Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Breaking the Rules

Okay, so I'm trying to resolve some conflict I'm having about some comments I've been making lately.  See, I read my little books about what all the good little boy and girl writers are supposed to do, and then I read my "fun" books and I go through my little analyses. 

See, I'm a college professor by trade so I'm used to grading things.  And as a general rule, I grade things "by the book."  I don't give a lot of leeway for creative thinking because you have to learn how to do things by the rules before you can break them.  Because I teach primarily 100 and 200 level courses, that doesn't leave a lot of room for breaking the rules.  Well, as a writer, I really fall into the 100 level course load (if I even fall into the college level courses - frankly, I think I'm still in Kindergarten and running with scissors, or maybe eating glue).

So here's where I'm going with this.  I read what I like, regardless of the "rules" and I find that this is true of *most* people.  For instance, I haven't reviewed my book on here because quite frankly I'm frightened of what I might say, but overall, the feedback from readers has been pretty positive.  That doesn't mean I'm not going to try to follow the rules on the next book and do better, but readers like what they like.

Another example would be Adrian Phoenix, she definitely breaks the rules - I mean talk about Queen of Backstory - but that doesn't mean I'm not jonesing for her next novel.  And then there are people who are very good at following the rules - Tom Clancy is a great example.  But really, I find myself nodding off whenever I try to read a Tom Clancy novel (though they do make great movies).

As a college professor, I know as well that there comes a time when you know the rules well enough that it's okay to break them.  And really, as a writer, I think that you *must* break the rules.  If every writer followed the same mold, there would be nothing new and exciting to read, it would be the same old story over and over and over again.  Well, okay - really it is, but the story teller is what makes the story unique and makes it come alive!  How do they do that?  They break the rules - or maybe they bend them a little.

See, that's the thing - how do writers do what they do so well?  Does every book on your keep shelf follow *all* of the rules?  Or can some of the rules be broken?  Are there some rules that are absolutely set in stone, and some that are mere guidelines? And if so, how do we know the difference?  How do we, as newbies, find our own voice in this world of rules and more rules?  The more I learn, the more I find myself locked in a prison of words.


Cora Zane said...

There are a lot of authors that break the rules...and you'll notice most of those that get away with it are established.

Those authors are on best seller lists, have multi book contracts, and can fill a conference room when they give a book signing or writing workshop. They get away with breaking rules because they can sell books on name recognition alone.

The rest of us...well, we aren't so lucky.

Here's the thing. The rules are really there for one purpose only: to ensure an author communicates their story idea clearly to the target readers.

If your readers can't make out what you're trying to tell them - if they can't figure out what your characters are trying to accomplish - they aren't going to stick around to finish the book.

Best selling authors that routinely break the rules have mastered those writing-communication skills, even if there are weak spots (like too much back story) in their books.

The key to is to not let the rules keep you from writing. Turn off your inner editor. Writing is messy. For a lot of us, it's full of broken sentences, half baked ideas, poor word choices, and non-linear events. Let it flow and allow yourself to "write bad". When you write THE END, then you can go back and sculpt what you have written by the rules you've learned.

Stick with it, Linnea. After a while, a lot of those rules that are so frustrating now will become second nature!

LinneaHall said...

Thanks Cora. That helps. I just find that I'm throwing more in the trash lately than keeping. I understand what you are saying about communication - something lacking in my first book. Something I'm trying to get a handle on in the second. So much. It's like trying to walk uphill in 5 feet of snow and a windstorm! :) I think I need a snowblower.


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