Breaking the Rules

Recently I wrote a post on pushing the boundaries, and being a fearless writer who embraces their inner crazy. Well, consider this part two, or me beating a dead horse, whichever you prefer. 🙂

I’ve learned a lot through the writing community the past couple months. I’ve received advice and wisdom which has been extremely helpful, but  sometimes this can be overwhelming. There’s countless tidbits, do’s and don’ts, and rules. I mean, there’s hundreds and thousands of books filled with this stuff! Before I dove into this process, I’d more or less just figured everything out on my own. I didn’t have any resources or guidance, so I had to learn through trial and error. Which was great, but time-consuming (think 19 years of writing time-consuming). But coming from that, I think it has given me a unique point of view on writer advice.

First of all, it depends who you are and where you’re at in the process. You might be like a friend of mine, who is writing her very first book, and seeks out every single bit of information and advice there is to be found on the craft of writing with the appetite of a teenage boy. Or you might be like me, and you’ve been writing your entire life and things sort of come naturally. You might be somewhere in the middle.

Rules are more like guidelines, than laws. They are like a trail, leading you through the forest so you don’t get lost and starve to death, but you’re not surrounded by a stone wall. You can veer off the path a little bit, and maybe find some pretty awesome things along the way.

For example, two of the major rules I learned when I started this was A: prologues are a sin. And B: Opening a book with a character waking up is also a sin. But, how does Hunger Games start? With Katniss waking up the day of the reaping. And the book I am currently reading, The Park Service by Ryan Winfield, begins with both of these. But it was done so well that by the end of the (short) prologue I was hooked to the point of no return.

I was guilty of A in my current manuscript, and held onto that prologue for dear life, refusing to believe that rules applied to me. But my prologue was amazing so it didn’t matter, right? Well, yes, there were some pretty awesome moments, and some great worldbuilding (if I do say so myself) but ultimately, I realized it wasn’t necessary. I took the choice bits and dispersed them later on, and eventually wrote an entirely new beginning altogether (which you can read under my Weekend Writing Warrior posts). In hindsight, I realized the prologue was only extra words between my reader and my hook, which is something you never want.

So, what’s the moral of the story? Rules are there for a reason, but don’t be afraid to break them. But if you do break the rules, make sure it’s for a reason.

Make sure it serves a purpose, and makes your story better for it (not just because you worked really hard on that prologue and it’s beautiful, dang it) As I said in my last post, jump off the ledge first, and worry about reeling yourself in later. Don’t get caught up in the ten thousand do’s and don’ts and end up trying to navigate a minefield. It’s good to listen to others who are more knowledgeable and experienced than you (read: experienced, not just “experts”) but don’t treat it like gold.

Because really, there is no one way. Whether you’re brand new or a NYT bestseller, writing isn’t an exact science. There’s no secret formula, no How to Write for Dummies guide to becoming the next JK Rowling or Suzanne Collins.

Don’t be afraid to take risks, and take every bit of advice with a grain of salt (even mine). Because at the end of the day, none of us really know what we’re doing, we’re just all trying to figure it out, one word at a time.

Writing, like all art, is messy. Sometimes, the mistakes are the most beautiful part. 🙂

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12 thoughts on “Breaking the Rules

  1. Well this is probably my favorite post I’ve read of yours. And seriously, could you possibly be more right? I think I know some of the rules about writing and stuff, and I swear I don’t follow any of them. Maybe that’s my problem? Hmm. Only thing is that I’m not jumping off a ledge for anything. That’s what you call suicide, you know. 😉

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  2. Dear God, I could not have put this any better had I tried. The Rules and I have a rocky relationship because I write fine without them, but I write even better when I take some of them into consideration. Not all, though. And that’s the thing – it’s just as you said – if you’re gonna break a Rule, let it be for the betterment of the novel, not just because you think it shouldn’t apply to you.

    This is worded so perfectly. I wrote a really ranty post on it last week when someone(s), somewhere(s) insisted on breaking some of the few really good Rules there were out there because they thought it made their writing prettier, and I seemed to be the only negating that. I may or may not post it – since it has to do with the stimga of “self-published authors write shitty books” – but if I had had the wherewithal to word it like this, it would’ve been up as soon as I wrote it.

    P.S. I had the exact same experience with my prologue hahah.

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  3. Exactly! I am the same way. Well thank you 🙂 Haha, oh I have to restrain the ranty all the time, trust me. A lot of times I write drafts in the moment to let it all out, then let it sit there until I’m able to form a worthy post. I would love to read it! And oh, yeah. I think we’ve all been there at some point haha 🙂

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  4. Great post! I agonized over the exact same sins with my current project: I had a prologue and a character waking up and had a hard time letting go as well. I ended up like you, realizing that I didn’t need the prologue and I changed the waking scene to the middle of the night. Probably still a sin but I think it works well for the story.

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