BREAKING THE RULES…
On the whole, I would describe myself as a rule abider. I don’t function well living on the edge. In fact, going anywhere near the edge sorta makes me ill. I like everything organized and neatly placed where it belongs (explains my obsession with nesting bowls). I thrive inside a schedule, happily checking things off the list as I go about my day (clarifies my fascination with pretty much any office supply store).
However, I recently discovered an area where I LIVE to break the rules. Not consistently, and usually not without reason, but when I write I sometimes purposely break those rules our editors always tell us to avoid. Shhh… It’s naughty, I know. I can’t help myself. I sneak in a passive sentence here, or maybe use too many adverbs there, fully aware the sentence structure is technically wrong. But I like it that way. And sometimes a passive sentence conveys a story element an active sentence never could. And sometimes, I do it to just push the envelope – to see how much I can get away with before I’m busted. Shhh… don’t tell…
Here’s the thing. Of the last two novels I read, both of them brilliant, and both of them fantasy, the authors balled up the rules and tossed them out the window. One author switched perspectives mid-paragraph, sometimes even mid-sentence, and I could’ve cared less. (Here’s where my CPs are propping their hands on their hips and screaming, “WHAT!?”). But I got so involved in the story, the transitions became seamless. If I wasn’t a writer, I never would have noticed his technique. The second author jumped back and forth in and out of hindsight language. Evidently it’s a big no-no for your main character to “tell” the story, because this takes the reader in and out of the action. This author had his hero detailing the story of his youth to a Chronicler, and I LOVED the way the story unfolded. Even when the action screeched to a halt and I was jolted back to the present. All this did was make me turn the pages faster!
I’m wondering if the fantasy genre is more lenient with rule-breakers. Maybe the very nature of a “fantasy” implies writing styles outside the norm. Either way, I learned a lot from these authors. Most importantly, I wanna be one. How awesome would it be if my writing was so unique, my story so powerful, I could break the rules and get away with it. How totally fantastic if my characterizations and plot line were so stellar, I could disregard a major writing directive and then get handed an award (yes, one of the authors mentioned above won the 2007 Quill Award). Hmmm…I know I’ve got a fantasy in here somewhere. Oh, yep, there it is…
So tell me, what writing rules do you live to break?
Jezebel’s Wish Blurb:
Haunted by nightmares, tormented by guilt, Jezebel came to Redemption Ranch to escape the past—except now she’s stuck in the middle of nowhere with no redemption in sight. When her mother pushes her into riding lessons with local veterinarian Matthias Saunders, Jezebel balks. Sure, the doctor is gorgeous, but he’s completely obnoxious and knows how to push every one of her buttons.
Only her deep connection with The Reverend, a gentle stallion who guards her darkest secrets, has her agreeing to spend any more time with Dr. Saunders. Caring for the stallion is the first bright spot in her life in months, and if being around the horse means she has to deal with Matthias Saunders, then so be it. Surely a city girl like her can handle one country vet—even one with disturbing blue eyes. Can’t she?
Jezebel’s Wish Excerpt:
Jezzy stopped. “I thought I was having a riding lesson.”
“You are.” He nodded toward the empty paddock. “Go in.”
“Go in?” Jezzy propped a hand on her hip. “You sure you know what you’re doing? Because it was my understanding that an actual horse is needed for a riding lesson.”
“Don’t you think it would be wise at this juncture to leave the understanding up to the professionals?”
Jezzy rolled her eyes. “You’re making this way too easy. Professionals? Please. Don’t get me started.”
“Why not? Getting you started is exactly what I’m here for.”
Jezzy’s jaw dropped. She didn’t quite know how to interpret that remark.
He held out the rope. “Now go in. And take this lead line with you.” Steely blue determination glinted in his eyes. There was no way he was going to give in.
Jezzy snatched the lead line from his hand and stormed through the gate, then turned when he closed it behind her.
He put a foot on the bottom railing and rested against the gate, facing the horizon. “Take the chair to the center of the paddock and sit down.”
“And just exactly how is that supposed to teach me to ride?”
He cocked an eyebrow. “You want out of the deal?”
Jezzy’s fist clenched tight around the lead line. What she wanted was to march back to the fence and smack his face.
Jezebel’s Wish Buy Link:
The Wild Rose Press
AJ Nuest lives in northwest Indiana with her loving husband and two beautiful children. She is the author of two contemporary romance novels.
Visit her on the web at:
Facebook: Tattered Pages
The last formal writing advice (instruction) was when I was in high school a million years ago. For the last quarter of a century, I have dabbled in the world of fiction. I love fiction for the reasons you outlined above. The rules just don’t apply. If the story is good and well told, the reader won’t care about the rules. Those of us who write will notice. Some of us will even cry foul, sure that some massive crime has been committed by the writer who dared to break these rules. But the reader won’t care.
Hi Timkeen, thanks for stopping by! I wholeheartedly agree. If a story is well-written and makes a connection with the reader, the rules should be viewed more as “guidelines”. However, I think it’s important all authors KNOW the rules, before breaking them – so they can argue their cause if need be.
Which rules do I live to break. Hmmm gotta be passive sentences and POV. Just watch, one day I’ll have a book full of those forbidden rules and it’ll be a bestseller. LOL! Gotta dream right?
My fave rule to break is sentence fragments. LOVE sentence fragments. I think you can really ratchet up the tension in the scene with them. I must confess to being a POV purist, though. I got kicked in the head soooo many times with my first critique group about POV, I fear cosmic consequences if I break that rule.
Hello, my sweet Telly! Yep, we can all dream. That’s what the business of writing is about – in more way that one. LOL! Hugs and thanks for stopping in to say hi!
Lynda, you’re too funny. I LOVE the sentence fragment, too! I. Really. Do. And I love the three word sentence. Something about it makes me happy. If done right, it can really deliver a KA-BAM! to the reader.
There are rules to writing?! LOL! I’m sure I break all the rules in the book. And if I didn’t, my critique partner wouldn’t have anything to watch for. Who am I to take that away from her?! LOL!
Very, funny, Darlene. But in all honesty, I think all great fiction breaks SOME of the rules, right? Writing is an art form – we’re supposed to test boundaries. I love it that I get to work in a medium that is constantly changing, constantly evolving. Otherwise, I would get bored. Thanks for stopping by!
Hi AJ –
Mine too is fragment sentences. I love them for impact! And I start sentences with ‘And’ sometimes;) LOL
One of my CPs writes Sci-Fi/Fantasy and you’re exactly right about all the rules they can break.
Fun post, ladies!
AJ, like others here, I know when I’m blasting through a so-called “rule,” but I don’t lose any sleep over it. It’s MY story, MY rules. LOL Do I occasionally plunge into hotwater, yeah. But what I write is my voice, as is yours or any author worth reading. If it’s an editor who’s trying to deal with me, there’s always compromise.
Jennifer, I can’t tell you the times my kids have come home from school with a writing assignment, and they look me point blank in the face and say, “You can’t start a sentence with ‘And’, Mom.” It generally takes me 15 minutes to get down off my soapbox. Grrr…
Hi Joyce. By the end of the 3rd round of edits on JW, my editor and I were literally making side deals over certain sentences. It was like being at a poker table. “I’ll see your passive sentence, and raise you two adverbs…”
Here’s a new one – I don’t figure out the GMC (Goals, Motivation & Conflict – I finally looked it up after seeing the acronym a half dozen times!) before I start writing. After I finish a book, I’m still not sure if I have GMC. I’ve had some terrific reviews, so maybe readers don’t care so much about it, either. LOL!
Wow! AJ what a great article and great response! Thanks for being my guest today. “Jezebel..” sounds scrumptious.
Janine, that’s hilarious. I didn’t know what GMC meant either with my first book. Now I know, but it doesn’t change the way I do things. And so far, whatever I’ve been doing has worked for me. Thanks for stopping by!
Thanks so much for having me, Liz! You’re right – this has been a great day. First time I’ve received emails off a blog with responses. Whoo Hoo!