreme. Reigned, not reined. The comparison here is to a ruler, a king who reigns.

If this were the only example of the reined/reigned mix-up, I probably wouldn’t have made this post. But it’s out there everywhere. I think (so far) the only error I haven’t seen is confusing rain for reign or rein. If I find it out there somewhere, I’m sure I’ll froth at the mouth a while and then post about it.

The Gotcha That Bites Back

My much-loved, though occasionally delusional, husband is fascinated by Donald Trump. Therefore, we were watching the latest installment of “Celebrity Apprentice” the other night when I saw yet another example of the “gotcha” that bites.

The men’s team had many problems with its project (an advertisement for The Best Hotel Collection in The Universe — The Trump Collection, as if there were a doubt), including some spelling problems in the rough draft. Their judges smugly pointed out and and circled for the camera, which zoomed in on the text, “discreetly.” The judges chuckled in that superior way and a viewer could almost hear the “gotcha.” Unfortunately for the judges — and why NBC allowed this to remain in the final edit, I have no clue — “discreetly,” as used in the sentence is (wait for it) correct. Apparently the judges have seen “discreetly” misused and spelled “discretely” (also a perfectly good word but with a different meaning) until they don’t know the correct usage when they see it.

I saw the same thing on a blog a week or two ago. The phrase “to whet your appetite” was used. A perfectly good, though possibly overused, expression. Correctly spelled. The first comment was, rather smugly, I thought, “wet, not whet.” The second comment corrected the first. The third, amazingly, was by the first commenter, calling the one who corrected her, and I quote, a “troll.” I’m sure you know what a troll is, one who posts inflammatory ridiculous comments to stir up trouble. No. If anyone was being trollish, it seems to me the incorrect “correcter” was.

What’s the point of all this? I suppose it is just to say we should keep an humble mind. We all make mistakes. There’s a mistake on the back cover of a novel I edited that was published last week. In fact the mistake is in a sentence I actually wrote. I have no idea how it happened. It’s not the type of mistake I normally make — and, trust me, I’m well aware of the types of mistakes I normally make — but there it is. In print. For everyone to see. I’m just hoping it’s not too glaring. And if someone points it out to me, I have a response all ready.

“I know. I’ve already thrown myself on my sword for the author. If you want me to, I’ll throw myself on another one for you.”

Yes, I’m still a bit snarky. But I’m not above making mistakes. And I will do my best to take responsibility for them.

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