I follow lots of blogs and subscribe to newsletters and magazines and work with an editor, through all of which I'm learning all the rules I need to follow to become a successful published author. And it seems there are many. Here are but a few I've picked up so far:
- Your book can't be too long. People don't want to take forever to read it.
- Your description can't be too extensive, lest it bog down the prose.
- Your dialogue has to be minimalist. Your characters should talk like Tonto or Frankenstein's monster. Leave out articles as much as you can.
- If you're forced to choose between detail and pacing, choose pacing.
I'm in the midst of Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It breaks nearly every rule I've ever been told. The descriptions are exhaustively complete, giving minute details that I've been told are just too much and that they slow down the pacing of my book if I try to use them. And the dialogue is positively voluminous. Whole long, uninterrupted paragraphs and even pages of one person talking--and using the same voice that someone would use if he or she were really speaking. None of the shorthand dialogue I've had pushed on me. It's like I'm experiencing the events in real time because I'm hearing every single thing that's said and done. And guess what. I have enjoyed every page. Apparently, so did a lot of people. It was a NYT bestseller, as were its two companion books. As of 2012, the newest statistic I could find with a cursory web search, 73 million copies of his books have sold worldwide.
You may be saying that this is a bad example since he's not American, that Swedes are more literate than we. Except they're not. Plus, many millions of his books have been sold in the States, so Americans do love his books. I'm an American and I've loved his first one so far.
What I'm saying is that I'm starting to think there's but one hard and fast rule: write well. Tell a great story and tell it in a way that makes the reader reluctant to put it down. How that looks will be unique to each writer. And if I tell it well enough, no one's going to care whether I followed the "rules" or not.
So I guess the question for me is, do I do it well enough? I hope I find out someday.