by Martha Rogers
I love a good story, but recently I have read two good stories by a multi-published author that left me shaking my head. If the story hadn’t been good, I would have tossed the book aside. Things like head-hopping or changing point of view within a scene with no warning and beginning sentences with words that end with -ing had me pausing all the time and shaking my head. I had to go back a few times to figure out how and why the POV changed.
Some writers do a great job with story and head-hopping within scenes, but they do it such a way the reader is given clues to the changes in such a way the reader barely notices. This takes talent, but it can be done.
I will keep reading if the author creates characters who capture my attention and make me care about what happens to them. If the plot isn’t predictable in a formulaic sort of way, I keep reading. I enjoy books that lead down roads with twists and turns with surprises along the way, and the author ties it all together in a satisfying ending.
We’ve heard it said so many times that the story is most important. In the case of the author I mentioned in the first paragraph, she did all the things to make her readers keep the pages turning even though she didn’t follow all the “rules” of writing. This was one of those stories that if I had been grading it as I did the papers of my college students, it would have earned an A for content and a D- for mechanics.
When I first started teaching English, I figured I was pretty safe because the English language and its rules didn’t change like math and science. HA! Was I ever wrong about that. Sometimes head hopping, poor sentence construction, and grammatical mistakes are more prevalent in self-pubbed books that have not been professionally edited, but it can happen to those from a recognized publisher also. Mistakes get by even in the galley proofs. If I don’t read mine word for word and line by line, I can easily miss something, and I have. However, when misplaced modifiers and dangling participles happen frequently, then I wonder why.
With the way rules and guidelines change, all of us are better off following our publisher’s style sheet and being familiar with the Chicago Manual of Style. In addition, we have so many authors competing for the open slots at publishing houses that we all have to put our best foot forward when writing the stories dancing in our heads.
Martha Rogers is a free-lance writer and was named Writer of the Year at the Texas Christian Writers Conference in 2009 and writes a weekly devotional for ACFW. Martha and her husband Rex live in Houston where they enjoy spending time with their grandchildren and attending football, baseball, and basketball games when one of the grandchildren is playing or performing. She is a member of several writing groups. A former Home Economics teacher, Martha loves to cook and experimenting with recipes and loves scrapbooking when she has time. She has written two series as well as several other novels and novellas. Her most recent release is Love Finds Faith, which released in February.