Breaking the Rules

I’m not sure how all the various rules of writing came into existence, but I think we’ve got more than we need.  Some rules make perfectly good sense, others seem to be the product of some word Nazi who doesn’t have enough to do.  And what happens if we break them? Are we banned from publishing until we learn to behave? There will be a dearth of contemporary reading material if that’s put into practice. Sometimes rules can be broken. In my opinion, here are a few.

1. Keep your novel under 100,000 words. A longer word count is too expensive to print and ship, takes up too much shelf space and most agents won’t even consider taking a look at it. Makes sense when you think about it. Someone should let Joyce Carol Oates, Diana Gabaldon, J.K. Rowling and other over-productive authors know before it ruins their careers.

2. Show, don’t tell. Mostly yes, but there are some occasions when telling is more effective.  It allows the reader to pull back and take a needed break from the tension.  And sometimes there are elements of your story that are too illusive to show.  Showing and never telling is as bad as telling and never showing.  That’s my opinion, anyway, and I’m not changing it.

3. Don’t make random or frequent point of view shifts. I agree. I don’t like constant head hopping. It’s too confusing. But there’s a very famous, very prolific, very successful, very rich author who changes POV constantly.  Mmm… maybe someone should tell her.

4.Write straight through without stopping to self-edit. Don’t correct misspelllings or rewrite lousy prose until you’re working on your second draft. More power to you if you can do it. I can’t. My brain refuses to move forward until I fix the mistake.

5. End every chapter with a hook. You want your reader to keep reading, but do you really need to tie Pauline to the rail road track or offer some other attention grabber at the end of every chapter to keep them turning the pages? It seems to me that if the writing is good and the story is entertaining you don’t have to provide a deliberate hook every single time.

6. Don’t use clichés. Agreed. Particularly in narrative  But people use clichés when they talk, so unless your characters are exceptionally creative in their speech, I don’t see a problem with an occasional cliché in dialogue. Or blogs.

7. The he said, she said rules. (7a)Always use he said, she said, rather than dialogue tags such as shouted, whispered, bellowed, grumbled, groused, etc. (7b)Don’t use he said, she said, unless there are more than two characters speaking (7c)Never use adverbs with he said, she said, as in he said angrily, she said softly. Other than saying that I like to grumble and grouse, I’ll refrain from comment.

8. Rules of Proportion. (8a) Your novel should be 25% dialogue, 75% narrative. (8b) Your novel should be 25%narrative, 75%dialogue. (8c) The use of passive words like was or has, should be limited to 5%. I’m assuming this mean 5% of the narrative, but the person who counted all my wases and hases (there weren’t that many) in the chapter I submitted for critique didn’t explain and I was pretty sure I didn’t want to know.

9. Some rules are made to be broken. This one isn’t. Don’t bore your reader.

 Are there any rules that you always follow? Or don’t follow? How do you decide? Let me hear from you.

Happy writing.

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About Diana Douglas

Diana Douglas, author. Coorganizer of the Arizona Novel Writers Workshop. Member Arizona Historical Novel Society, Member BooksGoSocial Authors, Transplanted Texan. http://www.meetup.com/Arizona-Writers-Workshop-com http://twitter.com/#!/themodernscribe
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3 Responses to Breaking the Rules

  1. Char Bishop says:

    Are we supposed to do all that? Okay, time to revise–again. :-).

  2. So many rules! I think I will primarily follow the last rule and try not to bore my readers. 🙂

  3. I couldn’t have said it better!

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