Gradually I became aware that there were lots of quasi-rules about what constituted 'good' writing, and one of them was precisely not to do this sort of random switching of perspective. I still like to 'head hop' to an extent - I'd feel cramped in only one person's perspective for a whole book - but I do now try to make sure that if we're in one character's POV, I don't switch out of it till there's a change of scene break. So that's one thing I've learned on the job.
Another rule that came to my attention after a while was that over-use of adjectives and adverbs was rather looked down on. I got slightly cross at this, as I like adjectives and adverbs (you may have noticed). In my science-geek kind of way, I went hunting for them in my favourite authors' books.
But... there's one rule that evades me, and it's the oft-quoted 'show not tell'. I think I know what it means, and I sort of agree with the more egregious examples that are usually put forward to illustrate it. Clearly saying, 'She was very worried about the spot on her nose' is less effective than saying, 'She stood in front of the mirror and peered at the spot on her nose. It was like a beacon in the middle of her face.' But when it comes to less obvious examples, I find myself flailing. Is it 'telling not showing' to say that your character 'frowned in bemusement'? And if you were gong to 'show' this bemusement, how would you do it? Isn't it sometimes a useful short-cut for both yourself and your reader to do a bit of telling?
review of Diana Wynne Jones's Enchanted Glass by Marcus Sedgwick. It was, he noted, 'item number one on day one of Creative Writing 101' and yet Jones happily (and to great effect) ignored it, saying such things as 'Aiden discovered that he really, really liked Andrew'. At the time, I was reading Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, and the idea that good authors 'show not tell' struck me as highly amusing. Tolstoy spends his whole time teling us exactly what his characters feel, think and experience. (By coincidence, I'm ploughing through War and Peace at the moment and opening a random page gives me 'Princess Mary could not understand the boldness of her brother's criticism' as well as, a paragraph on, 'she felt the sensation of fear and respect which the old man inspired in all around him'. See what I mean?)
I feel incredibly lucky that I managed to become a published author, and even luckier that I've managed to carry on writing. I really enjoy what I do, and after all, all professions involve some learning on the job. But there are times when I wish I had the funds and time to go and do an MA in Creative Writing - now that I know how much I don't know - and, among other things, nail once and for all that pesky 'show not tell' rule...
Cecilia Busby writes fantasy adventures for children aged 7-12 as C.J. Busby. Her latest book, The Amber Crown, was published in March by Templar.
"Great fun - made me chortle!" (Diana Wynne Jones on Frogspell)
"A rift-hoping romp with great wit, charm and pace" (Frances Hardinge on Deep Amber)