Exorcising "The Rules"
by Gina Welborn
Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law. ~ Romans 3:30-31
I think Dina thinks I'm a rule-breaker. I'm not.
I like rules. I believe in obeying rules. I believe that rules give structure, enhance play, and lessen potential harm. Which is why I tend not to like literary fiction because it (more often than popular fiction) breaks writing "rules." Which also proves my theory that since Dina loves literary fiction, she is, therefore, far more of a rule breaker than I am.
At this point, I ought to pause and say that I'm not talking basic writing rules, such as grammar. Hello. I like good grammar. I own three grammar books Woe Is I by Patricia O'Conner, Strunk and White's Elements of Style, and Comma Sutra by a lady whose name I can't remember. Oh, and I have an unabridged Webster's dictionary and a thesaurus. (Please ignore any typos in this blog post. I may own a dictionary, but that doesn't mean I'm diligent in using it. Although, unlike with my copy of Anna Karenina, I do not own a dictionary and a thesaurus merely for the sake of letting people *think* I've read them. )
I believe and support the 11 Rules of Writing (http://www.junketstudies.com/rulesofw/).
However, while I do believe in the value of rules and define myself as a rule follower, I am also a libertarian. Merriam-Webster.com defines libertarianism as "a political philosophy which upholds individual liberty, especially freedom of expression and action."
Oh my hairbrush, I'm dulling myself with all my dictionarishness.
The problem with Dina's Rules about the Rules is that they are still too rulish, thus causing writers to focus on trying to follow rules so they don't have to follow other rules. Do you see a circular pattern forming?
1) You can break any writing rule if you do it well.
Who defines what "well" is? Your well may be my blech. For this "rule" to work, we would have to define "well," and set standards for it. If not, this is subject to opinion . . . and mood . . . and friendships. Maybe even bribe money.
2) Apply the 10% caveat: feel free to break any rule 10% of the time.
What happens when I hit that magic 11%? Do readers have an internal sensor that says "Warning: Approaching 10% breakage"?
3) Over adherence to any single rule will result in breaking another.
Hmm. I may need a good 30-minutes to think on this. I may need Dina to give an example of how over-adhering to a single rule results in breaking another.
Several years ago, I read a book oldest son bought. Supernatural by Eoin Colfer. I thoroughly enjoyed the story. However, in the first 10-ish pages, there were 30-something similies. Like a jackhammer. Like a mosquito. Like a monkey on crack. (Okay, not the latter.) Once the author got into the groove of the story, I stopped noticing the similies. Then again, he stopped using so many. Why did he, though?
I figure either the editor didn't notice them. Or the author did it intentionally because the POV character was a boy and because his target readers were boys. Set the scene. Establish the world. Hook the reader.
I asked my son if he had noticed the overuse of similies in the opening chapter. He gave me a blank look. So I pointed them out to him. He admitted he never noticed.
Can anyone say that over-abundance of similies was done "well"? Umm, probably not.
Which brings me to my point.
RULES ARE GOOD
But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. ~Romans 7:15-17
But when we become so focused on living (writing) according to the rules, then the rules become our standard for well-done-ness. Consequently that affects how we respond to published novel we're reading, to a contest entry we're judging, to a chapter we're critiquing.
I used to be a rule-oholic. No, I am still one because even when I don't dabble in living by the rules, I struggle with the tempatation.
Exorcising (or exercising, as Dina said last week) the rules begins with one step.
If we want to focus on following the "rule" in our writing (and we probably ought to define what these rules are), then that's fine. Not all rule-focused writing is bad. Just as not all rule-breaking writing is good. The problem arises when we become so focused on the "rules" that we judge another's writing by our standard of what's well done and what's blech.
So what's my rule about the rules: Good rules allow for individual liberty and freedom of expression. Follow them.
Nice Questions of the Day: What are some of the writing "rules" you've been told? Which one(s) do you enjoy most breaking?
Bold Question of the Day: Who is your favorite rule-following author and favorite rule-breaking author?