Thursday, September 03, 2009

Back on the Blog Chain: Breaking the Rules

As promised, it's time for another blog chain post. This time, Kate came up with a very interesting topic:

What writing rules/advice -- whether it was a matter of cannot or will not -- have you broken?

Amanda posted before me in the chain, and Eric comes after me.

I consider myself to have a decent grounding in basic grammar (for those new to my blog, I have a master's degree in technical writing and copyedited a local newspaper for a couple of months). While I'm not infallible, my drafts tend to be mostly "clean" of grammar mistakes. However, while I think the Oxford comma should be used all the time, I also realize that fiction writing isn't as formal as academic or business writing. There are times when it's OK to break the rules -- provided you first know what the rules are and why they exist.

One of the rules I've broken in writing is the one against sentence fragments. I've read a Beatles fanfic story that had so many sentence fragments I couldn't force myself to finish it. But fragments can be used to alter the pace of your story or set off items in a list. For example, here's a paragraph from one of my stories called "The Movement You Need." The main character suspects someone has invaded his hotel room and is checking the closet:

He yanked the closet door open –

Shirts and slacks, neatly hung on the hangers provided by the hotel. His suitcase on the luggage rack, lid open. A couple pairs of non-leather shoes on the floor. Nothing else.


In my opinion, using fragments here emphasizes each item and shows how the main character thoroughly checks out his closet. The short phrases also increase tension.

As far as storytelling rules, one I've broken several times is writing novels over 120,000 words. The conventional wisdom is that they're too long to sell. The first novel I queried, Day of All Seasons, was about 170,000 words. I had a couple of agents request partials, but that's as far as it got. I don't know if the length turned them off or if there were other story issues bothering them. Originally, my current novel consisted of a novella and a sequel; I decided to drop the first part (the novella) in order to bring the word count down to something manageable.

Another rule I'm breaking in my current scene is to have characters sitting around drinking a beverage and talking. The idea behind this rule is to keep the tension high and to have your characters do active things. I'm using this scene to increase romantic tension right before my hero is forced into a nasty dilemma, so hopefully it will work for my beta readers.

That's all I have for now. I hope these examples inspire you to learn how to make the rules work for you instead of following them blindly. Please follow the rest of the blog chain to see how other writers handle the rules.

13 comments:

christine said...

Excellent job, Sandra...and based on your writing I think your rule breaking is well justified!!!! Great job.

Eric said...

Nice job. I am a stickler for the Oxford comma (though I had no idea that's what it's called). It just bugs me when people don't follow that particular rule.

Michelle McLean said...

You are right...when it comes to fiction, sometimes rules are made to be broken :) And I'm a HUGE fan of sentence fragments :D

Mandy said...

Great post! I think that working with the rules is a wonderful way to put it. It sounds so much more cooperative!

B.J. Anderson said...

Great post, and I LOVE sentence fragments. I have to go through and edit a lot of them out because I love them too much.

Sarah Bromley said...

I use sentence fragments all the time. It's how I think. I just have to be careful not to throw in too many of them.

Cole Gibsen said...

I, too, love sentence fragements. They show urgency so nicely with out all the boring "telling".

Annie Louden said...

These are some great examples of why it's working for you to break rules.

Rebecca Knight said...

I'm also in the Fragment Fan Club. Great post!

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

I. Love. Sentence. Fragments.

Microsoft Word though... not so much. It drives me crazy everytime they put that little red line under them as if I'd made a mistake.

Great post!

kat said...

I just can't bring myself to use that Oxford comma.

What have you done to me Mrs. H? :-)

I find it interesting how many people I've heard of who have had partial requests for 120,000+ word novels. I thought that was one of the biggest no-nos. Great post!

kat said...

I just can't bring myself to use that Oxford comma.

What have you done to me Mrs. H? :-)

I find it interesting how many people I've heard of who have had partial requests for 120,000+ word novels. I thought that was one of the biggest no-nos. Great post!

Shaun Hutchinson said...

Good stuff, but I'm a total stickler for the Oxford comma. It ain't just a song, baby! Actually I was taught about the serial comma by my ancient 8th grade English teacher and it stuck.

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