OK, I'm trying to learn about writing.  I'm barely a writer, or not yet, or something.  And about anything I know about it, I learned from folks who have been writing and selling their stuff for a while now.

But what I'm wondering about is if all the "lesson" you see and info you get is worth a hoot.  I thought of asking about this because of a discussion here on "head-hopping".  Frankly I doubt there is such a thing, and whenever I ask somebody to define it, I don't get any answers.

But how about all the other stuff you get told?  I guess I'm not in a position to judge it all, but some of the stuff is pretty blatantly BS.   And a lot of it is people you saying you shouldn't do things that it's pretty obvious get done all the time by writers who obviously do know what they're doing, and getting lots of readers and sales.

Most of the time, I look up profiles or websites for "gurus" and it looks like the only books they ever sold were books on how to write or how to market books.  I might be wrong, but that doesn't seem to be a qualification, to me.   I see people who teach college courses saying things that just seem pretty crazy.  Like,  "The first sentence must convey an image that is central to the narrative arc of the entire book."   

So, what do you people think?  Peeps who are selling their work?  How much of this info is crap?

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Definition of head hopping: a poorly executed shift from one character's point of view to another's so that the reader doesn't know, or isn't sure of, or isn't right about, which character is now narrating the story. The reader's uncertainty or erroneous belief about who is narrating only has to happen briefly for it to disrupt enjoyment of the fiction.

Sometimes the term is used a bit more loosely to describe when point of view shifts within the same scene even though it was done well and the reader could follow the shift with ease. If you wish to avoid head hopping while writing a multiple point of view novel, then stick with one point of view per scene.

See, the problem I have with that is that it's only definied in terms of what the reader understands.  Which is either unavailable to us,  or a projection by the critic.  

You see it used interchangeably with "multiple POV" all the time in discussions and post by "experts".

So you end up with something like an art critic saying "Uses too much blue".  Who the hell can make that call?  

And the "one POV" per scene thing doesn't seem to have much consensual packing.  People don't seem to agree on whether it's "OK" to shift once per scene or per chapter or never or whatever.

The people who have helped me the most say it's not even a real thing.  And, in fact, that POV is not even a term a writer should think about, just let it flow out of the voice he or she is writing in.

POV is definitely real. It is the basis of fiction. Characters tell a story, not authors.  

I once took a course at UCLA from author Susan Taylor Chehak who has won some major awards and been nominated for others and has a lot of famous writer friends in the LA area, including Carolyn and Lisa See, and one day after class I asked her:

"When you get together with your famous writer friends and talk writing, what do you talk about?"

Her answer: "Point of view, point of view, point of view."

You see it used interchangeably with "multiple POV" all the time in discussions and post by "experts".

Anyone who mixes up head hopping and multiple POV is no expert!

As for the self-help books on writing fiction, yeah, there is a lot of it and a lot isn't very good.

But there is some really good stuff out there. I only read stuff from truly credentialed people, i.e., books written by successful authors or editors.

It's kind of weird, to me.  My background is sports, and you don't see a whole lot of people with no records running around coaching people to do things they just make up out of their own heads.  Ah, well....  :-)

Donald Maass is a top agent. He writes good fiction writing books.

Boy, you are really surveying the swamp before you sitck your toe in. And rightly so.  There are those who realize that writers are so desperate to be accepted that they'll spend tons of money in an attempt to get published and be successful. As one who has a number of battle scars, here's my best advice (and I am still striving to be successful).

Read successful authors in your preferred genre. Get a feel for plot, how characters are portrayed and compare various styles.  Then determine which approach you like and what best fits you.

See if you can find a local writers' group you can join. Regular feedback on what you've written will help a bunch.

When you've got something that you feel is ready to publish find an editor.  But check out that 'editor's' credentials.  I once spent $3,000 that I didn't have on a couple who were running an editing mill and returning a very shoddy product.  The state attorney general had so many complaints he finally shut them down.  Be wary before you part with your money.

A a famous editor named Sol Stein used to offer software that helped a writer ask the right questions about what he/she was writing.  I learned a lot from it and my writing improved significantly.  I don't know it it's still available, but I thought it was worth the several hundred dollars it cost.

Off the top of my head, that's my best advice. Good luck!  



I'm on record as opposing rules. However, before you oppose rules, you have to know them.  Some rules are broken at your peril.  In that context, before you are a writer, you must be a reader.  If you do not know what the reading experience is like, you cannot judge the effect of "head-hopping" and other blunders.  You also haven't learned much without having read many books first.

As for how-to-books:  there is a big market for these.  A fiction writer in need of money/sales commonly sets out to do a how-to-book on how to write.  Lots of people buy these.

POV is a device a writer uses to tell the story.  The pov character becomes the eyes and ears of the reader, reporting on events. Choosing the right pov or several povs is important, since the author may want to get in the head of a number of characters.  Usually, pov characters establish themselves as trustworthy reporters, but now and then you get a pov from someone you do not like or believe. That can make for an interesting engagement between reader and story but is hard to carry off.  I am told that "omniscient pov" has gone out of fashion, but this rule is also broken, as when an author steps in to announce something the pov character cannot possibly know, i.e. "Little did he know that he would die this day."  It's done to increase suspense.

I've read some how-to books that taught me a lot, and some that taught me squat. A rule of thumb, for me, is whose writing examples do they use? If a writer you know and respect quotes his own work, that's one thing. For someone who hasn't earned quite such a reputation--at least with you--the quotes should come from other, more successful writer.

The best thing a self-help book can do is to teach you how to look for examples when you read others' work, which will tell you which ideas work for you, and which won't. Good advice for me may not be good advice for you. It's not unlike writing teachers or mentors. The best try to help you become the best writer you can be, within your skill set and tastes, not to get you to write a certain, pre-determined way.

It's like anything else: the best teachers teach you how to learn. The best teacher I ever had (a musician) told me no one can teach you anything. Everything is learned, usually through trial and error, then by repetition. A teacher's job is to recommend paths to take to help you keep away from dead ends, and to encourage.

It really depends what you want to get out of your writing. It can be like sports, do you want to play a little pick-up with your friends or do you want to be a pro? Is there a top athlete in the world who doesn't have a team of coaches and psycholigists working with them?



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