Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Rules = GUIDELINES!

When I first started writing I was so green that besides grammar rules, I knew NOTHING of writing rules, which means when I started learning about the craft of writing and just how many rules were actually involved in writing a novel (I was in the process of writing Prayers to Russell), I was completely overwhelmed and even put my writing on hold for a while because I felt they constricted my "voice." I mean, who would have ever thought that rules like "no adverbs" existed? And I can't say "she murmured?" I have to always she "she said?" And what's this "show vs. tell?" There are many more where these come from.

I read so many posts on forums and agents' blogs (and even learned in a webinar) how big of a deal these rules are, and got the impression that, basically, anyone who thought they were good enough to "break" the rules, was a rookie who didn't know her/his stuff. That totally turned me off from the publishing industry for a long time because I felt like these agents and editors were trying to "clip my wings." If all writers were to follow these specific rules to the T, wouldn't everyone sound the same? And besides, haven't I read numerous books by best-selling authors where these very rules they say are death to your MS were not followed, or bypassed?

So what's the deal??

I was extremely frustrated to say the least. But when some of that frustration wore off and I couldn't stay away from what I loved anymore, I continued to write, revised and edited based on these rules, and began to understand them more. I actually understood why most, if not all, of them were set. And when I became used to them, I began to write with them naturally and realized just how much they actually helped my writing, rather than hurt or hindered it.

However, I also decided that I knew enough about them to be able to break them every once in a while, when it was in my story's best interest. So in knowing the rules, and why they are put in place, I was able to work around them when I felt my story would be better by veering away from that rule.

BUT there was one rule that still itched in my brain...and this was the most VITAL of writing rules, according to all the "experts." And that is the rule of a constant POV. For the last year that specific rule has eaten at me to the point where I even wanted to give up writing completely, because after trying to rewrite my story in a single POV, I realized just how much it stifled my story. I realized that breaking that rule and instead writing in the all-dreaded omniscient POV made my story more rounded and was simply better. No matter how many people told me it was a "no no," I wasn't going to veer away from that. Even if it meant never getting published.

I even learned from one unnamed professional in the business that told me (without reading my work or knowing anything about me) that it was impossible for me, a new writer, to do it effectively, so I should avoid it completely. And she made me feel stupid for even considering it. It was utterly disheartening to me because I felt confident enough that I did do it effectively (head-hopping). Needless to say, even though it offended me and was discouraging, it made me more determined to do it the way I wanted and to make it sound right.

The whole reason they have the POV rule is because if not done correctly, it can be extremely confusing to readers and they can lose involvement in the characters. But I feel like (and maybe I'm totally wrong) I have done this "head-hopping" in a way that isn't confusing, but actually helpful to the story and insight of the characters. I think if done right, writing in omniscient POV can be a good tool. Yet editors are against it.

So anyway, as I've been continuing to work on my MS, still hopeful, in the back of my mind I can't remove the gnawing fact that because I have broken this rule, I will have NO chance at getting published. And it's honestly lessened my drive a little the past few months.

BUT (now here's the good "but")...today when reading one of my esteemed agent's blog, Rachelle Gardner, she had an excellent post about these rules and shed a light on it from the professional side of the industry that I'd never seen before. And her post wasn't all that was helpful. All 41 comments from the readers were helpful as well.

Basically, it emphasized that the rules are more of guidelines. Know them, and then you can learn how to use them...or not use them at all. Write your story without the rules in mind, but use the rules in your revising process to point out where your story needs work or can be better. Ask yourself "Does following this rule make my writing/story better?" Simple as that. If it doesn't, then DON'T USE IT. A concept I'd never heard before! Well...except in my head.

It just helped IMMENSELY to hear from her and other writers that it's okay to break some of the rules. Most of the rules are put in place anyway because of how many unskilled people abuse them. So knowledge is power. I read some comments from writers who had the SAME PROBLEM AS ME! One said she was a wicked head-hopper, but learned how to do it effectively. I can't even express how much this lightened my shoulders and removed the blackness in the back of my mind concerning this subject. I just had to post about it because I feel it's a breakthrough for me and I realized how many other writers were in the same boat as me...feeling like they all had to conform to the same voice and feel, rather than being artists and allowing their creativity to flow.

One point was made from a commenter that she realized breaking the POV rule (effectively) was, in a sense, her voice. And I loved that. Because sometimes I wonder what my voice is. And I realize that writing in omniscient POV is a part of it for me. All three novels I've written have been in that POV. If any of my readers feel that the POV switching in my stories is confusing, I hope you will please tell me so I know what I need to work on.

Anyway, I am grateful for this new way of thinking. Now I can take what I know and write the way I want to write, and not feel hindered by the rules. I can let them liberate me!

3 comments:

Lola X said...

Great Blog!!! Love it!!!

Lola x
http://lola-x.blogspot.com

THE SARCASM GODDESS said...

If I think about all the rules of writing, I would never pick up a pen...or go to the keyboard. I have found I learn the most about what works by reading. Even when I'm reading a book for fun I often find myself thinking "What made that scene work? I like the way the author conveyed that emotion, structured the sentences, paragraphs, used certain moods to create a mood." Following the "rules" can be sooo discouraging. And I think for someone who is unpublished, like me, not following them could be "easy" excuse for an agent/publisher not to sign me, but I ultimately think if the story is good, if it captures the reader and holds their attention, keeps them turning the page, then the rules don't matter one bit.

I'm currently reading a story posted in installments by another blogger and the rules are breaking all over the place, from basic things like punctuation to bigger things like POV, but none of it matters to be because it's a good story, it's totally sucked me and I can't wait for the next installment.

Phew! That was a lot of writing. I feel like I'm in therapy! I think the most important thing for us writers is to keep writing, even when it hurts, and write the story we most desperately want to read. The rest will work itself out. Right?! I hope so...

K said...

I remember in high school during my senior year my lit teacher gave each of the students an actual license. It was a 'poetic license' and I had never heard of it before. It allowed us to 'break' the rules and from that moment on, I've found it easier to be creative when I write. Then the editor in me comes out when revising, but to not be stuck within the walls of certain rules really helps my brain when I write!