Tuesday

The Rules

I think the biggest obstacle writers face is trying to follow The Rules. Panic over following those bastards can lead to something worse: not being able to write at all for fear you're doing it "wrong." Thing is, they don't really exist, The Rules. They aren't really real. And there are far too many of them floating around, with a ridiculous amount of conflicting views for each.

Also, I happen to agree with many of those Fake Rules.

BUT, butbutbutbut...

The most important thing you can do as a writer is to write the story, without thinking about anything other than the story, and writing it.

Then edit it. Then edit again, and again, ad nauseam.

Don't worry about whether it falls between 67,432 words and 72,333 words exactly. Just make sure how ever many damn words you have count. Every one of them (which is going to give the story the number of words it needs). *

Read each sentence as a separate entity and don't worry if you used "to be." Instead, ask yourself if that is the strongest verb you can use (sometimes it is).

Make sure you really need that adverb to get the point across (chances are you don't, but sometimes they work--voice comes to mind). **

In the end, those Fake Rules exist because they help with the craft of writing, but they won't help you write the story.

What do you think is the hardest rule to follow?

***

*The first time I stumbled across the word-count rule for genres-- after writing the horrid 150,000+ first draft of my first contemporary romance novel that I so thought was ready to be pubbed on the spot--I freaked out and went through my MS and deleted every extra "that" and contracted every possible phrase I could. This is not what's meant by cutting words. <cough>

**I happen to be a prolific adverb-voice user. This seems to happen with snarky female characters. And I haz those in spades.






22 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Fake rules help with the craft but won't help write the story - well said.
I once wrote a story with almost no 'to be' words like 'was.' My critique partners made me put some in because it read odd.

Cherie Reich said...

Some of those "rules" can really stifle the voice of a piece. The "rules" do make good guidelines, though.

Chrys Fey said...

Down with the Rules! When I started writing, I had no idea there were “rules.” I just wrote, but then had a rude awakening. Head hopping is okay for Nora Roberts but not for me. Haha That was the hardest rule for me to follow. Once I trained myself not to do it...and it took awhile...everything worked out for the better.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Have you ever read author Anne Lamott's book about writing, called "Bird by Bird"? It's great and very funny. Anyway, she refers to a concept called "SFD" -- Shitty First Draft -- and says EVERY first draft is a SFD. Like you said, it's more important to get all your ideas and stuff down first and then edit, edit, edit later until the SFD is polished.

Sandra Cox said...

I echo Alex, well said, Tara. You certainly made each word count in this post:)

Lidy Wilks said...

Well said. When it comes to the 'rules' I think of them as recipes. Guidelines. A foundation to help you build the basic blocks of your story from which you can add your own spice and flavor, voice and decor to ensure your writing the story only you can write.

Tara said...

I can't even imagine how hard that would be to accomplish, Alex!

Cherie--guidelines yes. I'd meant to find one of those Jack Sparrow memes to post with this and forgot. ;)

Chris, I've noticed mega best sellers who've been around 20+ years get away with breaking many rules. I also find I can no longer read them in a lot of cases because the writing is subpar. Makes me wonder how they landed where they did!

Debra, I haven't read that, but have always used the term SFD. I think I got it years ago from a writing website I used to frequent.

Thank you, Sandra. :)

Lidy, that's a great way to look at it.

emaginette said...

Snarky characters are some of my favorites. For the record, I almost always follow the rules. Not a master yet... :-)

Anna from elements of emaginette

Patsy said...

I agree that the important thing is to write the story, without worrying about anything other than getting it down. Anything that's wrong can be fixed in editing,

Tara said...

Anna, I love snarky characters, too.

Yes, Patsy. edit, edit, edit. Ugh. ;)

mshatch said...

I think it's good to know the rules before you break them. That way you're more aware of why you're breaking the rules. Also a big fan of editing much as don't like doing it.

Tara said...

Mshatch, I hate editing. Sadly, it's a must.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Hehehe. Those rat bastard rules.

Still, it's nice to know the guidelines, even if we chose not to follow them all. (We're rebels!)

I'm in the midst of my "ad nauseum" editing stage now. I think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully, it isn't an oncoming train. :)

Tamara Narayan said...

I'm an over-writer. My first draft of my first novel was 180K. I did chop that word count in half though by the time I was done querying.

Tara said...

Susan, haha! Here's to the light being an opening and not an oncoming vehicle of any kind!

Tamara, other than my first ever novel, I have the opposite problem--I always need add words while editing.

Elaine Kaye said...

With my adult novels, I do the opposite of Tamara and underwrite. I always have to go back to add more...thoughts, feelings, etc.

Kelly Steel said...

Snarky characters make for good reading!

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I think the hardest rule for me is to write regularly. I know we don't have to write every day, but even writing every week is tough for me because I have two jobs and no days off for months at a time. But if I had my way, I'd write every day. I think I'd be much happier if I could.

The Cynical Sailor said...

Rules are meant to be broken :-) The word count one is interesting. I really tried to pay attention to this with my first manuscript and perhaps got too caught up into fitting into the prescribed word count then focusing on whether the words themselves were the right words.

Cheers - Ellen

Tara said...

NW, that would be hard--it's great you make time at all to write with that schedule!

Ellen, rules are definitely made to be broken. ;)

Karen Lange said...

Good point! I've always thought a balance of some rules and some "not rules" was the way to go.

Deniz Bevan said...

Good question, the hardest rule... Show don't tell requires lots and lots of effort. I want to use the word aghast. I can't just say " he looked at her, aghast". But then what do I do? He can't just raise both brows, that's a cliche. Thinking, thinking... In a way, it's good, because it forces the writer to delve deeper into each character. At other times, I just want to write "he was aghast"!