Breaking Good

The best writing advice I could give or get....learn all the rules so you'll know how to break them. When I first started writing I was all about the rules and trying to follow them to the letter. Pretty soon I started realizing there were a LOT of rules. And a lot of those rules contradicted each other. It stressed me out daily until I got that key piece of advice. I was relieved that I could relax and figure out on my own which rules to follow and which to break.

There really aren't any hard & fast rules when it comes to writing for public consumption. There are certain guidelines to follow if you want people to actually read what you've written...but even those are used solely at an author's discretion.

What rules you break are up to you...but here are a few of my favorites. And why I choose to break them sometimes...or not.


1) Kill Your Adverbs

I don't know what adverbs ever did to piss people off...especially Stephen King...but they are the most hated POS (part of speech) by writers. Me, I tend to root for the underdog, so naturally I feel for the little -ly guys. But it turns out I actually like them...really, really like them!
Look, you don't want to flower up your sentences with too many adverbs...a little goes a long way. But I promise it's OK to use them. Pepper your writing with them....they are NOT salt!
The point of writing is communication with clarity, right?! So these little -ly guys can help with that. Just don't open the floodgates.

2) Do Not Start a Sentence With And or But

But what if I want to???
Many authors...many amazing authors have broken this rule, and to great effect. There are times when you don't want or need a long sentence...or you want to use two sentences to help ratchet up the drama of a scene. And so you do.

Consider the following:

She was kneeling by the water's edge, waiting for him to appear, but he never did.

She was kneeling by the water's edge, waiting for him to appear. But he never did.

The first sentence sucks. There's no dramatic pause. But the second sentence gives us that pause.
And we like it. ツ

3) Don't Write Drunk

Tell that to Earnest Hemingway. (ooh, burn!)
I personally haven't written while drunk...mainly because I don't drink. But I have written under the influence.....of meds that I'm currently prescribed. Being intoxicated lowers your inhibitions and that lets through some of your best stuff...maybe some of your worst, too. But that's why we have editing, right?
I am not saying you must write under the influence...or even that you should. I'm just saying it's allowed. It's a rule you can break. Don't let anyone tell you when you can write.

4) Don't End a Sentence With a Preposition

And yet, sometimes it's necessary to keep from sounding super archaic. Yeah, archaic plays well in YA. o_o  This "rule" is ignored so much I'm not even sure it's an actual rule anymore.

"This is the kind of impertinence up with which I shall not put." famously quoted Winston Churchill...which drives the point home beautifully. You can try to avoid it, but don't be afraid to end your sentence with a prep. It's something you can have a lot of fun with. <winky face>

5) Show Don't Tell

Uh-oh. This one is sacrosanct. How...why would you ever want to break the golden rule of writing?!

The horror!153

Just hear me out. For the most part you should follow this rule, but not everything you write about will be important enough to show. Or describe in detail. You don't want to elaborate on your character taking a shower, unless you're writing a Psycho-esque scene.
Most of everything you write will be important to the plot...you don't want to load your story with mundane info...but there will be some not-so-important happenings that you don't want to be under the magnification of "showing". It's fine to "tell" at those times.
Basically, show the important stuff, tell the rest.

I sincerely hope this has been helpful, but honestly, you don't have to adhere to any of it. Always trust your instinct...listen to your betas....create your masterpiece. ♥

Tuzki Bunny Emoticon



Julia said...

Love, love, LOVE this advice! I went through the same exact process. When I finally learned that it was okay to break the rules, as long as you knew what you were doing, I finally became comfortable with writing. Wonderful post! <3

Shannon Taylor Hodnett said...

Thank you, Julia! ♥ xoxox

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