Break the Rules, Have Some Fun … and maybe get some terrific writing done, too

If you’ve been reading, you may know that I’ve been struggling with the last WIP, and then with the new one I started, and it ended up being largely because I was hemming myself in too much with too many self-imposed rules and requirements. This is probably because I’m a bit of a control-freak, and quite frankly, I like rules: I think that for the most part, they help us organize our lives, our society, and stop things – and people – from running amok.

That said, while I have worked as a freelance editor, I like to break rules grammatically. Sentence fragment, anyone? So long as I know I’m breaking the rule – and doing it intentionally and stylistically – I figure it’s okay. And it’s only recently that I’ve decided that the same can be said for writing altogether. While we may like to keep rules in the back of our minds, it doesn’t mean we always have to follow them.

Case in point: my latest WIP. I’d been trying to force myself to write it third-person, and switch between two POVs. But, all I was ending up with was something stiffer and less friendly than I wanted it – and it certainly wasn’t going to have any of the humor and sarcasm I wanted. So, after my blog post about my rules and expectations, I went back to writing and did it exactly as I wanted … in first person, single narrator, very sarcastic, and certainly a “character” of her own. Yes, this does limit my ability to convey my hero’s perspective on things, which will make me have to work harder showing it through his actions, body language, dialogue, etc, but you know what it did accomplish?

It made writing FUN again.

By just doing exactly what my gut wanted to do from the start, from diving in a bit wildly and just going for it – knowing full well I may have to rewrite it all at some point in the future in a different perspective, heavy editing, etc, etc – I started writing anyway. And it was fabulous. I heard the rules in my head, but I ignored them, speeding ahead with almost 7000 words in one day, which is something I haven’t been able to accomplish in a long time, especially considering my reduced working hours.

Thus, my beloved rules were holding me back instead of helping me. Which made me realize that when it comes to rules – particularly the self-imposed kind – it’s worth remembering and reviewing them every so often, and deciding if they’re still worth keeping, or if maybe they should be tossed out entirely. For writing, I want to continue to improve and grow, and I can’t so that if I stagnate and strangle myself. So, now I’ve found a new way to play.

Thus: remember to break some rules. No, in case there are any kind of legal ramifications, I am not suggesting you do anything illegal, but just break a few rules – the unwritten kind, especially the self-imposed kind that you’ve somehow internalized, but which might be a bit obsolete, or might not be what you need anymore. How do you do it?

  • consider the rule, and its purpose – especially things like grammar. Can you say what you want with the rule? How would breaking it benefit you? If you understand the rule – like using complete sentences rather than fragments – consider using the fragments when it can be helpful to assist with style, characterization, etc.
  • character perspective / POV (point of view) – you should at least know what the conventions are for your chosen genre / specialty, which means you know what to expect when it comes to rewriting. I know my genre generally prefers third person deep POV, which is what I generally write in. BUT, is a story coming to you in first person? Have you ever tried it? What if you’re that writer who is fabulous in first person and you just don’t know it because you’ve never tried? Consider why the convention / rule exists, what you risk by defying it, and what you could possibly gain.
  • experimentation = growth. For me, experimentation is a kind of play, and I like to try something different in every new book, just to keep things interesting and me on my toes. Sometimes it’s what I research, some new branch of science or specific detail which I didn’t know much about, but which becomes central to the WIP. Each time we try to stretch ourselves, it seems to me we can only continue to grow – like a tree up towards the sun.

What about you? How do you feel about rules, and do they help you or hold you back? Have you tried breaking any lately? Come on, break some rules, I dare you – it sure can be a lot of fun. 🙂