That One Rogue Sentence… Lessons from Best Selling Authors

ancientfutureThere is never a good enough reason to be inactive as a writer. The last few months have been chaos here, but time well spent. While I have been dealing with chronic pain problems and haven’t spent time on my blog, or social media, I have been sitting at the feet of many literary masters and learning from their handiwork. I have been delving into the depths of J R R Tolkien, George R R Martin, Stephen Lawhead, Mary Stewart, Raymond E Feist, Melanie Rawn, J K Rowling, Traci Harding and have read more Terry Pratchett than is probably decent.

It’s superfluous to say that I have learnt a lot. Here are the lessons which have stood out to me the most.

  • A book can be completely perfect in structure, punctuation, grammar, spelling and plot: however, I am noticing that most of these authors have that one rogue sentence which gives away information in an inappropriate place, is completely confusing or messes up the flow of what they are writing. It’s normally in the first three chapters.
  • If you are writing in a manner which describes an accent, or is old world language (such as Shakespearian speech,) you are making your life incredibly hard if you only use it for certain characters. It is too easy to slip out of that voice and it stands out like a sore thumb to the reader.
  • The legends break all the rules. Tolkien writes sentences which are so long, they become confusing. If I wrote like that, my writing mentors would slap me. But, it does add to the flow, so who is right and who is wrong?
  • Ebook formatting seems to have no standards, rules or quality control. Some formats are easier to read than others, thanks to the use of white space. (I have a post coming out on that in September. The blog officially restarts on September 1st.)
  • Using foreign speech alongside a lot of unfamiliar names which have crazy spelling (for example, Welsh) breaks your brain. If you cannot get your head around a character’s name, reading can become hard work and easy to abandon.
  • I know all the arguments about prologues, but they are worth reading! Books make more sense if you don’t skip them.
  • I’ve read two books where I have come to hate the main character. Everything works too easily for them and they became so cut-throat ambitious, I turned against them and will never read any more books in that series.
  • I know it can be wise to kill your darlings, but if you start a series with ‘the good guys,’ then you slowly kill them all off over several books, the reader is left alone and wondering who to cheer on. All that is left is the bad guys. You can overdo it.
  • Never write a massive series that you may not be able to finish. It may be wiser to leave all books as complete, with a teaser to get the reader to pick up the next one. That way, if chaos intervenes, you won’t get stoned for not writing that last tome.

Thank you to all of you for your good wishes and understanding. I hope my health does improve over the next few months and that I can get back to visiting your blogs and being more supportive. I am still very unwell and have become a lab rat, as the pain management doctors try a variety of potions to see if they can make me more comfortable.


16 thoughts on “That One Rogue Sentence… Lessons from Best Selling Authors

  1. Welcome back, Cate, we’ve missed you. But, don’t over do it – look after yourself. I know the pressure social media can place on you, and trying to keep a timetable and your writing. For the sake of my health, I only blog once a fortnight.

    • Tima, fortnightly is a great idea, I wish everyone was so balanced. It will only be twice a week for me. I have never believed in blog daily, I think it becomes poisonous and a time trap.

      Thank you for your lovely comment.

    • Thanks Alana, that’s part of why I wrote that post: I need to remember what stood out to me. Ever since I wrote it, I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that I forgot something…


    • Thanks Susan, I really appreciate your kind comments. It’s lovely to see your avatar in the comments again. (Its lovely and distinctive, I find faces can become a blur after awhile.)

      Take care.

  2. I hope things get better. Very interesting points. I was amazed when I read that Agatha Christie wrote the ending to his Poirot series (I think she did the same for Miss Marple) many years in advance and then locked it up leaving strict instructions that it should only be published if and when she was no longer able to carry on working. She was a fascinating woman but I get it´s a very interesting way of avoiding leaving a saga incomplete. It evidently would not work if you´re writing it as you go along, but if you have the end very clear in mind…

    • Hi Olga, Agatha was a very wise woman, in so many ways… If I thought I could achieve any kind of fame, I’d be tempted to do the same thing!

      I think the problem with the author I was referring to and yes, it was George R Martin and the Game of Thrones series, was if you read interviews with him, he gets himself into some corners that would be a total nightmare to write himself out of. I wonder if HE knows how he wants the series to end?

      Best wishes.

  3. Some great tips here, thank you for sharing!

    I hope you feel better soon, and am looking forward to your return :) You have to do what you can manage and no more, after all, life and helath are more important!

  4. Great advice in this post Cate. The post itself reads at a pace that suggests you were taking a breather and getting out some important information before having a rest. You are a star in the blogosphere and we are all out here wishing you well, and of course we’re all looking forward to September. Take care my friend – be selfish on that one.

  5. Sorry to hear you are in pain. Thinking of and praying for you, Cate. I’m sure you have your reasons for setting yourself a 2 a week blogging schedule, but I personally will be very happy to read you whenever and however frequently.

    • Thank you for your kind words Charlie. I refuse to blog every day, as we are often told to do. It leads to burnout and losing time needed to write other things, as far as I can see, anyway. That is why I am on two posts a week. I was on three, but that’s out the window for now.


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