on bending and breaking rules
I’ve picked up many books about writing over the years. I’d hear of a title and think, “Oh, I need that one!” I’d look at lists of recommendations on different author websites. I’d scour the non-fiction section at thrift stores with the hope that some Christian writer had decided they didn’t need a particular book anymore (I never found one, but I haven’t stopped checking!).
Often when we stuff ourselves with so much knowledge, we come to a point of overload. I read through all the books I had and pretty soon I had my head swirling with rules and recommendations. The whirlpool was trying to suck me in.
How on earth was I supposed to remember everything I had read, and not only remember it, but apply it?
It was a discouraging question. Until I realised that I was the one turning what I read into rules.
Oops. I searched my manuscript and found I had over 1,200 of them. That was an awful moment. Was I really supposed to go through 1,200 adverbs and replace them? Who cares about a few adverbs here and there, anyway?
(Don’t laugh at the ‘few’. When your manuscript is 108,000 words, 1,200 aren’t that many…)
I agree that using a lot of adverbs can weaken your writing—strong verbs are much more engaging. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend the next 10 months trying to annihilate the adverb clan. Keep a few of them around. They’re fun.
STRUCTURE YOUR CHARACTER’S ARC CAREFULLY
When a friend of mine told me about K.M. Wieland’s book on character arcs, she warned me that it was not for the faint-hearted. I bought it anyway. It transformed my writing structure—but at the same time, it started bogging me down. Especially when it came down to the exact placement of plot points.
What I say here may be unpopular, but not all books need to follow a structure like that. Yes, all stories need conflict, and all stories should change characters in some way. But you don’t necessarily need a pinch point at 37% and a mid point exactly in the middle.
If you want to do it, good for you! If you don’t, don’t feel like you’re failing somehow.
DON’T NAME CHARACTERS WITH THE SAME FIRST LETTER
Okay, this one didn’t hurt me too much. I just ignored it. When you’re writing about a society where one third of the men were named John, it’s okay to have a some double ups—even in complete first names.
I’m not suggesting you name every third man in your book John. But if you give them distinctions, such as ‘John-go-in-the-Wynd’, I’m sure your readers will forgive you. (Anyone know where he comes from?)
There. Three examples of recommendations that I once considered rules. There are more, and I’m sure you’ve each had different ones. This is not a call to abandon all advice and write in complete rebellion—it’s a call to stop ‘rules’ from hanging onto our characters and preventing their natural movement.
God made us unique. Have you thought about that recently? How special it is that there is not one single person in the whole world exactly like you? And just as He made us all look different and have different voices and personalities, He made our creativity different. Not everyone is meant to write books in the same style or genre or structure.
Let’s move forward in what He wants each of us to write, in the unique creativity that He has given to each of us.