Selective Rebeling (or, Breaking the Writing Rules, Carefully)

When  readers and writers discuss writing, often the conversation turns to rules, those oft-referenced, seemingly inflexible statements that appear to dictate how things ought to go. The fledgling writer is told, “Write what you know! Write in one voice! Don’t use Adverbs!” Heavens, it’s a wonder that people continue to write after hearing all this nonsense about rules. It’s rather fascinating to me that the writing process seems so mired in rules, when writing is also considered an art–and how many artists are known for following rules?

Well, writers are rebels. Especially mystery writers! Most, if not all, of my favorite writers demonstrate rebellion in their writing, and as a reader, I’m grateful. If writers only wrote what they knew, then an awful lot of books would never have been written. And much of what was written would have been terribly boring.  Sure, use of good grammar is always important; but, the judicious use of creative grammar can be useful. Writers aren’t limited to writing what they already know; instead, writers write what’s interesting or about which they’re passionate–if the writer is excited, the writing is likely to be, also. How much more fun is that for the reader?! Some of my favorite writers head-hop, and it can work. Of course, I’ve read books where, truly, the writer should have stuck to one voice, but if the head-hopping is done well, multiple voices can add meaningful depth and breadth to a story.

And therein lies the rub, as they say. Rules can be broken, the resulting writing might be fantastic, but. . .but.

You gotta be good. The writer with a superior grasp of grammar or plot development or world-building is far more likely to successfully bend, break, or re-write the relevant writing rules than the writer who, perhaps, still has quite a bit to learn in those areas. The writer with a clear purpose, a well-defined target audience, or simply a willingness to take a risk, is also well-positioned to tinker with the accepted approaches to writing, and ignore some (or all!) of those pesky rules. The writer who is prepared to listen well to beta reader feedback, and revise accordingly, can afford to bend those rules a bit–or a lot–and see what works for them as writers.

For me, this is what makes writing an art, and the writer an artist. There are some foundation skills writers should learn so that reader can access the writing, a certain amount of practice writers may (likely) benefit from undertaking, and then, as confidence is built, as the basic skills become solid, the writer can explore, play, experiment, and have a rockin’ good time. They can rebel, and the resulting work is exciting for the reader. Much like the pool player who first learns to line up a basic shot, and then to sink the ball consistently, and then learn trick shots, the writer must learn to line up the words that invite the reader into a new world, and then to take those readers on a unique journey. How lucky that writers make good rebels!

Rules, schmools.

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Author: Pamela A. Oberg

Pamela is a portfolio manager at an educational assessment company by day, writer by night. Founder of Writers on Words (a discussion and critique group), Pamela enjoys spinning tales of murder and mayhem, with an occasional foray into the world of the paranormal.

7 thoughts on “Selective Rebeling (or, Breaking the Writing Rules, Carefully)”

  1. I always enjoyed the Spenser novels. He never used more words than he had to and he still got the point across. Miss Robert Parker. Some of his ghost writers are pretty good and some aren’t. Some get too wordy.

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  2. “it’s a wonder that people continue to write after hearing all this nonsense about rules. It’s rather fascinating to me that the writing process seems so mired in rules, when writing is also considered an art–and how many artists are known for following rules?” AMEN!

    Like

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