Monday, June 13, 2011

Let the Rules be a Gentle Guide

One of my pet peeves is the fact that people have to come up with rules for EVERYTHING! This is especially true in the writing arena. We have rules about showing vs. telling (show don't tell), rules about adverbs (never use adverbs), rules about punctuation (never use exclamation marks), rules about cliches (never use a cliche on pain of death) and even rules about voice (use active voice, never passive).

Listen, rules exist for a reason. Over the years those who study good literature have discerned some things that make one work stronger than another, and voila! we get rules. However, "good" writing is so subjective to both personality and generation that I think we as authors do ourselves a disservice when we chain ourselves to the rules. What one person absolutely loves in a story might just drive another person absolutely batty. That, however, does not mean we should make a new rule about ignoring all the previous rules - just set them aside for a bit until we get our story down on paper.

So here, on this AuthorCulture post on June 13th, 2011, I hereby give you permission to IGNORE the rules (gasp!) for your first draft. Sit down and simply write your story, let it flow, use as many perfect-as-a-peach cliches as you wish. Your character can run quickly, or jump joyfully, or glower menacingly. You can tell the reader that Molly didn't like Peter, just like that. "Molly didn't like Peter." Use as many exclamation points as you jolly well please!!!! And then walk away from the story for at least a month. Let the story simmer in your mind, mull it over and play with ideas that will make it stronger.

Then come back to it. Get out your list of rules and carefully consider each and every place where you broke them. Would changing that area to bring it into line with "the rules" make the story stronger? In many cases it will, and I recommend that you make a lot of changes. (After all, it gives a much better picture of what Molly is actually feeling about Peter to say, "Peter stepped through the door and the familiar churning began in Molly's stomach even before her eyes narrowed. She clenched her teeth and pawed through her purse. How was it that the man could send her in search of her Rolaids simply by walking into the room?" Do you see how much stronger that is than simply saying, "Molly didn't like Peter?") 

But the reason I want you to ignore the rules for the first draft is because I think we often choke the story that wants to be told when we are so concerned about the rules.

So, now that you have permission, what rule(s) will you totally ignore on your next first draft? 
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