Monday, April 4, 2011

Anarchy


Today I want to talk about rules. Writing rules of course. There are so many, and they can be a bit overwhelming when you're learning the ropes. But without rules there is chaos and anarchy. Okay maybe it's not that bad, but your manuscript COULD end up riddled with adverbial dialogue tags.

There are reasons behind the rules. And yet many say you can ignore the rules, it's okay. Myself included!! Confused yet? Let me try to clarify.

WE NEED TO LEARN AND UNDERSTAND THE RULES BEFORE WE CAN SUCCESSFULLY BREAK THEM.

If you don't understand that you're breaking accepted norms you run the risk of:
  • Putting off agents and editors who may take it as a sign that you haven't bothered to do your homework and really learn about this business. They will then pass on your book in favor of one of the many from authors that do follow the rules.
  • Never growing at your craft! If you don't bother to understand WHY we don't use so many adverbs (it's the lazy man's way of telling not showing and doesn't typically - see I break rules too - add to the book), you won't get that extra oomph of using them at the RIGHT times. And you'll have a weaker manuscript.
  • Missing out. You MIGHT actually learn something useful if you try things a new way. A light bulb may just go on and a new idea or approach may surprise you.
  • Not being a whole writer. What does that mean? Well, writing is an art, but it's also a business. If you don't acknowledge that there are rules, then you are not acknowledging that you are taking this endeavor seriously, and that you are willing to put in the extreme effort it takes to succeed.
So learn all the rules. Then as long as you have a darn good reason, you have my blessing to break them!

36 comments:

  1. Rules are important but another trap I see beginner writers and above fall into is following rules too closely. Like following the rules will make their story work. What do you think?

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  2. First, I love that picture. But second, I totally agree. Yes, people do break these rules, but for every person who successfully does it, there are thousands for whom the rule-breaking only hurts them. I feel the same way about grammar and punctuation. I think you have to understand the structure and flow of our language to really get creative with it.

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  3. This is a great post!

    I have to laugh when I see anyone talking about how NOT to overuse adverbs. J.K. Rowling is laughing all the way to the bank by throwing this rule out of the window. I counted 12 adverbs on one page alone in the Prisoner of Azkaban. I, personally, do not find them distracting. Perhaps if we as writers focus more on developing our story, our characters and our dialogue, then our use of adverbs will be . . . overlooked?

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  4. Excellent post! Great writers break the rules all the time, but they do it with skill and they do it with purpose. Thanks :)

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  5. Totally agree! You have to know what you're doing before you break the rules, and sadly it's a fact of life that you pretty much have to be established before anyone will let you get away with breaking them (or at least the BIG ones). :)

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  6. I think it's true that you have to know what you're doing in order to break it, but I also think it's true that story trumps the rules. However, that means that the story, or some aspect of the story, has to be AMAZING -- as with JK Rowling.

    I remember with my first book, I had to go back and revise that manuscript probably fifty times with each rule that I learned. Now most of it is second nature, though I still need loads of reminders. :-)

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  7. Oooh I love the discussion going on today! Thank you for all the comments. Here are a few of my own thoughts:

    Laura - True, but it's a good first step. They have to become comfortable with the mechanics sometimes before they break free and figure out what takes the story to that next step. ;D

    Sarah - that's a great example!!

    Jenny - Yes. JK is the perfect example of a great book using a LOT of adverbs. But JK does a lot of showing too. Thus I think it works.

    Melissa - I'd say it depends. I know that sounds terribly noncommittal but it's true. There are so many situations out there that may differ.

    Susan - YES! It is like that, it seems tricky at first, then it becomes almost second nature, and we move on to the more complex things. But those extra words and such still have a tendency to sneak in.

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  8. That picture made me laugh out loud.

    I'm going to teach a class to teens this summer on writing, and I want to make sure I explain this part well - that you HAVE to know and learn the rules. But I also want to encourage them to be themselves, and to not fear breaking them. So tricky.

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  9. My head spins with the rules, and the variations of the rules, and the rules we can break, and blah, blah, blah. BUT, I do learn those rules, and they make sense to me (um, when I understand them).

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  10. I'll raise my coffee cup to that! Excellent post on an excellent point. If we want to be taken serious in the business we need to take it serious. You're right, it can be hard to figure out which rules are okay to break and which aren't but with enough research and putting one's self out there, it can be discovered!

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  11. Great picture, Lisa. I appreciated what one of the authors said at the SCBWI Temecula retreat, that broken rules can cause fatigue in the reader. As writer's we can't say rules schmools.

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  12. I was just ask about how important grammar rules are when writing novels. I said, VERY. Learn them well. Learn when to break them to make your prose soar or to create characters that talk the way you want them to talk in order to reveal who they are.

    Rools is very important.

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  13. Susan - Good luck with your class! That's exciting.

    Julie - I know what you mean.

    Heather - *clinks glass*

    Leslie - Good point! I actually read a book not that long ago that did break the same rule over and over again, and it did get tiring. A little dab will do ya.

    Lee - Thems is importants. :D

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  14. That picture made me laugh out loud. As if seagulls understand no-go zones? LOL!

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  15. great post (and yep, I LOVE that pic)

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  16. Ebony and Lynda - I LOVE that pic too! I've been having fun finding good ones lately. Godzilla at prom is still my fav though.

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  17. Great post, great point. I agree 100%. A rule broken in the right way at the right time can make a manuscript stand out, in the BEST way possible. But a rule broken because of ignorance and lack of craft is just poor writing.

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  18. Ishta - Well said!! And not just cuz you agree. He he he

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  19. I liked that last point especially - takin the thing seriously.

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  20. Margo - thanks! Yep, I joke around a lot, but underneath I am very serious about my craft. ;D

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  21. See. That is why I follow the rules. Great post! :D

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  22. Brenda - Yes you do. And you do a very nice job at it!

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  23. Yes, yes, yes! Please in the name of Zombies learn the rules before deciding which to break or adapt for your MS. Slush Piles everywhere will thank you.

    And never stop learning either. As much as you might think all the rules are known, there is always more to learn about craft that can be applied to your work. Choosing to always grow as a writer is what marks you as a professional.

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  24. Angela - SO well said! A. Love the zombie line. But more importantly, B. NEVER STOP LEARNING - real writers know this. We can ALWAYS grow, learn, and improve.

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  25. This is why I love reading books on the craft of writing - to learn the rules but also discover how to properly break them if I wanted to. Great post!

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  26. Totally agree... if you don't know the rules, you won't know when it's ok to break them.

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  27. Ghenet - Books on craft are great! Same with conferences and just plain old blogposts. :D

    Austin - Yup. If you break 'em you better be doing it purposefully and for good reason.

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  28. Makes sense to me. Master the rules so you know how to judiciously break them.

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  29. Elle - I love that pic too!!

    Shannon - :D Thanks!

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  30. I'm celebrating your nicetude today, Lisa! :)

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  31. Great advice, Lisa. I agree that writers should learn the rules first (and probably over-apply them for awhile) before they can figure out when to break them. That's a natural first step in a growing writer's journey.

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  32. Susan - YOU'RE NICE!

    Becca - Glad you agree. :D

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