I cannot tell you how many times another writer has pointed out to me or told me about rules that should be adhered to when you write in order to have a good manuscript that will be published. There are rules for tag lines, pov jumping, starting scenes with weather, varying your beginning of sentences, ending each chapter on a hook, having the heroine and the hero meet soon enough, prologues or the length of them… I’ll stop here, because, frankly, the rules go on forever.
I’m not suggesting that these rules don’t have their merit, they do. But let me borrow a common saying – RULES WERE MADE TO BE BROKEN. I think the best authors know this because they break them ALL the time. The trick is to know when it’s okay to break a rule. You have to recognize your writing voice, and if breaking a rule fits you’re your voice then I say go for it.
Rules have been on mind a lot lately, and I think it’s because at some point in the last month or two I have noticed that the word “felt” really seems to get people up in arms. Try putting this word in a manuscript and submitting it to a contest. I bet you would get a frenzy of red ink and strikethroughs telling you to learn how to show and not tell. I speak from personal experience. What I had not realized until several weeks ago is that usually it’s unpublished writers who jump all over this word. Published authors don’t tend to be so uptight about using the word felt or breaking other “rules” every now and then.
I wondered why this was, and several days ago, I read a great article one of my critique partners passed onto us by way of a link. Literary agent, Rachel Gardner, www.cba-ramblings.blogspot.com, wrote the article. It was about knowing what makes an agent say yes to a story. One thing she said really grabbed my attention. She said usually if she says yes to representing a book it is because she has fallen in love with a writer’s voice. They can break “the rules” if they have a great voice, and the literary world will forgive them and let it slide.
IN OTHER WORDS, STRICT ADHERANCE TO RULES WILL NOT SELL YOUR MANUSCRIPT. LEARNING AND PERFECTING YOUR VOICE WILL.
If you haven’t already guessed it, I wholeheartedly agree. If the word “felt” works every now and then for my voice then I’m going to use it. If a book really must start out in the middle of a storm, then so be it. Think about this: if you change your voice to fit a rule then you just may ruin your voice. Now don’t go throwing all the rules out the window all the time. The mechanics still have to be there, but don’t be afraid to go with your gut and take a chance.
Last night I started a new romance by one of the biggest NYT best selling authors. Do you know on one page she used the word “felt” six times. It did not bother me in the least. The story flowed and captivated me despite her risky use of the word! While getting ready for bed, I thought of some of my favorite writers. They LOVE to break the rules. One of them uses long prologues in a good many of her stories, while yet another writer never has had a hero or heroine who met before page 35! Just imagine.
I’ll leave you with this question: what rule of writing seems to be hammered into you the most by others and can you think of an instance when you have seen this rule broken and done well?
The Marchioness of Mayhem