Monday, October 02, 2006

Writing Rules and Regulations

I've been thinking of writing's rules and regulations a lot. Maybe because of my backstory problems with HOT. I've read somewhere (And I can't remember where) That one thing the RWA has done a good job at is spreading the rules of writing so well that editors are getting perfectly done books with no life to them. Now, they don't spread these rules themselves, but the local chapters where workshops are held, critique groups are formed, etc, have done a good job at getting the rules out.

Don't get me wrong... I love my Cp's. They are fabulous. But we do seem pretty hung up on the rules of writing. Let's take backstory first. This is one of those rules that every critique group knows about. Backstory, even a couple of paragraphs, slows the pacing down. Where is it written that stories have to shoot out of a cannon and not slow until the bang up finish? Whatever happpened to the slow build up of a book? I just reread Scruples by Judith Krantz. This was her first book, or her first blockbuster at least, and I have reread it so many times I've memorized parts of it. Almost EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER INTRODUCED has backstory. Fascinating, interesting, backstory. Even if the character is minor to the book.

Then there is POV. A one sentence POV shift, one that reveals more about the characters or story, is caught and reviled. But Nora Roberts does it all the time. Even in a single scene, the headhopping can make my own head spin. Now, I understand, Nora can get away with stuff others can't, but oftentimes, she makes it work.

Adverbs. I have taken to noting adverbs when I read, probably because they are such, gasp, no no's. Almost every book I have ever read has an -ly word at some point. I did read one romance that had so many it was frustrating, but that was also paired with stiff dialog and clunky prose. Maddening. But if we're supposed to write tight and an -ly word can take the place of an eight word description... what's the harm? Over use? Yeah. I can see that. But sometimes, it seems to me that an -ly word is the best word for the job.

Distancing with a "he asked himself" Okay, the idea when you are in deep POV is that the internals don't need to be underlines because they are pretty much always internals right? (If I'm wrong here please let me know) But tons of books use this on occasion. Sometimes it does seem right.

Never, if ever, use the word was. It's passive. I can't tell you the literary acrobatics I've done to keep from using was in a sentence. Again, this is a word I see all over other books. Do they not know you aren't supposed to use was? Am I taking these rules to literally?

Again, I am posting the disclaimer... this has nothing to do with my own Cp's who are very astute and usually right on the money. I do the same thing when I judge for contests. But are we doing the world a favor by maintaining such strict writing rules and regulations? Or was we paving the way for a bunch of books that are written strangely alike?

Another disclaimer, I am as yet unpublished... maybe there's a reason for that:)


Jaci Burton said...

Rules schmules. I think too often writers get caught up in those 'rules' and it bogs down your storytelling ability. Forest for the trees, ya know?

Honestly? I don't pay much attention to the rules. I just write the story and I don't count adverbs or how many times I use 'was' in the book. I know...scandalous, huh? *g*. If it's not overused or blatantly obvious that you're an adverb or passive voice moron, then it's fine.

Write a great book and keep in mind the standard rules of grammar.

If the story rocks they'll buy it.

That's the only rule you need.

Bonnie Ferguson said...

What Jaci said ;)

Rachel Vincent said...

I don't pay much attention to them either. And I don't care if I never hear another person say "Don't use 'was.' It's passive."

"Was" isn't always passive tense. It isn't even usually passive tense. "I was hungry." That's not passive. It's just a helping verb.

My debut novel's opening sentence has "was" in it. That's the sentence that caught my agent's attention. It's the sentence she knows by heart and quotes to people.

I have no problem with adverbs, so long as they're not overdone. I do have a problem with adverbs when they are overdone. I read a novella a few months ago in which the author said something similar to "she said angrily" more than five times in a two page span. Repeatedly. Through out the text. Drove me nuts.

But I don't mind the occasional adverb. I even use them myself. ;-)

Sorry, I don't have an opinion on POV, because I only write in first person, which makes that pretty easy. I mostly read books in 1st too.

Don't worry about the rules. Just write.

Trish Ryan said...

Let's hear it for the Adverb!!! I read a memoir over the summer that re-introduced me to how powerful they can be when used WELL. If the sentence is gorgeous, I don't find myself diagramming it in my head!

Christine Keach said...

I think moderation is key.

Shelley said...

The best cooks can take a recipe and add a dash of the unthinkable and a pinch of the "not allowed" and a spoonful of "never ever" and make it come out wonderfully. Just write, and if it tastes good to you...

Linda said...

Rules are made to be broken. They work 90 percent of the time, but not ALL the time.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Teri. Last year a Harlequin editor rang me up to talk about one of my books that she thought had promise. However, she said that I still had a long way to go to publication.

I sold a different book 5 months later.

What she really meant was that I had a long way to go until I learnt 'their' style well enough to be published by 'them'. I guess everyone has their own set of rules and it's up to us how much we embrace them.

Kristen Painter said...

It all boils down to great storytelling. Everything else is forgiveable.