Deep POV: Confessions of a Christian Writer

The ramblings of an emergent-realistic-edgy-working-for-God-and-the-pay-isn’t-that-great-sometimes-confused-christian-fiction writer (uh, that would be me).

Monday, September 12, 2005

Breaking the Rules

I spent the month of August reading books by Susan Howatch who is not only a favorite writer, but someone I'd like to pattern myself after ... in certain ways. After reading (and in some cases, rereading) the books from her Church of England series (Glittering Images, Glamorous Powers, Ultimate Prizes, Scandalous Risks, Mystical Paths, and Absolute Truths) plus the three books in her St. Benet series (The Wonder-Worker, The High Flyer, and The Heartbreaker), I can testify that good storytelling will always triumph over craft (see the post just preceding this one to get an idea what I'm talking about). Here is a list of rules that Howatch breaks:

* She uses many exclamation points
* She also uses CAPITALIZATIONS when she wants her characters to shout/or something to stand out.
* She occasionally uses more than one exclamation point.
* She starts many of her stories, which are always in first-person, with many pages of backstory (although, I admit, it's easier to get away with that in first-person).
* She lets her characters talk in long sections of dialogue that often have few tags and attributions.
* She lets her characters talk for pages and pages of dialogue as they tell their story, in a manner that could never be confused with the way two people would naturally speak.
* She inserts long speeches where a character expounds on this heresy, or that theological point of view. (Many of her characters are clergy.)
* She does not use commas in cases where serial commas ought to be in place. (I wonder if this isn't a British writing rule of some kind.)

And yet, what she does works. She writes huge books that are probably between 150-200K (and I think she wrote at least one that was even larger than that), yet they fascinate from the first page to the last. Even as a writer, I note, then utterly dismiss her "shortcomings" as nonsense because her stories are so enthralling. Her character studies are amazing and the way she combines Christian spirituality and psychology without at all compromising the former in favor of the latter is a wonder to behold. Yes, she's a well-established writer with a track record, so I cannot do what she can do in terms of rule breaking. Still, it's interesting.

Just remember though, fellow unpubbed writers: first you have to know the rules and then you can break them! (Sometime after you're published.)