Photo by Michael Stout (click pic for link)
Growing up, I was a girl who (except for the occasional rebellious moment) followed the rules. I wanted my parents, family, and teachers to be proud of me. I did what I was supposed to, got the As, and developed a bit of a perfectionistic personality. In many ways, this was a good thing. On the other hand, worrying about perfection is a bit maddening because of course it can never be achieved.
When I started to get serious about my writing, I jumped in and just started typing. I didn't pick up a writing book, read an agent blog, or do a lick of research. Very unlike me. But the creative juices were churning and I needed to get the words on the page before I did anything else. Once I finished my first draft, I took a breath and started to read more about writing. And boy, oh boy, there was enough out there to send me into a near panic attack.
There was so much I didn't know, so many rules I had never heard of. I thought with a firm grasp on grammer, an idea about story structure, and the show don't tell rule, I was good to go. I had no idea there was a written (and unwritten) code of the do's and don'ts of writing. This, of course, sent my anal-retentiveness into overdrive. I jumped into editing and tried to fix the things I had no idea were wrong the first time around. Then, draft after draft, I would discover a new rule I wasn't aware of and would have to go back through again. It was liking trying to break the code into a secret society.
And it hasn't stopped yet. I'm still learning new things every day. At times, it's overwhelming, but I want my manuscripts to be as good as they can be, so I'll keep reading and going to workshops and absorbing all I can.
2015 Update: However, I've also learned that rules are not rules. They're guidelines. Writing shouldn't be "perfect" according to some list. That's boring. You have to find your own style, your own voice, your comfort zone with the so-called "rules." But these do exist for a reason. So it's important to know these things and why they exist. Then you're informed and can break them wisely. Because if you're going to break them, you need to know why you're doing that and then do it well.
What I Done Learnt So Far:
- Adverbs are the devil incarnate. They will steal the soul of your verbs.
- Excessive adjectives are like white shoes after Labor Day.
- Prologues can be a crutch (though, can also be done well.)
- Non-said dialogue tags (he growled, she shouted, he bellowed) are like big, fat "I'm a new writer" billboards in your manuscript
- The being verbs are the ugly stepchildren of the verb family
- You want verbs that go to the gym--nice and strong.
- Rhetorical questions in query letters make agents burn your letter in a weekly bonfire.
- Backstory should be slipped in like roofies into a drink--your reader didn't even notice it happened.
- Present Participial phrases are generally bad. (This one is a new discovery for me. Editortorent has a whole series on PPPs alone.)
- Hidden/Buried Dialogue is not preferred and slows down your pacing. (This one is also new to me. My handy dandy critique group gave me a lesson on this one recently. Apparently, dialogue passages need to be in one of the following structures:
- dialogue -->narrative-->dialogue
NOT narrative-->dialogue-->narrative OR (my personal favorite) Dialogue-->narrative-->dialogue-->narrative. Don't bury dialogue in the middle of narrative. I did this all over the place, including the submissions I currently have with agents--sigh).
There are hundreds of more "rules" out there, but these are the ones you'll hear most often.
What writing rules have you discovered that you never knew existed? Which rule do you disagree with? Which one is your biggest enemy--the one who sneaks in your writing all the time?
**Today's Theme Song**
"Know Your Enemy"-- Green Day
(player in sidebar, take a listen)