Wednesday, January 6, 2016

This is When You Can Break the Writing Rules. It's True!

While the spunky side of me loves this saying, "Rules are made to be broken," the realistic side of me says "Rules are made for a reason."

My spunky side is also a fan of "You CAN have your cake and eat it, too." Yes, yes, I know the saying was slightly different, (probably had a line in there about eating vegetables), but my spunky side is writing today's post.

I am a number two child. I am difficult. I challenge everything and get along well with others as long as they play by my rules. Spunk. My dad called it stubborn.

Ready for some fun?

Remember when Mom said: Don't touch the burner!

(she probably shouted if you were the rascal I was) 

If I took that statement at face value, I wouldn't have to cook or clean the stove. What she meant was don't touch the burner when it is hot. Except sometimes the burner doesn't look hot when it really is. Do I still get out of cooking and cleaning the stove? Nope.

Don't is a powerful rule word that requires a genuine understanding of individual circumstances. Newbies-like a five-year-old helping in the kitchen-need to see the don'ts as hard and fast. Unbreakable. Not pliable. No exceptions.


A newbie, in any field, has many other basics to learn at the same time.

It is so easy to see broken rules in books written by seasoned authors. I must admit I was jealous. Why do they get to break the rules, and I can't? 

Rules like:

*Write Tight
*No adverbs-use a stronger noun
*No prepositions at the end of a sentence
*Don't use fancy vocabulary
*Don't repeat words
and many more.

1. Write Tight - I felt like if I cut every word judges and critiquers said to cut I wouldn't have any left on the page! Yes. When first learning this rule, writers can feel this way. The best way to know how to trim text is to read the words out loud. If you put yourself to sleep, there are words desperately needing to be trimmed. If the section seems chatty. If there are obvious details (No, readers don't want to know that the character took a leak or read every word from a conversation). Rabbit trails (this is not referring to red herrings). Yep. This is what we need to cut. 

2. No Adverbs-use stronger nouns -  Adverbs are great for clarifying. states adverbs clarify time, manner, circumstance, degree, or cause. These are great reasons to use an adverb. But, we first need to ask, does this noun really need clarifying? Can I maybe find a stronger noun? Now go back to rule one. If the adverb is not needed, write tight by cutting the word.

3. No prepositions at the end of a sentence - A hot burner scenario. Can I use one at the end of a sentence or not? Typically sentences sound inferior, clunky, or unpolished when ending with a preposition in the American language, hence the rule. But, we CAN end sentences with a preposition when we do it correctly. If you would like to know when you CAN end a sentence with a preposition Click Here for Oxford Dictionary's take.

4. Don't use fancy vocabulary - This is true. Mainly because at the end of the day, when reader's brains are fried, they don't want to pick up a book that requires them to have a dictionary by their side. Readers want to be entertained. BUT are teachable. Slipping in a higher lever vocabulary word here or there is NOT a crime. To use a beautiful word like onomatopoeia, surround the word with context clues. This WAS the trick used in your first grade reader! It works for every age. When you do, the reader will be buzzing, babbling, splashing, and hopefully not zzzzing over beautiful words like onomatopoeia.

5. Don't repeat words - Generally our typos or editing errors create repeated words. Sometimes being engaged in a paragraph we forget we used the same word twice in the previous paragraph. Usually this isn't so bad, but repetition is a characteristic of lack of creativity. We have tons of words in our language. Let's not locked in on a chosen few.

On the other hand, repeating words is a fantastic tool for emphasis or dramatic intent. I just read a YA story about a girl standing out on a ledge. A friend rushed to her, trying to convince her to come inside. After a while, "she threw her boots, thump thump." I stopped reading right there and thought, had I written the same sentence I might have said, thump. Only one--to convey the sound. The author instead not only conveyed the sound, but revealed both boots landed inside, a confirmation the girl would respond to the friend's instructions.

There are many other DON'TS that truly are breakable. 
The key is, we all need the strong don'ts until we learn 
when, why, where, who, and how to do the Do's.

Is this the year for you to break free from some Don'ts? We here on the Alley are excited for your writing this year. If you have any questions, let us know. We're here for you.

What one area of writing would you like to hone this year?

I can't wait to read your comment(s)!


If you found any typos in today's post...sorry about that. 

Mary writes young adult mystery/suspense Christian fiction, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids. She has finaled in several writing contests.

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Julia M. Reffner said...

The rule I would like to break is only writing one genre! This year I wanna write nonfiction, fiction, and maybe even work on the cookbook project with my Dad's stuff. I need variety in my life and discovering that's OK, I don't have to pick either/or. I'm not published, this is the time to play. This is the year I take up the gauntlet of joy and try to enjoy all that I love about writing.

Cara Putman said...

Great post, Mary!

Meghan Gorecki said...

The rule I'd love to break is Prologues. They're widely "out of vogue" but I've read a handful for seasoned authors that are SO effective and I just love them and darn it someday I want to write one. LOL Adverbs/"ly" words trip me up SO many times. Good grief I'm tired of hearing about them in any edits I get BUT it's a challenge to change to a stronger word and a challenge I try to accept happily. ;)

Mary Vee said...

Julia, such an adventure AND a cookbook! You have added spice to your life. I can't wait to see how this all pans out! I'm rooting for you!!

Tessa Emily Hall said...

Love this! I've discovered that, when a writer is beginning their journey, it's important to learn and study all of the rules. Then, after much practice and experience, we begin to have more of a "feel" for which rules can be dropped and when.

Thanks for sharing this!

Tessa Emily Hall

Mary Vee said...

Thanks, Cara. It really suited my personality ;)

Mary Vee said...

Accepting the adverb challenge is like plunging into the ocean to explore the Marianas Trench. This is going to be exciting!!

Mary Vee said...

So nice to meet you. I think we not only "feel" which rules can be dropped by we also relax and become more productive. I think of learning to drive. I thought I'd never grasp all that had to be done. Now...meh...piece of cake.

kaybee said...

I can't think of any I want to break right now because they all make sense to me. My critique partner is a real "rules girl," and she's been drumming them into my head for years.
I guess I wouldn't mind a prologue, but the story would really have to justify it.
I don't WANT to use adverbs, but I'd like to be better at spotting them and replacing them with better words.
Good post, Mary.
Kathy Bailey

Mary Vee said...

I see you point Kathy. And your writing is probably so well done. Some writing instructors suggest incorporating the prologue as part of chapter one. Usually a prologue is exciting and inviting..the very components of the opening pages of a book. This could be a fantastic way to start chapter one. I've read several stories of late that had chapter one like this. THEN chapter two starts in a different time, place, whatever. Seems to work well and is a great plan B that sells.