Getting noticed and published by a traditional publisher has always been hard for new authors--and each year it seems to get harder. There are so many industry standards and writing rules that authors must write by until they have the sales to back them up and they can break those rules.
1. Show, Don't Tell
Too often it is drilled into writers' heads to show a scene unfolding, don't tell the reader about it. Jane Austen breaks this cardinal rule throughout her books and in almost every scene she wrote. Below I have pulled an excerpt from Sense & Sensibility.
The carriages were then ordered; Willoughby's was first, and Marianne never looked happier than when she got into it. He drove through the park very fast, and they were soon out of sight; and nothing more of them was seen till their return, which did not happen till after the return of all the rest.
Here is an example of how it could have been written to show rather than tell. I've written are article on The Big Show Vs Tell Debate.
He climbed in beside her and snapped the reins. The horses launched into a canter and the curricle rolled down the lane leaving a cloud of dust trailing behind them. Marianne laughed in delight and gripped her hat to keep it from blowing away.
2. Cut Unnecessary Words
While Jane Austen's writing style is of another time in our history when people generally talked different, the way she phrased her sentences is often too wordy. Today's readers would never tolerate such wordiness from a new writer, and therefore, neither would today's publishers. Below is another example from Sense & Sensibility.
The sudden termination of Colonel Brandon's visit at the park, with his steadiness in concealing its cause, filled the mind, and raised the wonder of Mrs. Jennings for two or three days; she was a great wonderer, as every one must be who takes a lively interest in all the comings and goings of all their acquaintance.
It could have been simply stated: For several days, Mrs. Jennings continued to wonder about the reason behind Colonel Brandon's sudden departure.
3. No Head-Hopping, Stay in One POV
The chapters often begin in an omniscient POV, giving a general description of the scene and the feelings and viewpoint of each character. At various times the scenes will swap between Elinor and Marianne's point of view, and on occasion, even their mother within the same scene. Writers today are not allowed to head-hop, which is switching from one character's POV within the same scene without a transition, scene or chapter break.
4. Be Consistent
This may have only been an editing mistake, but there are times when the girls' mother is referred to as Mamma and as Mama. The spelling variations are not always consistent. Writer's today are taught the rule of consistency. If we choose to spell something one way, stay with it throughout the story. For example if you start out spelling inquiry, you cannot later use the spelling of enquiry.
I have only listed a few cardinal writing rules, but these few are enough to cause a new writer of today to be rejected by most publishers. Jane Austen would not be published by today's standards without further editing. Because her work is well-known and considered a classic, today's readers still buy and read her work. She still sells more than most midlist authors of today.
What about you? When you read a Jane Austen novel, does it bother you to read through the wordiness and the difficult writing style? As a reader, you may not be aware of these writing rules, do you notice these issues in an author's writing?
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