Friday, October 19, 2012

Breaking the Rules, or Not

Time and again, I've read that you should know the rules of writing before you break them, and that is some really great advice. Here is a great site for looking into some of those rules. But what is it that you go by to determine whether or not to break these rules, or others?

For me there is only one rock-solid rule I refuse to break. Whatever I write, I strive my hardest to make sure my reader understands what I write. I look at my writing like painting a picture. I want you, my awesome readers, to see the same picture I'm painting with my words. Something I've apparently managed to miss in my latest book (according to the reviews). It seems I was lacking getting across just how the magic works in my world.  

I've always said feedback is invaluable, but helpful feedback can be hard to come by. That is why I comb through my work several times just to make sure what I've written paints the same picture just as clearly as I want.

The last time through is read to me by my computer. My computer might spell out the occasional odd name, or pronounce something that's supposed to be spelled, but these can be easily overlooked. Where it helps the most is finding those small spelling errors my brain refuses to see, or the missing endings my brain always adds because I want them there. It is also a tremendous help in the placing of the illusive comma.

Occasionally, on Facebook, someone will post something showing the tremendous misunderstandings that can arise from the lack of proper punctuation. The latest one was a magazine cover listing some of the articles on the cover. Without a space between those titles the magazine had someone cooking and eating their dog and cat (sorry I don't remember the name - it was about a talk/cooking show). There are many examples, and generally they are certainly worth a chuckle, but it's not something you want in your book. I read one place where one person refused to use any commas - he didn't understand their placement and never got them right. Whatever rocks your boat, but I won't be reading any book he writes, though I might struggle through a blog post or two.

Fortunately, the very nice computerized voice of my computer helps me with comma placement too. The old rule, if you need a spot in your sentence to breathe, put a comma there, but it's more than that. Sentences have a rhythm, and commas help foster that. Even though the comma is a subliminal thing, our brains need that moment to breathe. Without it, the run-on sentence risks confusion, and you never want to confuse your reader.

I've been told I use too many commas, but I've also been told that my reading is very easy and quick. I think, if the reader doesn't have to struggle with their own punctuation and breathing, the writing is smoother. At least that's what I strive for. There's also a possibility that my writing is too simplistic, though both my boys say it's too complicated. Now you know why you have to pick and choose what feedback to take to heart, though whether my stories are too complicated or too simple is something I can't do much about. I try to tell a story that is clean enough for your kids to read, but I want a story adults will enjoy too; I'll leave it up to you to decide if you want their kids to read them.

So how many rules do I break? I have no idea - hopefully not too many. How many rules do you break?


Nadia Kilrick said...

I am certain I break many rules, Anna. Like you, I want the reading to be easy because I think when someone sits down with a book, they are doing so to relax and escape the daily pressures of life. If a novel reads like a technical manual, it is anything but relaxing.

Commas...I am certain I use too many. lol

Great blog post tonight even if it is missing the mushroom compost. ;-)

S.M. Carrière said...

I'm fairly certain I've broken just about every rule there is... though I try to be careful with spelling and punctuation.

Commas, as seems to be the case with everyone, are often used far too much.

But in all seriousness, I firmly believe that most of the rules are not 'rules' in the way people are tending to want to enforce them, but more as guidelines, really.

Oh, and before I forget, I might have maybe tagged you in a post... Participation is entirely voluntary!

sandra Tyler said...

I wish I could remember what writer I heard recently who said this, but it was something about, if the ungrammatical sounds better, then forget the rules. I think it was a fiction writer, but interesting...

William Kendall said...

Having had done some editing for awhile now for people, I can see some who overuse commas, and others where one form of punctuation might better be used where others already are.

One of the rules I break is this silly notion that you have to introduce your main character on the first page. I don't think I'll ever follow that rule.

My two protagonists don't even show up until chapter four. The first chapter starts fifteen years in the past. They'd have been eleven at the time, so...

Anna L. Walls said...

Thanks, Sandra. I think I go by sound more than any other way. Then I leave it up to my editor to find the rest.

William, I don't think I ever heard about having to introduce the main character on the first page, not at a rule anyway, but it does seem a little much to cover 4 chapters before we meet the person the story is all about. Maybe I'll have to read one of yours one day.