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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Doing the Research

Have you ever read an author who broke all the rules?

Someone who Tells rather than Shows? Someone who jumps heads and changes POV mid-sentence? Someone who Narrates rather than following a character?

Did they do it well?

Funny thing that...

Sometimes breaking the rules works. Most of the time it doesn't. What a good writer (i.e. You) needs to know is HOW and WHEN you can break the rules.


Step 1: Know the rules
It may seem obvious but this is one step too many people forget. Yes, it's a bit tedious, but you need to know the rules of writing before you can break them. Some rules, [list redacted to keep Liana out of trouble], can be broken without really thinking about it. It becomes a situation of "Oops! There's a law against that?"

Writing rules are different. Unless you know what the rules are you can't break them effectively, you can just write badly. And no one wants that.

Step 2: Do the Research.
Find authors who break the rules and do it well. If you don't know where to start may I suggest checking out the NYT Bestseller list? Most of those authors are breaking at least one rule in their writing. Several of them are breaking all the rules as often and as flagrantly as they can.

Read the books once for pure enjoyment, and then read through again with a notepad and pen and see if you catch the POV jumps, -ly words, and Telling.

If you can't find it there go grab any Terry Pratchett book (his picture is above). His style breaks the rules every single time. But he does it well and he makes it work.

Step 3: Practice
90% of writing is practice. You write, you edit it away, you write again.

Take a bland scene that follows all the rules and see what happens when you start to cross a few lines. Be a little mean to the English language. Get the POV a little dirty... Come on, you know you want to!

Step 4:
Stuff a Sock in It.
If you find a rule you love to break don't let anyone set you back. There will be some reviewer, agent, beta-reader, mom who tells you that you CAN'T do THAT. The fact of the matter is that you CAN do THAT. And since you've done your research you can show them where it's worked for others and give them all the dirty details of why it works.

Step 5: Know Your Limits.
As much fun as it is to break rules there is such a thing as going to far.

Know where that line is.

Don't cross the line.

Using the odd -ly word isn't bad. Sometimes it's even good. But ending every bit of dialogue with sadly, gladly, madly, badly... is a recipe for poetry, not literature. You aren't Shakespeare and I'm not sure you can sell a sci-fi novel written in couplets. Although I'm sure you could try...

What Rule Do You Love To Break?

1 comment:

  1. Great post. My topic today happens to be those -ly words. I am definitely (<--see) guilty of breaking that rule.