Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Rowling's Way or the Publisher's Way?

I’ve been in a bit of a quandary lately. I might even go so far as to call it a crisis of sorts. As many of you who follow this blog are aware, I’m writing a story based around Hogwarts, the school of magic invented by J.K.K. Rowling. Although this all started out as an exercise to discover how Rowling might go about writing another series based on her wizardring world, I’m now using this story to teach myself the art of writing fiction. And believe me; the amount of information I’ve learned so far is staggering.

The thing is, my goal is to write the story as close to Rowling’s style as possible – partly because I feel my style is naturally similar to hers (although still pretty raw) and partly because I have a pet peeve against fan fiction that doesn’t sound as though it was written by the original author.

And therein lies the problem.

I want to use this story as a learning tool, but Rowling’s style breaks a good many of the so-called rules. She often wrote in a distant third person, occasionally drifting into omniscient POV, which American agents and publishers don’t care for as much as their British counterparts (or so I’ve been told). She mixed in a lot of telling along with her showing, her pages were filled with adverbs, and she used a ton of dialogue tags other than “he said.”

Now when I read the HP books, I didn’t notice any of these “rule-breakages” until I began learning the “rules.” Rowling’s style has been described as feeling as though you are being told a story rather than experiencing it, which is supposed to be a bad thing, but personally I often enjoy that style – as did, apparently, legions of her fans. It has to be done well, of course, and the narrator has to have an attitude of some kind (funny, sarcastic, etc.) or it won’t work. But I feel it is a valid style.

The upshot of all this is that I’m always running into situations where my CP reminds me I’m not following the rules I’m supposed to be learning, which can be maddening when I can find Rowling doing the exact same thing in her books. So should I stay with the way Rowling does it or should I follow all the rules?

So what do you think?  I would very much like to hear your opinions.

Thanks for listening.


  1. Ken, I never learned any rules. I've been hammered by grammar and style gurus and loved by readers who didn't notice a "clumsy" adverb and just enjoyed a sexy story. Your story of you yourself is the more compelling to me. The HP books did not succeed because of good or bad style. Stories are what people take away from books. Readers want stories. Writers write stories. Where would her imagination have gone? That is the big issue. Many style issues are simply about fashion. This is my advice. If you like reading her then you will be unconsciously absorbing her style - so go with that. She was too intent on getting out the story to bother too much.

    1. Thanks Emma. My biggest worry is that the agents or publishers that see my next book - one I can actually sell - will immediately dismiss it as not completely following the rules. In that case, any readers who might have been interested in the story will never get a chance to see it.

  2. As the guilty CP, I think you are doing very well balancing Rowling's style with the rules we both dislike to the point of me ranting on my blog about adverbs, etc. I love the Harry Potter ideas and creativity more than distant 3rd POV though, and way more than omniscient. Yet I'm still reading the Artemis Fowl books for their creativity and exciting stories in spite of the head hopping.

    You probably noticed I marked very few adverbs in the last chapter as being better shown because I think you're right about fan fiction following the author's style. Some authors publish anthologies of the best fan fiction. And once you send me some page numbers from farther back in the books, past Rowling's standard omniscient opening, I'll have a better idea of when to call you on the POV issue.

    Oh, I write in more than one style depending on the story, and so can you. So your knowing the rules will help you more when you write something other than fan fiction.

    1. Sheryl, we'll see if you feel the same way after you've read a few more of my chapters. :)

  3. The thing I keep hearing about rules is that you have to know and understand them to be able to break them. It's kind of like- I know I'm not supposed to use adverbs, but sometimes, an adverb is exactly the right kind of word to use. So I use it. I'm betting you're doing a great job of balancing the rules and breaking them when needed :)