More rules, you say. Yes, and they are probably also wrong. What is true is that editors like to find excuses to reject, and it's better not to give them any. On the other hand, they aren't always right.
On Linton's long post, there are simply too many assertions I disagree with for me to itemize. I suspect it would do little good anyway. We're just not going to see the process of writing a novel the same way.
I mostly agree with John M., except that there is more involved for me than voice, but I do not write in 1st person, at least not in my series. When I do write in 1st, it is important because it is part of the character and his/her personality and also signals to the reader whether the character can be trusted.
The best teacher I ever had (not a writing teacher) always said no one can teach you anything; everything is learned throuhg trial and error to some extent. A teacher shows you a shortcuts, different ways of looking at things until the point sinks in, and encourages during the inevitable frustrations. How-to books and writing classes can be helpful here, especially for fledgling writers. "The writing is flabby, needs cutting." What to cut? It's easy to say you could have said in eight words what you used thirteen to convey, but which words are superfluous and why? Different books will explain this different ways, and, with luck, sooner or later one will resonate with you. After a certain point, what you really need to learn to do is to read critically. Then everything you read should be a "Hoe to" (Or "How NOT to" book.
I think the Internet promulgates writing myths, too: interminable lists of dewz and dontz to which the perspiring inspired ascribe. Your first sentence MUST hook your reader. Your chapters MUST include X-number of scenes. You MUST use a particular point of view. Your story arc MUST proceed in a particular way. Certainly, these things are good suggestions; but are they written in stone? Absolutely not.
Write your story. Understand that mechanics do matter. It is pure, unadulterated hogwash that no matter how bad your writing might be, some editor/agent/publisher out there is going to clutch your tome to his chest and give you a six-figure advance. Bad writing is--well--bad. Read a handful of self-published books if you don't believe me. Many writers who publish in that category do so because they simply will not accept that their writing and their stories need improvement.
Accept that writing is hard work. Regardless that writing is an art, it--like anything else worth doing--is HARD. And so it should be. Industry professionals demand excellence. They want tightly written, well-crafted manuscripts that don't have to be fumigated before they are read. And those manuscripts must be salable. That means the story must be something the reading public will want to read. Something they'll tell their friends about. Something the local librarian can't keep on the shelf. That cuts most family stories and memoirs out of the herd.
Those aspiring to this craft should learn it, and keep in mind that everything they submit is a reflection of who they are. Writers have one opportunity to make an impression on an editor, and agent, or a publisher. One chance. If you had one chance at a job, what would you do? You'd dress your best, you'd be professional, you'd sweat your butt off. The same applies to your writing.
I agree with Pate and others who have posted here. If you want to write novels, read novels. And read analytically. Determine how the fiction you love grabs you. Develop your own voice--your own cadence, rythmn, literary flow. Worry less about what the Pundits of Momentarily Momentous Merit have to say about how you should do it, and just do it. Make the work your own.
If it's good, you'll sell it. It just takes work. And did I say luck? That, too.
Well, actually abominably bad books are bought with high advances, fixed up a little at publisher's expense, and heavily promoted, to reach bestseller status. But it is also true that agents and editors weed out most of the true crap.
Oh, yeah~~~I've read a heap of that, too, mostly from popular authors who keep writing after they are out of stories to tell. Regardless--comparing self-pubbed to mainstream--the latter remains a far superior product.
You look around on newbie boards and find people sweating over whether or not you can have two "protagonists". (Writers would be FAR, FAR better off never having heard that word by the way--and damned if I've ever seen any way the word can help anybody) or how often you can change POV or if their POV is "third omniscient" or "third intimate" or "third inclusive". The become those centipedes that can't walk because somebody told them to think about it.BB
Boy, howdy! There is always someone, somewhere who's going to put the devil in the details, isn't there? I think that much of this emphasis on writers' nomenclature is just a way of falsely professionalizing one's conversation~~you know~~making those discussing writing sound like doctors quibbling over the resection of a uvula or the rebuilding of a hammer toe. Pppfffffttttt!
Sit around with a bunch of writers who actually derive income and pay taxes as a result of their work. Their discourse ain't protagonists or person. It's kids, family, money, love, politics, deadlines, and editors. When fiction writers talk about their work, they tend to talk about things like moving a character from point 'A' to point 'B' and, "Hey, guys, doesn't this bit of dialogue make this guy sound like a dweeb~~~or is it just me?" In other words, they aren't worrying about the 'who', 'what', or 'where' of a story--they already know that. But they do sometimes puzzle over the 'how'.
At the end of the day, 'how' is what matters most. And it's personal.
I believe in rules. I think fiction/storytelling is a craft that writers from other disciplines need to learn. Do you believe Vincent Van Gogh or Paul Gauguin just sat down and started painting masterpieces? Didn't they learn how to draw portraits first, or bowls of fruit, learn about light and shadow, mixing colors? Certainly you can learn from other writers, but be careful. As others suggest here, many bestsellers and popular series writers break the rules. They write fiction poorly, and following their mistakes -- thinking it's okay to make them yourself -- could keep you from finding an agent or publisher.
Elmore Leonard gave these ten tips to fiction writers. I use them as my rules, not only when writing, but when editing fiction. You can break them if your story dictates, but know that you on shakey ground:
1. Never open a book with weather.
If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a character's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.
2. Avoid prologues.
They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.
There is a prologue in John Steinbeck's ''Sweet Thursday,'' but it's O.K. because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: ''I like a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the guy's thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That's nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don't have to read it. I don't want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.''
3. Never use a verb other than ''said'' to carry dialogue.
The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with ''she asseverated,'' and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ''said'' . . .
. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances ''full of rape and adverbs.''
5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.
6. Never use the words ''suddenly'' or ''all hell broke loose.''
This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use ''suddenly'' tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavor of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories ''Close Range.''
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway's ''Hills Like White Elephants'' what do the ''American and the girl with him'' look like? ''She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.'' That's the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.
9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
Unless you're Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you're good at it, you don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he's writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character's head, and the reader either knows what the guy's thinking or doesn't care. I'll bet you don't skip dialogue.
Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can't allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It's my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)
I like books that get me as close to the characters in the books without anything in between.
I'm not interested in descriptions of people and things, I've seen a million pictures in my life. I like writing that gets the feeling of the people and the places across, not the look.
Books written in the same style (or close to the same style) that they were before there were movies and TV don't work well for me. I realize I am less educated and less well-read than most writers (and even most readers) but I'm not less-lived.
I've had this discussion with editors and copy editors, they usually say that the narration must have proper English Composition, but the dialogue doesn't always have to follow the rules. I disagree. I don't like the disconnect between the dialgue and the narration, that's the "authorial voice," I don't like. I want to be right there with the characters, not have my old high school English teacher tell me a story.
Especially the kind of story I like to read. And I do like to read. There aren't as many books published "for me," because of my tastes but I get by.
This isn't a a style of writing for people who don't like to read, it's a style of writing for people who aren't interested in "Writing," but rather in stories and people.