Judging

“The writing was superb, and for those who say no I ask you a question “Do you have a degree from a university in English? Have you written a novel? If you answered no to both question well you are not qualified as a professional to discuss writing.”

That’s an actual quote from someone to another party who didn’t like the book they were reviewing, but that the commenter liked quite a lot.

And it’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever read. You do not need an MFA, nor do you have to have a published novel  to review books and pass judgment on the writing in a book, just as you don’t need to have played professional football (or to have played football at all) to know that a not-so-stellar quarterback – which, alas, Jax has had over and over and over again – throwing downfield back across his body is a bad idea 99% of the time.

Let me tell you this about writing: there are no rules for the art of writing. But there are rules about the craft of writing. These are two very different realms.

The art of writing may take you to the point of creating your own universe, or only having left handed people in your book, or deciding time is a useless construct.

But the craft of writing means you need to get these things across to people in a manner they can understand, and in a manner that jibes with the world you’re in. Did you write a high fantasy novel? If so, having someone tell another person “Later!” as they’re leaving is poor craftsmanship, and a break in the mindset of the reader.  Did you decide in your literary novel that you were not going to identify any characters, ever, in dialogue, leading to confusion on the part of your readers as to who is saying what? Bad idea. Does your thriller have saidisms absolutely everywhere, with people intoning, muttering, spitting, without them every just saying something – or with people “intoning gravely” or “muttering resignedly” or “spitting angrily” versus “saying”? Not good.

What you do need to do: use grammar properly. If you think you must write in the dialect of one character, don’t do it every time the character speaks, and don’t do a wall of text from that character in dialect. When the character first speaks, sure, do the dialect thing. Then let it go, as you’ve planted it in the mind of the reader. Readers are pretty smart. They’ll get it.

Likewise, make sure your continuity is good.  Unless you are specifically writing third person omniscient, don’t go into all the characters’ heads. And even if you are, don’t head hop in a single paragraph. Don’t switch from first person to third person in the middle of a paragraph or chapter. This is confusing. Don’t change from present tense to past tense in the middle of the book unless you are moving to something that has happened in the past. If you have a character named Stan at the beginning of the book, don’t start calling him Dan somewhere in Chapter Six. If Stan has dark, shoulder-length hair, don’t make him blonde with a buzzcut three chapters later unless you show us this or at least explain it.

And don’t – DO NOT – wade into your one or two star reviews and tell someone who disliked your book that they’re stupid and obviously don’t know what’s going on in the world. That’s a one way ticket to be put on peoples’ “Never Read” list.

DO write your book. DON’T make it boring.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

 

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