Friday, January 17, 2014

Breaking the Rules

Okay, so my intention with this post is not to incite some sort of rebellion. I realize writing rules are wonderful guidelines that can set aspiring novelists on the right track. But with imaginations as vast as an endless horizon, I find it odd that some writers conform to the box and stay firmly with in those unwritten rules of storytelling.

Now, if your sole purpose in life is publication, it’s quite possible coloring between the lines is your best bet. But if your joy stems from the creation, and where the story can take you, I’d love to challenge you to take a walk on the wild side and bend, and maybe even break the rules. ;)

That’s not to say some people don’t thrive within the rules. The rules give them definable boundaries and ‘safety’ within their creativity. But for others, people like yours truly, the world beyond the leash bolsters their creativity.

So what are some of these rules???? 

-Always make the reader wait for the first kiss. (Instigated by the hero.)

-Don’t make the heroine too aggressive. She should be somewhat traditionally feminine and demure.

-Let the hero be the one who saves the day. (Heaven forbid a woman actually save herself!)

-Make the female so indecisive you want to reach through the page and bang her stubborn/insecure head against the wall.

-Make the first kiss short. (And very often a mistake.)

-Bring every conflict to a head in the black moment.

-Don’t be too honest about your hero’s inner struggle. If he thinks like a real man women will be offended.

-Don’t use exclamation points!!!!

-Don’t let your characters be tempted beyond a kiss. (They should have superhuman holy minds and perfect self-control.)

-Leave all backstory out of the first 50 pages.

-Stay out of your character’s head. Dialogue is more active.

-Always show, don’t tell.

-Make character flaws minimal. (And easily forgivable.)

-Can the adverbs.

-Don’t use any clichés. (Even though we all reference them in real life)  

I remind you, these can be helpful guidelines, but sometimes the greatest story you can write exists outside the boundaries.

Let’s play! What other writing rules would you add to this list? And which ones do you find you are most inclined to break?

Amy Leigh Simpson writes Romantic Suspense that is heavy on the romance, unapologetically honest, laced with sass and humor, and full of the unfathomable Grace of God. She is the completely sleep deprived mama to two little tow-headed mischief makers and wife to her very own swoon-worthy hero. Represented by the oh-so-wise and dashing Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary Inc.


Angie Dicken said...

I used to be a rule breaker...but then got reprimanded by so many contest judges, I kind of backed off with my tail between my legs. Sad, but true. I will say that I don't follow most of the rules you've listed for my heroine or hero...I tend to make my heroes more obviously in need of the woman...ha! Maybe that's not okay? Hmmm...trying to think if that is accurate...yep, I think so.

But, a rule that I tend to break the most, is using italics sparingly. I love internal thoughts in first person. I have used them less and less as I learn, but I certainly don't mind reading why not write them?

Love the idea of thinking beyond the box, Amy!

Angie Dicken said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary Vee Writer said...

This is why I love your stories. They flow without bound. They are intriguing and have zest that reflect reality.

I recently, as in December, closed the third book I'd picked up to read and rolled my eyes. This is not life. It is fake. I'm not saying all book are like this…just the last three I happened to pick up.

I looked at my manuscript and began changing things to bring about a flow. Like you, there are several of the rules you have said that I went ahead and broke. And must admit, I love the new version better. It has a melody and harmony. It's a giant step up from what I had written.

I went to my hubby after making this decision in December and said, I have to write in the way that makes the story flow, even if it breaks the rules.
He said., "Uh huh, I'm behind you."

I said, the book may or may not get published as a result.

He said, "I'm still behind you."

Love this guy.

Julia M. Reffner said...

One rule that used to drive me nuts but I think is getting better is making the heroine in particular pretty near perfect AFTER they get saved. I like seeing the sanctification process in stories. I've been told it makes my stories "edgy" which is a label I personally don't like, but so be it.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Ang, I'm big into italics too! I agree that dialogue can add a certain swing to a momentum but sometimes too much isn't approportiate for say, an introverted or guarded character who does more internalizing. If you trim too much of those internalizations you loose that intimacy with that character. I just don't think the rules are as hard and fast as most view them. Oh, yeah, and I make the man very obviously in need of a woman too. Hey, that's honest. And we try to hit as close to the mark in fiction as we can. :)

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Thanks Mare! I do tend to color beyond the lines. Love your attitude (and your awesome hubby's) and I'm so excited about the revamp in your story. Awesome!!!

I think God made each of us different, with unique voices, talents, and perspectives so we would tell our story like no one else can. I would bet you give each of us the same story and each version we told would be drastically different. But I love that! I love that he makes each one of use uniquely qualified to tell the story he gives us OUR way. What a gift!

Glad I'm in good company with all you amazing rebels. ;)

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Great post, Amy. I would have said I'm a rule keeper, but after reading your list of rules, I've broken most of them. :)

One we could add is no passive voice and no gerunds. I am pretty good about not using passive voice, but there are times when "was" is the most effective way to get the thought out. :) And gerunds, well I like them, but I am working to minimize them (don't count how many I've used in this comment! ;) ).

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Oh, Jules... everyone seems to think my stuff is "edgy" too. Which basically means they just don't know what to do with me. I splice between genres perhaps too much for the comfort of some. But though I am in this world, I am not of it. I am firmly rooted in the truth of the gospel, but I can recognize that I am far from perfect. My mind, my actions, my words are flawed and I rely on grace with every breath. Why put on airs? Why put a barrier between those who know the truth and those who are seeking. I think if we can take down the pretense and just be real, people would see Christ so much more clearly... on the page or off. Thanks for your perspective, Jules!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Oh, Jeanne... I struggle with the passive too! Which isn't great since I write a lot of suspense. I have to constantly be on guard. But I agree, sometimes it gives the simplest and easiest flow to communicate the thought. The rules are great guidelines, but once you learn to draw, sometimes you can create the best work of art off the canvas. :)

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Yes, I think I don't follow any of those rules, which is why my close peeps probably think I'm a rogue author...ha. Also why I finally self-published. But you're right, imagination knows no bounds, and readers love finding things outside the box. If you write that way, you might have to get creative on how to get published, but you will also have readers who love you JUST the way you are (might be a weird rule-breaking rogue, like me)! And that's so wonderful!

Jennifer Major said...

Let's see, my hero is an Indian, the heroine is 40, the hero rips off his shirt to taunt her, alot, the hero loses it and rages at her, and the first REAL kiss goes on and on.
Oh, and did I mention the Indian stays an Indian, and uses....cedar smoke when he needs to connect with God? Yeah, THAT is going to to over well.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Heather, I am so glad I'm in such good company. I was thinking this post might pinch a few nerves... but I'm actually relieved to know other rogues. ;) Write on, girl!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Ah haha! Yes, Jennifer, I happened to know you colored outside the lines. And I LOVE it! So refreshing and so just you. I wouldn't want to read one of your stories any other way. Your charm and sass are effortless... and will be the main reason you sell lots of books someday. :) Love reading about Nez, btw.

Pepper said...

I've been waiting all morning for my lunch break so I can 'break' into this discussion :-)

Your phrase "flow without bound' really does describe the fluidity of Amy's work (and personality). I think the less inhibited type of writing speaks to certain people by drawing them in to the humanity. Why? because we ALL are flawed and think the thoughts that are sometimes 'left out' of books and we have a harder time relating to the characters.
I love the authenticity in her writing!

Pepper said...

Ugh - I don't like the 'perfect' Christians at ANY point in a story...unless we're using them as a pious examples.
I have a few seasoned characters, who have lived very long lives through trials and errors who appear less flawed than the younger fumbling ones.

Pepper said...

And Ames,
I think you already know how I feel about kisses ;-)

Dawn Crandall said...

I'm pretty good at breaking the rules. But that didn't stop my book from being picked up to release this year. Honestly, I knew it was so different from almost everything out there, I wasn't so sure it would sell. It's historical romance with a splash of suspense written from first person. I think I basically made up my own genre, but it was what was in my heart and what I needed to write for me. Before I went to my first ACFW conference and scored my agent with just the first three chapters I never thought getting published was an option. It's too much like Jane Eyre and old stuff like that--which is definitely not "in the rules" these days. :) Ha, and about the "longish kissing"... yes, I break that rule too.

Glynis said...

I'm just now writing my first novel-length piece, so I've never really thought about the "rules" until now. I'm kind of a rule-follower IRL so I'm trying to learn to channel my inner rebel and take a few risks. Thanks for making me think a bit outside the box.

Ashley Clark said...

Love this, Ames! One thing that I struggle with is show not tell. Like Angie, after getting really perfectionistic about ridding my manuscript of all "errors" before contests, I started hearing in my head that I could never tell, even though I think telling can sometimes lead to the strongest fiction, when done properly. Now I'm pretty much over that, but it was a challenge for me for a little while!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Pepper... You and Mary are making me blush! Such sweetness! I too was excited about when you might break into the conversation... ;) I mean, it's not like we haven't discussed this before!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Dawn... So cool that you're a rule breaker AND a traditionally published debut author. We all know seasoned authors can get away with a lot more.. So you go girl! That's awesome! Your story sounds great! Who are you publishing with and when can we look for the release? :) so glad you stopped by!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Glynis, oh it's so fun (and frustrating) starting out. So much to learn and so many possibilities! The rules will teach you so much about good writing and structure... Then once you've found those boundaries add a little spice and scribble your own pattern. Your story will be like no one else's :) best of luck! We're rooting for you!!!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Ash, isn't that so frustrating!! You can't possibly show an entire story! It would go on forever and exhaust the reader. There is a definite balance! One I know you have achieved! Loved The Christmas Thief. Such an improbably combination of charm, emotionality, and power. Amazing!!!!

Pepper said...

Rules ARE important, but God didn't make all people alike either. Einstein wasn't an ‘in-the-box- thinker and great things came from his creativity.

I like to think of it as the pirates from Pirates of the Carribean would do.They're more of guidelines, instead of actual rules ;-)

Stories are unique, fluid, and almost as alive as a moving organism – that they take own their own flesh and blood within the frames of the book. Naughty characters for not following the rules? (eye roll) Say it ain't so. Creativity sparks outside the box thinking.
But I agree (as you've stated so well) some people thrive within the rules. The rules give them definable boundaries and ‘safety’ within their creativity.
But for others, coloring outside the lines is what they NEED for creativity
You know…God likes variety

Dawn Crandall said...

Thanks, Amy! :) Whitaker House is publishing them. I signed the contract less than a month ago, and we're still working out a release date. I have a baby due (my first!) at the beginning of April... so we'll see!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

ahh, Pepper... such eloquence and wisdom. I keep hoping some of that will rub off on me. ;)

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

And Dawn... How exciting!!! Congratulations on both counts! I am due around the same time! How funny! Of course, I already have two toddler boys (4 and almost 3) running around so it's no wonder I have zero time to write :) With one, though, they sleep alot... especially during the day when you're awake. I wrote my first novel in 6 weeks with a 1 and a half year old and a 6 week old. (Mainly at night because you're not sleeping much anyways!) It's when they get older and a bit more mobile that things get tricky! When's your due date? Mine's April 8th. And Praise the LORD, it's a girl!!! Good luck with everything! We'll have to have you on the alley to talk about your debut :)