The openings of at least half the adult novels I’ve read lately were eerily similar. Each story started with an action beat. A character slammed, banged, or shoved something or other. Pages had few, if any, prepositional phrases and were devoid of adverbs and filter words. (Filter phrases such as “I/she thought” and “I/he felt” pull the reader out of deep point of view, or POV.) Narrative was minimal. Most description and background information was worked into the dialogue, which was the only place that had a distinctive voice. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed reading most of these stories. But I’d like to know if anyone else has noticed that some novels published today follow the same rules so closely that they appear to be written by the same author.
On the other hand, I’m reading a YA novel titled My Beautiful Disaster by Michelle Buckman. It breaks all the rules I try so hard to follow. Telling, not showing, makes up the first five pages. But I kept reading! The story is loaded with filtering. The main character felt, thought, doubted, imagined, etc., so I wasn’t in deep point of view. But I kept reading—because the story read as though a friend confided in me. Adverbs were sprinkled throughout. They didn’t bother me at all! They told me what I needed to know in a fraction of a second so I could move forward quickly (tee-hee).
My Beautiful Disaster was published in 2007, so maybe that was before these rules became widely enforced. You’d think this book might employ a high concept to keep the reader engaged in spite of breaking the rules, but that’s not the case. It’s just one of those stories about ordinary events that makes me care enough about a few of the characters to want to learn what will happen to them.
In general, YA fiction authors dare to break rules more often than others do. I’m not a fan of anything way out there, but as long as prose adheres to the precepts of good English and has an engaging story, I tend not to complain.
In my recently completed manuscript, The Other Side of Freedom, I started out using more prepositional phrases than I perhaps would use now. I knew firsthand from hearing my ancestors speak that the Italian immigrant characters, including my young main character, would’ve used a lot of prepositional phrases in translating Italian to English. I can still hear my grandmother and other relatives talking in my head today. Trying to follow the current rules, I wound up eliminating a good many prepositions in the manuscript, but did I damage the authentic voice in doing so?
I’m curious what other writers, readers, and publishing professionals think of this phenomenon–that following the same set of popular rules may destroy the unique quality of our writing. I wonder if the pendulum is about to swing in the opposite direction, away from the rules that many authors now follow and back to styles of writing found in previous decades.
Having said all that, I’m still a huge fan of deep point of view and also admire a clean writing style, often avoiding books that are too wordy.
Have you noticed a similarity in style between novels by different authors who obviously follow the same set of rules? Have you enjoyed a novel published in the last year or two that breaks many of the rules mentioned here?