Monday, April 12, 2010

Breaking the Rules

This one's for you, Lady Glamis!

As aspiring, or even published writers, we all know there are tons of rules out there! Tons, people, tons.

No adverbs.

No adjectives.

No repetition.

No this . . .

No that . . .

No this or that . . .

And so on and so on and so on . . . ad nauseum! Arrrrrrrrrrrghhhh.

Then, there's the old saying rules are made to be broken! I love that rule. In fact, that's pretty much my motto.

Now, the folks over at Write It Sideways have an excellent post about breaking rules. Check it out here. Some very famous and successful authors have broken the rules and . . .

. . . the world as they, or we for that matter, know it did not end.

Agents heads did not explode upon reading the prose from these talented individuals.

The main question asked in the post (please tell me you've clicked over and read it) is: how did these authors get away with breaking the rules?

Well, to simplify things, I'm posting here . . . but . . . go read the post here:

There are a number of reasons why these authors managed to achieve success regardless of breaking the rules.

1.There are exceptions to every rule. Not every rule applies to every book. It takes experience and discernment to know when to follow them, and when to throw them out the window.

2.Story trumps all. The storytelling in each of these books is good enough to cancel out any rule-breaking annoyances.

3.The rules change. What was publishable 50, 100, 200 years ago, might not be publishable today.

4.Selective breaking. Getting away with breaking one or two of these rules isn’t difficult, but too many at once becomes a problem.

Now, pay close attention to #3: rules change. Still, the best advice I can probably give is don't go nilly-willy breaking the rules. A bit here, a bit there, just not everywhere is probably the best advice I can give any writer, aspiring or published. Or, in the words of Timm Gunn from Project Runway: make it work!

I make it work for my writing. Sometimes, I use adverbs. Sometimes, people laugh softly and my characters are going to laugh softly or loudly, for that matter. Sometimes, I end a sentence with the word it. Yes, I do! I have started projects with dialogue. I love dialogue, so why shouldn't I start a project with dialogue? I write lengthy novels . . . sometimes. I'm in the process of eliminating words to get down to a more workable format so I can start querying. Should I have to? Well, probably not, but I'm doing it anyhow just to give myself a better chance of not getting auto-rejected because my brilliance is 130,000 words versus an acceptable 100,000 words. Le Sigh!

What rules do you love to break? Why do you break them? Are you like Elana who puts tons of backstory in her first chapter? Ha! Do you amply (sorry, couldn't resist a little adverb humor) use flashbacks in your story? Start with dialogue? Write in first person present tense? Write backwards? C'mon, people, give me some rule breaking in the comments section.



Claire Dawn said...

The adverb one is so relative. If its important that the laughter was soft, why can't you say laughed softly?

I break the backstory one as well, but only a little.

Like you said, each story is different, and sometimes the only way your story can be told is some rule-breaking.

Bossy Betty said...

I Like To Use Capital Letters Excessively.

Davin Malasarn said...

Nice post, Scott. I love the idea of just making it work. The longer I write, the more rules I'm willing to break. I tell all the time. I use adverbs. And, I have a ton of backstory these days.

Scott said...

Claire Dawn - I heartedly agree! : ) People do things in so many different ways and sometimes, the only way to describe the way they do things is with a -ly!!

Bossy Betty - I'm a fan of one word sentences. Okay, they're techinically not sentences, but if the one word perfectly describes something - betrayed, rejected, lost, etc. - then why can't one word be used?

Davin - thanks. I think every writer, novice, aspiring, published, has to make the story work. If adjectives, backstory, or flashbacks make them work, then those options should be used by the writers. I also think, when we get to the point of having agents and editors, we need to be willing - to a point - to defend why we did what we did with adjectives, backstory, flashbacks, etc.


Lady Glamis said...

Scott, this is a great post, and thank you for that link!

I hate rules, as you know. I don't go around intentionally breaking them. I like to follow a lot of them. But I don't hesitate to break them if that's what the story needs. I don't need extra guilt and baggage in my life. :)

Elana Johnson said...

I break whatever rules I want. Flashbacks? No problem. Dialogue? First person, present? Been there, done that.

Seriously. I think it's all about storytelling, and rules generally get in the way of that.