Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Taking and Breaking the Rules

The last blog chain topic was about sharing our own writerly advice, so for the current blog chain (that I have the honor of starting) I wanted to look at advice from the other side - as the receiver rather than the giver.

As writers I think we have a tendency to collect writing advice the same way other people do coins or baseball cards. It can be a quote from Hemingway, a link to an agent's blog, or a highlighted passage from Bird by Bird. Most of these rules we follow with the eagerness of the newly converted, grateful to have been brought into the light... but others we chafe against, and maybe even question their usefulness. So the question for this round is:

What writing rules/advice - whether it was a matter of cannot or will not - have you broken?

When it comes to cannot (To differentiate between the question of can or will go back to your grade school teacher who when you asked "Can I go to the bathroom?" would smartly reply, "I don't know. Are you physically able to?" At which point with a sigh you would answer, "May I?") - run-on sentences are the bane of my existence.

Over and over again I have written a sentence that has around fifty words, six commas, and maybe even a dash or two added in for some extra flavor. And even through several rounds of edits I will look at that sentence and my brain will assure me, "Yes, that is one sentence. Clearly." And I will be happy with this... until one of my lovely crit partners will point out a place where a period could oh so easily replace a comma, or maybe even two of them. I then look my one sentence, now made into two or three and my brain says, "Oooh, yeah. That works much better."

For some reason though it is just one of those things that I have trouble identifying on my own.

There are other rules though that I break more willfully. At the top of the list is the: Show, Don't Tell rule. I think, I mentioned a while ago my objections to this rule - which is that as writers it has been so pounded into our heads that we go through our manuscripts on seek and destroy missions for any instances of telling, when it actuality there are time when simply telling the reader some crucial bit of information in one quick sentence can be way more effective than using three pages to painstakingly show it.

Perhaps as writers we need to remember that as children our teachers had us present to ou classmates in a segment known as "Show and Tell" - with both of these components equal in importance.

The other "rule" that I object to - although I haven't personally had a chance to break this one yet - is the anti-prologue rhetoric out there. Personally, I love a book with a good prologue, and think they can be especially useful for setting the mood of a story.

Oooh, I feel so rebellious now with all this rule breaking.

So what about you? Have you thrown rocks through any of the writing rules lately? Or are there other ones that you struggle to keep, and yet fail despite your best efforts?

And to follow the rest of this chain check out Amanda's blog next!


  1. I guess the most important rule I break . . . is . . . I write for me first, audience second. Yeah, I know, I should 'know' my audience before I begin writing. But, if I'm considering the audience, my mother, agents, editors, publishers and whatnot, well, I think my writing suffers. So, I write for me, and worry about tweaking things at a later date.

    Oh, and every now and then, I end a sentence with a (gasp) preposition! I just love doing it! I'm such a rebel.

    I really think it's a matter of knowing the rules and breaking them when needed.

    Great post. Thanks.


  2. This is a fabulous topic! :)

    I completely agree about the prologues bit. I believe agents are correct in saying that 99.99% of the time it's not needed, but sometimes... just sometimes... it adds to the story in a way nothing else could.

    Maybe the new rule should be "no prologues that suck"? Just throwing it out there ;).

  3. Sentence fragments. I like them. A lot. Get used to it. Ha ha!

  4. I don't mind a prologue either. It pained me to cut mine out of my first novel after reading about all the prologue haters. And I agree, some telling is necessary, as long as it's not over the top. My rule breaking? I like a good adverb every now and again. ANd like Elana, a good sentence fragment can have a lot of impact. :)

  5. I hate the anti-prologue mess! Prologues can be great, if they're done right. I have prologues in both of my current WiPs.

    I also tell sometimes, when a lot of showing would distract from the flow. It's all a matter of balancing it.

    I love sentence fragments, if they're used right. I also sometimes start sentences with "and" or "but."

    Fact is, if breaking a rule makes my book better, I'm going to break the rule. :D

  6. I never do this but I did--GASP--change POVs in the middle of a scene once. Oh, the horror.

    And dangnabit, I like a good passive sentence very once in a while, too.

    Oh, and I use a lot of ly adverbs.

    Somebody stop me! LOL!

  7. Like Elana, I'm a fan of a one or two word sentence.

    Or even paragraph.

    It adds punch, I think :)

  8. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this topic. Hmmm...must stew now...MWAHAHAHA

  9. Like Scott, the first rule broken is writing for me, not for a specific genre or publisher. I've started with prologues (what's wrong with them?) and change POV in the middle of the paragraph. Sometimes only an ly word will work.

    My very first wip started with a dream. It was obviously a dream so it wasn't going to catch anybody by surprise.

    Looks like I've broken lots of rules. But I'm far from being published or even finishing my two WIP's. Have lots of time to practice.

  10. Great topic! Rules are made to be broken, after all.

  11. oooh Kate! This is a toughy. I'm going to have to really kick my brain into gear. I agree with you that breaking the show and tell rule can sometimes be a good thing. A nice "skimming" tell is sometimes in order! ;)

  12. Hahaa, great post!
    Sometimes I slip povs without meaning to.
    Rules I break on purpose, show don't tell, pov *grin*, and if I need to use the word was, I do. Sometimes it just makes the sentence clearer or easier to read.
    Good luck with those run-ons!
    If it makes you feel better, some of Dean Koontz's older works have the longest sentences I've ever seen. LOL!

  13. Oh yeah...show, don't tell is the "bane of my existence" on my current book. Oh Holy Crap is it ever. I'm also with you with the run-on sentences. I had a professor once threaten to flunk me if I didn't break my sentences up more. :D

  14. Great topic! I, too, believe there isn't a writing "rule" out there that can't be broken in some way.

  15. Great topic! And one that I'll have to elaborate in detail when it's my turn to post. I love how you compare show don't tell to show and tell in school, and I think it really nails the essence of the problem. I've always been a firm believer in using both. Obviously in moderation on the telling, though. Great post!!

  16. Where to begin? First, I must say your post was Brilliant.

    The show and tell was very clever.

    I break so many rules I don't think it would be fair to start listing them. Yikes! I just hope a publisher picks me up someday for being a rebel. lol.

  17. Um, yeah. I'm bad with grammar. I write the story...I really don't stress about the puncuation or correct usage.

  18. Great post, and thanks for the really tough topic. Since I'm on the chain, I'll answer in a few days. But your examples of things you do hit a little too close to home with me :)

  19. I love breaking rules. As long as you do it with flare and passion :)

  20. Good topic. I'm also on board with the "no, not all prologues suck" train.

  21. Are you writing run-on sentences? Or are you just writing long sentences? Because I think a long sentence is fine, and it certainly would add a lot of voice to your writing. If it's how you write naturally, maybe you should embrace it.

  22. I loved this topic! How fun? I cured my issue with run-on sentences when I started writing for a newspaper.

    It's almost frightening how quickly that was nip.ped in the bud

  23. Yay for this topic! I think prologues, when done well, can really frame a story. There's no rule out there that's not made to be broken.