Tuesday, April 29, 2008

When to follow the rules and when not to

Tip of the day: Did you know that you can now click on the right tool bar in Blogger to get links to our old entries by category? Look through posts on “queries,” “revising/editing,” and more. Enjoy!

Growing up I followed pretty much every rule to the book. Coloring inside the lines. Not talking up during class. And so on and so forth. But secretly I wished I could be like the “cool” kids and not care if I broke the rules or not. The kids that looked like they were having so much fun, threw caution to the wind, and didn’t care if they got yelled at for coloring outside the lines.

Yep, I so wanted to be them.

Heck, I still want to be them.

Now, that I’m pursuing a writing career, I’m finding the writer’s world is filled with rule-breakers. I’m not meaning people that break every rule in the book. But as writers we hear tons of advice about what you “should” do here. Like “show don’t tell.” Or what you can do here, “don’t use too many adjectives.”

And then we hear advice like, “you can do anything as long as you do it well.”

Okay, good advice. But what do you follow? And when do you color outside the lines?

I’ve started reading two good books lately that started slow, because they were all “tell” to me. Granted it was done in a way that was interesting.

But these were by established authors, and if it was their first book could they have gotten away with a slow start that told too much and didn’t show it?

I don’t know. Maybe if they did it well enough in at least one agent and one editor’s eyes.

Clearly, I have no answers and am only posing questions. But sometimes when I’m reading books and come across clearly broken writing rules (or should I call them “writing guidelines,” since there apparently aren’t writing “rules”) everyone seems to be telling us, I want to throw up my hands and scream, “I just don’t get it.”

And then I want to start breaking all the rules like these other authors, and then when it doesn’t work out, I just get mad.

So maybe you all can help. When do you think it’s okay to break writing rules? After you’ve sold one book and have more leverage to break rules? Or do you never listen to rules.

You tell me. Here's my first online poll!

--Emily, Miss Awaiting an Agent


Emily Marshall said...

I just had to comment, I couldn't resist the last question, because the Hills were referenced twice on TV shows last week: on Gossip Girl and Greek. And I wanted to continue the trend for the Hills to take over the world.

Rhonda Helms said...

I think there are some rules that can be broken, whether you're an established or new author. Maybe it depends on if you're doing it in a way that shows you know the rules but are breaking them...and maybe selectivity is a part of that, as well (that you're being selective when breaking them).

Kate Fall said...

OMG, Emily, your poll is so cool! I just had to comment on its awesomeness.

Ghost Girl (aka, Mary Ann) said...

Em, this is such an interesting post. For me, the story takes me where it wants to. So do the characters. But then when something just isn't working, I gotta look to see why. Sometimes those rules hold the answer, but sometimes not.

If the story really works, the rules may be absolutely meaningless. If you try to break the rules just for the sake of breaking the rules, it usually doesn't work--never did when I was a kid! But if you have something to say that just can't be contained by some rigid guideline...go for it!

Emily Marshall said...

Rhonda, I do think it is important to know the rules before you break them. Foundation is key, and selected when to break them and when not to is also key. I agree.

Thanks Kate!

Ghost Girl, I was talking more in editing stuff, when you are more intune to the words. I don't really think about writing rules when writing the first draft (well not entirely), but it's more when cleaning stuff up and trying to fit the text around all the "rules" I've heard when it gets confusing for me.