Thursday, October 11, 2012

Don't Fence Me In!

Since becoming a writer, I have read and heard many different 'rules' that I should be following in order to be considered a "good writer."  Strong writers never, ever use adverbs, they don't write in more than one POV, they avoid cliches like the plague, and the passive voice has them turning and running in the opposite direction.  (yeah, I know--don't say a word!)  I have no issues with any of these rules--after all, my goal is to become the best writer I can possibly be.  I want people to read my books and not cringe when they come across something that may be considered less than 'perfect' in the eyes of some in the editing community.  I want them to enjoy my stories and come back for more.  I want them to share my books with their friends and relatives.  So, I sit down at my computer and crank out prose perfect enough to win a Pulitzer prize and place me on the NY Times Bestseller list for the rest of my life--so perfect that there is no need to edit because I have followed all the rules to a tee.  Right?  Wrong!

I write.  That's what I do when I sit down at my computer.  I let my muse take control, I let the characters take me on a journey all their own--I write!  I don't worry so much about the rules.  Why?  Because rules are sometimes meant to be broken. What will it hurt if I occasionally say that Dana held Mitch tenderly, allow him to claim that his wife was "madder than a wet hornet" as he talks to his brother, or express my own unique voice and writing style in BOTH first and third person?  It won't hurt anything. And folks, I confess--I do it all the time.  It works for me, and with a book that has been read by some of the industry's most influencial people--librarians and booksellers who found my work good enough to award a prize--I must not be shaking things up too much.

Now, before you get your feathers in an uproar, let me say this: I have spoken with editors who have many, many years in the business and have been told that it's okay to break these rules on occasion.  Sometimes your work calls for the use of passive voice to make the point come across; sometimes you need to throw in an adverb or two (although, yes, I admit, it is better to use strong verbs instead when you can), and the POV thing--well, that's my style.  It comes naturally to me, and to try to change that now--completely--would be like cutting off my right arm. The good news there is, many authors are now 'breaking the rule' and doing the same thing (including Mr. James Patterson). This does NOT mean that I am condoning sloppy writing or that an author shouldn't continuously be learning and growing in order to improve upon the craft.  I'm simply saying that--well, I've already said it.  Sometimes it's okay to break the rules, as long as the result is still a well-written story that your editor, publisher, and readers approve of, and not a total trainwreck.  Don't be afraid to push the envelope a little from time to time.  Now, get out there and write!

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