Writing rules abound: A quick Google search of the term would surely turn up boatloads of them. A spirited discussion about these crafty little critters with my dear friend, avid reader, and fellow writer Linda prompted me to ponder whether rules help or hinder us.
Here’s the rub: Rules simplify. They give us boundaries so we can keep our heads above water when awash in the endless choices writing tempts us with. But at the same time they can be limiting –- and for every rule, there’s a fabulous writer who stomped on it along the way to a great story. Consider a few floating around:
Don’t start a story with the weather: Guess Emily Bronte never got the memo on this, because that bleak heath makes a speedy appearance in the immortal Wuthering Heights. In fact, the weather rapidly emerges as virtually another character in her story.
Show don’t tell: The Divine Miss A, Jane Austen, blows this away in Pride and Prejudice with that awesome opening sentence: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Now if that isn’t a declarative statement and a case of asserting authorial authority, I’ll eat Elizabeth Bennet’s bonnet! Skilled authors use all the tools in their arsenal: showing and telling.
Ax the adverbs: Charles Dickens would have laughed at this one! He’s a master of description and character profiles and a wordy wordsmith if ever there was one. He spices his writing with adverbs and adjectives that conjure up unforgettable images in a reader’s head — and he does it with gusto!
Every scene has to advance your plot: Hello, Shakespeare – you need to do some cutting! The Bard’s plays are peppered with scenes that don’t propel his tales forward, probably because he worked with a repertory company and needed to dream up lots of parts for his actors to play. So there are tons of scenes dropped in here and there that enliven and enrich his plays, but don’t propel his plots. There’s even, amazingly, a little comic scene in Macbeth! Go figure!
Our takeaway? Let’s not be ruled by rules! But here’s a simple one you can rely on: If it works, use it. If it doesn’t, lose it. Write on!
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