East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

All the right rules

Leave a comment

support-authorDo you guys read reviews on Amazon, or Goodreads?
I do – not only those for my books, but also those for other people’s books.
I try and write a few reviews, too – feedback is important, and it’s good to try and help spread the word about good books.

So, yesterday, I was waiting for dinner time browsing a few amazon reviews, and I chanced upon a thing that sort of scared me.

No, really, I was scared.

It was a three-star review on Amazon.
I won’t reprint it here – it basically said the story sucked big time, the plot did not hold etc.
OK, I can believe it.
There were other, more positive reviews, but it’s ok to disagree.
So, bad book.
But, the reviewer said, the story deserved three stars

… Because the author follows most of the correct rules and proper techniques of writing.

And this frankly left me aghast.


Because I could only envision this guy sitting in his chair, with his ereader, and a pencil, and a checklist.
Not reading, but keeping score.
Like in a frigging figure skating competition*.
Not enjoying the ride, not letting the story carry him – or, if the book in question really sucks, failing at capturing him, ok, but failing on a narrative level.
No, screw the narrative – he was checking out technique and rules, to see the author had used the right ones.
The right rules, for crying out loud!

I’m scared as hell of this sort of reader, because quite frankly I do not have the slightest idea of what rules, in their mind, are the right rules.

Now, wait a minute.
There are rules in writing?
Sure there are – but the basic rule of writing is that whatever works is ok.
Writing is also developing the sort of instincts that tells you that, yes, whatever you’re doing, works.
Granted, undying masterpieces and absolute rubbish have been produced through the ages by sticking to some rules, or by contradicting and subverting them.
Because it’s not the rules, it can’t be the rules – if the rules were the essential part of writing, we could program computers to write novels.
But we can’t.
We still have to produce our own rubbish – and our own masterpieces.

And anyway, whatever these rules and these techniques may happen to be, they are none of the reader’s business.
Absolutely none.
The reader should be there for the story, not for the frigging instruction handbook I used or failed to use.

The idea of publishing in a market in which the public keeps score of the rules instead of enjoying the story is absolutely scary.

* And no, I’m pretty sure in figure skating, too, technique is subordinated to other less objective factors.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.