Friday, December 08, 2006

Understand the Rules…. Then break them

One of the amazing benefits to belonging to RWA and our local chapters is, there are wonderful resources and courses for a beginning writer to learn from. I know I’ve benefited and become a much better writer because of it.

But we hear so much about the rules these days. No prologues, start the book with action, no backstory, (Maureen covered how this really well in her last post), chapters should be 20 pages long, and countless others.

These so called ‘rules’ were created for a reason. Too many authors dumped pages upon pages of boring backstory at the beginning of their books. Books started with long, boring conversations that went nowhere.
Not sure how the chapters rule came into being…..

The results of the rules have been positive in most cases. A lot more books start with a bang, literally in some cases… Backstory has been eliminated from the first three chapters, and that is a good thing in most cases.

But, it’s also created something of a homogeneity in books. A lot of books are starting to feel really familiar. The romantic suspense that starts with the heroine in danger, the straight romance that starts with a meeting where the hero and heroine meet and sparks fly, the historical that starts in a ballroom, and the hero and heroine meet and sparks fly.

These books are doing everything right, they are following the ‘rules’ and yet they’ve managed to become boring.

Screw the rules.

Do anything really well and it will be fascinating read.

Create a prologue that opens up all sorts of questions in your reader’s mind. Give us backstory that both answers questions and creates more questions. (Again refer to Maureen’s post, cause she’s way smarter than I am). Start the book with a conversation, as long as the conversation is interesting.

I know it’s a lot harder than it sounds. Break the rules, because you know why they exist, and in the process create a book that feels fresh and different and compelling, because it’s different from 95% of the other books out there.

And if someone chastises you for breaking the rules… well, great storytelling trumps every rule out there. Tell a great story and I’ll be first in line to buy that book.

To finish, FINALLy saw Bond. Two words.. Daniel Craig. Is that man sexy or what……


Maureen McGowan said...

Just for the record... Sinead is one of the smartest people I know.

Debutante Kristy said...

I think the rules are important at first. Having rules to follow for structure and pace (the genesis of the 20 pages in a chapter thing) allows a beginning or uncertain writer to concentrate on other things they need to learn, like POV, voice, transitions.

It's overwhelming and impossible to learn everything at once, and structure can enable first. I think it's important to, once you've truly learned the rules and understand why they exist in the first place and you've used--if not mastered--them, then start breaking them.

THEN you start to learn where you fit in the larger picture, you start to realize what you can do that makes your writing unique. I THINK I'm beginning this stage now, which is interesting. I'm purposely and consciously pushing it because I feel freer to do so now that I'm more comfortable with my basic knowledge.

Sorry I'm rambling, this is an interesting discussion :-)

Sinead M said...

I so agree with you Deb Kristy. you have to understand the basics of plot, pacing, what works, and what doesn't, to sucessfully(in most cases) break the rules.
I'm at a similar point to where you are. Trying a lot more riskier things to see how they work, and to understand how to push my stories so they are different from what else is out there.
Some times it works, sometimes it doesn't, but I'm having fun with it.

Maia Caron said...

Great post, Sinead. I read more literary fiction, which seems to include a lot of backstory, and generally ignores the rules. What I don't get (and I may be outing myself as a rank newbie here), is if no backstory should be included, how in God's name does a writer get across the character's goal in the scene? Doesn't a few sentences of backstory illuminate the reader as to why this goal is damn important to this character? Please enlighten oh published authors.

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