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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Know the rules before you break them

Have you ever noticed that just when you find out a new "rule" of writing...

-Don't open a novel with a dream sequence
-Don't open a chapter with dialogue
-Always SHOW, don't TELL
-Don't be overly dramatic or wordy
-For goodness' sake, lay off the adverbs!

...that's when you happen to read a new middle grade or young adult novel that is absolutely, positively, painfully, really excruciatingly drowning in a deep, gray sea of words that seemingly reach into the deep nothingness and pull back a golden, shining, gleaming orb of plot, and then suddenly, inexplicably...you're hooked.

Darn those authors for breaking the rules, right? I mean, why can Author X start with a dream sequence when I clearly read an agent interview that said those were overdone and placed inappropriately. And the last novel I read was BRIMMING with adverbs--they were all over the place! Why, oh why, didn't the stinking editors tell Author Y to get rid of them? And don't even get me started on Author Z--she totally used the adjective "finicky" three times and the tagline "he bellowed" twice in the same chapter! It's so unfair, right?

Hmmm, it depends.

Jerry Spinelli is one of the most original voices in middle grade reading, and some of the scenes in his books are full of description with zero dialogue, something that's supposedly a kiss-of-death for inpatient middle grade readers.

I've read several not-so-nicely-expressed opinions about a certain TWILIGHT author's inability to write--how the books are filled with "really sucky writing," but you know what? She's published and sitting fairly pretty, I would imagine. Her story lines are entertaining and match a certain audience's interests. Sucky writing or very smart lady?

And I recently finished the latest Pat Conroy novel (granted he's an adult novelist) SOUTH OF BROAD, and found it...well, dramatic and wordy, full of backstory and adjectives and adverbs. I loved it; I didn't even care that I could pluck every character out of it and easily place them into their alter-ego in another of his novel's, BEACH MUSIC. Know why? Because the man is a good writer, or at least one who has endeared himself to a large group of readers. Sure, some of his descriptions are overdone, but they are also delicious and spot-on and make me feel like I'm in the scene.

As newer writers, we're often told to CUT, CUT, CUT! TIGHTEN, TIGHTEN, TIGHTEN! And then we read wonderful novels that meander into character's thoughts for pages, bringing us closer to their world. Or that have sidebar plots that could be cut, but make the book just a little more clever when left in.

The point is, take a look at your manuscript. Know that some styles/choices are more acceptable than others. Do NOT shun the advice of others, particularly agents (aka, the posts you can find by clicking on the links to the right), but keep in mind that there are tons of opinions out there. Now, don't take that as an excuse to be lazy: DO make changes, but not at the expense of your voice. People will critique you harshly for not having dialogue in a scene, and then for letting your characters carry on a conversation for four pages straight.

Everything is relative. Are your writing choices making the book more enjoyable/exciting/suspenseful/angsty (whatever your angle is) and smoother to read, or are they getting in the way of telling a good story? Can you take a few things out and have the same effect? If so, do it, but don't be afraid of words or new/different ways to develop a plot line, etc.

Yes, it's important to follow the rules, but it's also important to follow your heart. After all, isn't that what made you start writing in the first place?

Anyway, some food for thought :)

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