Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hard and fast Rules, or just good advice?

It seems there are a number of writers, agents and editors mentioning writing rules lately. Some offering up a few, others commenting on "Writing rules" long established. I read them and think about the rules I've heard growing up: don't use anything but "said;" don't use "said;" don't use adverbs and adjectives; know every character's motivation; all main characters should have a growing arc over the course of a story; and so many more I can't even remember.

My basic response, as can also be found in other writing rules posts, is that nothing is carved in stone, some of these rules are a good idea, generally, but you can probably hurt your writing if you stick to every rule you hear, especially the absolutes.

Among the myriad posts I seem to have come across lately, is a new one by Patricia C. Wrede, "So What About All These Rules, Then?" who shares some "rules" a burgeoning writer brought to her attention. I read it thinking that I'd heard many of the same rules, and she addresses that thought of readers.

"And I just bet that there are people out there right now looking at this and thinking 'Wait…aren’t those things that every novel needs?'" The answer is no.

Wrede goes on to compare writing a book to making a soup--there are a lot of possible ingredients and spices you can add, but you don't need to add all of them. But, some soups lend themselves well to certain things, i.e. vegetables in a minestrone, but if you put all vegetables and all spices, it can turn a soup bad. Wrede says, "You have to tell a story. That's all...A novel requires a story, written down in some sort of comprehensible language. Everything else is your choice.

"Mind you, it’s a good idea to look at things like character growth and worldbuilding and so on, to see if the story you’re telling will be better if you add some. It’s like checking the soup to see whether it might be a good idea to add some of those extra green beans and carrots. Nothing is right for every novel or every soup."

Related to this is a quote that Writtenwyrdd posted the other day by JJ Debenedictus. "Every rule works like that; by learning to obey it, you gain enough knowledge to break it with skill."

She herself adds that when you do break a rule, such as 'only use said,' one should do so with a reason. Don't throw around phrases like "'blah blah blah,' he/she ejaculated" unless you really mean it. Or you're going for the humor.

Visit Writtenwyrdd's blog for the full quote and post.


writtenwyrdd said...

I love that soup analogy. Very accessible! And thanks for the linky love.

Sabrina said...

You're welcome. It was that post and an earlier one of yours, among a few others' blogs, that got me thinking about this. And I love Wrede's soup analogy, too.