Breaking All the Rules w/commentary

Depending on who you ask there’s a great deal of rules you have to abide by when it comes to novel writing. The usual, show don’t tell, cut adverbs wherever possible, don’t write a prologue if you don’t have too, stick to one point-of-view and don’t change tenses within’ the confines of a story. But when are these rules more suggestion than actual factual rules that can’t be broken? {there might be something to be said for the prologue thing}fri_Fri

On Show Don’t Tell: I’ve actually read a lot of interesting contradiction on this particular topic. Originally the way I understood show don’t tell was that rather than describing to the reader verbatim what’s happening in a scene. Johnny goes to the store. He picks up a grapefruit and some yams, then he goes home. You go into more detail, perhaps giving a visual of what the store looks like and what else is happening at the store. Recently however I’ve come to learn that while this is part of it, it’s also the idea of writing a scene versus just explaining minor details of an unimportant fact that needed to be mentioned. For instance, in my WIP, I wrote a full scene for a character’s first birthday party. But her second wasn’t really worth mentioning, so I glanced {glossed?} over it, talking about minor events if I felt them important enough, just to show that she did in fact, have another birthday, (and therefore a full year had passed) but the birthday itself was not important enough to dedicate an entire scene to. In this same article that I learned the second explanation of show versus tell, I also learned that this is a rule that sometimes should be broken in an effort to break up the pace of a story. {hence the aforementioned, birthday explanation} If everything was all show all the time, the story could become exhausting and tiresome. {and lonnnnngggg} Which I completely agree with. Sure if you’re writing a thriller you probably want a lot less tell than say literary fiction, {which in my opinion seems to be like 90% tell sometimes.} however even in a thriller you need time to calm down, otherwise your readers might get overrun {by a herd of thrills}.

On Adverbs: I’ve always had particular difficulty with this one {clearly}, mostly because even though I see it, when I read really successful authors I see them using adverbs all the time. So in my head I read it as (they can do it why not me?) {this is sound enough logic, although the parental refrain, if your friends jumped off a bridge would you do it, does spring to mind}. I’m sure any of my followers that happen to be editors (I know there are at least two of you) {did you follow me over from the Cult of Racewood blog?} will be quick to argue that they are already successful and therefore are the exception to this rule, which I totally get, but that doesn’t change how often I still end up writing adverbs. {was there a point to that?} I try to cut them in edits as much as possible and my editor will cut whatever else she thinks is necessary, but I’m sure it could still be argued that I use them more than I should.

Prologues: This has been a recent development as far as I’m concerned, I’m sure it isn’t really all that new of a concept, but it’s only recently that I’ve heard it recommended that you don’t write a prologue, because anything that you could say in the prologue could be better said somewhere else in the novel. Or at least, that’s the theory behind this concept. {yeah but the better question is when was the last time you actually read the prologue in a story?} That said, I’ve always felt that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’s first chapter, probably would have been better suited as a Prologue, simply because by the second chapter we already jump ahead eleven years. We really don’t get a good glimpse of his childhood (as far as ages 1-10) so what really would be the harm? I have sort of a love hate relationship with this idea over all, mostly because generally I don’t like to read prologues in books, but at the same time, I don’t think saying that you shouldn’t write them because it’s lazy writing (which is the entire basis of the argument against prologues) is necessarily fair either. I often debated whether or not my WIP would have benefited from a prologue and for the most part I can’t say one way or another whether or not it would or wouldn’t have. {Thanks for clearing that up}

Point-of-View: This one’s tricky, the idea behind point of view is that you should only tell the story from one character’s perspective, which is pretty sound advice, but if a scene regards a character that isn’t in the same scene as the character from whom the story is being told that gets a little trickier. I think the point of view issue mostly applies to stories told in first person simply because when it’s in third person the story mainly follows one character, but if another character’s actions are pertinent to the overall storyline you follow them too. (Follow the action, is my take there). {What am I even talking about though? Here’s the thing with points of view, if the story is 3rd person omniscient does it really even matter who’s head you jump into for a second? Also, there have been many stories written that change points of view or who the story is about chapter by chapter, Game of Thrones‘, springs to mind}

Tenses: Of all the rules this one is sort of a complicated break because on the one hand I would agree that you should generally stick to past tense if you’re writing in past tense (which almost all books are) but slipping into a bit of present is sometimes acceptable if it works. He stood, walking to the front door and opened it. It’s sort of a mix of tenses but it still reads right. Technically you could just as easily say: He stood, walked to the front door and opened it. But to my mind it’s sort of splitting hairs.  {I’m going to have to disagree with past me for a second here to say that actually the second sentence sounds better in this case. It’s a crappy example, but of the two of them, keeping with the past tense just reads a little more fluidly. There may be reasons to change tenses within the span of a story, but given that particular example, it just reads better}

None of these are necessarily hard and fast rules, and all of them have their breaking point as you can see here. Or at least, to my mind they do. But perhaps you take a different view? In which of these instances do you agree or disagree, and if you have a better take on it I would definitely love to hear it because I always love to learn new things. Also if there are any rules I forgot to mention (which I’m sure there are a bunch I did) please feel free to let me know.

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