Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hey Mom? I Wanna Be a Drug Dealer.

I recently re-read the first forty or so pages of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. It was Fellatia's copy, actually. She and I read Harry Potter when we need a boost, or just need that magical (pun intended) something from our for-pleasure reading.


I read the Harry Potter books before I ever began to write seriously. And I loved them. And I mean the word "love." Harry is my buddy and I'll kick your teeth in if you say otherwise.

Upon reading Book One anew, I was shocked to notice something I never picked up on the first time I read the book as a plain old "reader."

J.K. switches point of view (POV) FOUR times in the first chapter with no breaks or warnings of any kind. The book begins in an omniscient POV, talking about Mr. Dursley and Privet Drive. It then switches to inside Dursley's head. After a few pages, it switches to the cat sitting outside the house (Professor McGonagall). She doesn't even get an entire page before the POV switches one last time to Albus Dumbledore. You could argue that it switches more than that, as I felt her swerving into omniscient territory several times.

If you frequent, well, anywhere in the writing community nowadays, you realize that J.K. should have been strung up by her toenails for daring to attempt a POV switch mid-stream. I'm pretty sure the punishment for doing it four times in one chapter is death by paper cuts. It's CONFUSING to switch POV, dontcha know! It's ALARMING and FRIGHTENING, according to most out there. But funny, when she did it four times I wasn't confused at all. At all. I followed the story and I was hooked. She doesn't even get to the hero's POV until chapter two!

For all my bluster, as an unpublished newbie (especially when I'm writing straight up romance (as opposed to parody)), I do not attempt a POV switch mid-scene, lest I give some poor critique partner the vapors. I rail against the "rules" of writing, but I am cognizant of them, and break them only with intent and a reason, because I understand that these arbitrary things are partially (mostly?) the line items upon which I am judged.

But whither the story?

You've heard of it? Story. The entire reason I pick up a book. Not to count adjectives. Not to shake my head at gerunds. But to get lost in the story. J.K. tells one helluva story, and that's all that matters.

When I go participate in online writer on writer critique exercises, the story is almost never mentioned in the critiques. You'll see a critique like "never use the word 'quite' - it's unnecessary and shouldn't be used", or "try to challenge yourself to say the same thing in ten words." Basically, 100% arbitrary suggestions that miss the point of the story, intent of the scene, and the voice of the writer. Often, anyone with an unusual hook or a distinct idea gets clobbered.

I'm not saying we shouldn't try to improve as writers - all of us can (with the possible exception of Saint Rowling, blessed be) and should, but I hate to see the baby thrown out with the bathwater.

I'll leave you with a few thoughts by Moriah Jovan, author of The Proviso and Stay.

Moriah posts on a writer board I frequent, and the other day she posted this gem*. She's been at this a lot longer than me, so I'll let her take it from here:

In the early/mid 1990s, when I was going to all the conferences and attending the workshops and getting The Rules beat into me by my critique group and chapter mates (who didn't know any more than I did), the Shiny New Rules just coming on the scene were 1) getting rid of all "be" verbs (i.e. "was, were" ALWAYS equals passive voice) and 2) ceasing to head hop ("What's head-hopping?" "Dunno. There's a workshop on it next conference, though.") and 3) getting rid of all -ly and -ing words (regardless of if they were necessary and thus led to needlessly tortuous writing to avoid them).

All of us in my critique group and in my RWA chapter all struggled to change our wild, wicked "be"ing and headhopping and "-ly"ing and "-ing"ing ways. Unfortunately, the basic misunderstanding of the "be" verb ALWAYS equalling passive voice stuck, propagated, and now seems to be written in stone. Same with head-hopping, adverbs, and gerunds. Comes from amateurs teaching amateurs what none of them really know.

It was never about the story. It was always about the hook and the proper amount of tension (GMC before it was coined) and killing passive voice and head-hopping and what's HOT right now!!! I'll tell you what. I've never read a batch of more boring books in my life but they were perfect. we are 20 years later and nuthin's changed.

Whatever my personal feelings about the way Nora or Dan Brown or Stephenie Meyer write, for them, it's about the story. And the readers know that and respond to it because that's all the readers care about.

Readers are junkies and all they want is the next fix of their crack. They may even know it's BAD for them, but by golly, they want it and they'll do what they have to to get it. My goal is to be the drug dealer.

Yes. That's my goal, too.

Let's all be drug dealers!

*Re-posted here with her permission.