I've been on a book buying binge as of late, meaning I'll have quite a bit of reading to do in the coming weeks. Along the way, I'll have a chance to think about the books I read and recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each.
One of the books I recently bought was The Catcher In The Rye. It's an interesting read for more than just the main character, but how it was written -- and how it might violate some of the rules that writers should follow today.
The biggest violation of today's rules would be the long paragraphs. Writers are encouraged to break up long paragraphs so that it's easier on a reader's eye. Consider that J.D. Salinger ignored that rule and you might ask yourself how in the world his book could have caught the interest of readers.
No, I don't believe it was because the rules for writing back when The Catcher In The Rye was published are different. It's what made the book work, and that's the voice he brings to the main character, Holden Caufield. Salinger's first-person writing conveys the idea that Caufield is telling you his story and what he's experiencing. Caufield is believable as a teenager who finds himself unable to fit in with the world around him.
Salinger's strengths come through the writing and allow him to get away with those long paragraphs most of the time. Granted, those long paragraphs won't keep every reader's attention drawn, but the voice he utilizes makes it easy to see why the novel held strong appeal when it was released.
In critiquing other's work, I've examined what the writer's strengths are and what areas the writer can improve. I've made sure to talk about their strengths so they know what is working and how they can build on that. For whatever I find to be weak points, the writer can decide when it's good to change them or if the strong points are enough to overcome the weak.
Of course, I believe some rules of thumb writers follow have changed over time, as writers thought more about what works and what doesn't. But there may be times when it's OK to break, or at least bend, a couple of those rules if a writer finds something that everyone says works well. The writer just needs to emphasize those strong points, so that the weak points don't bother most readers.
No writer is going to be perfect at anything. That's why it's good for every writer to recognize his or her strengths and use them well, while recognizing areas to improve. Trying to get everything right can be a difficult task, but building on one's strengths means the best chance for a book most readers will enjoy.