Today’s topic is creative writing and the rules that come with being with an author. You know the rules I mean: we’ve all heard them. I’ll reference each one by one later on.
Don’t feel like you have to obey the rules. All you have to do is to know the rules. Once you do, you can break them if you want to, as long as you break them consistently.
Consistency is the key. I got the idea for this post after I wrote yesterday’s, because yesterday I talked about point of view and characterization. Specifically, I talked about how to characterize secondary characters when your point of view doesn’t allow you to “head hop.”
- Don’t head hop. This is one of those rules people like to throw around for a reason. You shouldn’t head hop if you’re limiting yourself to a limited POV. When your narrator only follows one person, you’re stuck with that person. But your narrator doesn’t have to do that. Your narrator can be omniscient and jump from host to host like your dog’s fleas do, even in the middle of a scene. If you head hop consistently, and with a plan and purpose, it becomes part of your style. Readers expect and accept it. It’s not an “error” or “bad writing” in that instance.
- Don’t use contractions. Some writers say blanketly, “Don’t use contractions with a third person narrator.” But I do. (Horror of horrors!) Outside of dialogue I use contractions, and I’m okay with that. My beta readers were okay with that: one even told me he really liked my informal, approachable style. It fit the piece. Why? I used them consistently to achieve the flow I wanted in my narration.
- Don’t use semicolons in dialogue. I used to obey this rule, and then I tossed it out the window. What’s your other option, a comma splice? You can use those in dialogue. But sometimes my characters need a pause between two connected ideas that’s shorter than a comma indicates, but not quite period length.
- Don’t use fragments. Can you overuse fragments? Yes. Should you always know when you have introduced a fragment into your writing? Yes. Can you use fragments from time to time, rarely but regularly, to punch a point home, draw attention, and make effective use of the idea that “less is often more”? By Ernest Hemingway, yes, yes you can.
- Don’t write in the passive voice. See “fragments” above. Rewording a sentence to make it active can also make it wordy, clunky, and jarring. In these instances–of which you will have a few–you do better to consistently choose the passive voice. This is a point I really drive home in the chapters on style in “Writing for You.”
- Don’t write one sentence paragraphs. For me, this is another rule to take with a grain of salt. First of all, depending on your style, one sentence can take up 8 or 10 lines. There is nothing wrong with an 8 or 10 line paragraph. Secondly, one sentence paragraphs can be a consistent way to emphasize a point and increase tension, as long as you don’t have one every other page. And even if you do–maybe you write horror, or action-adventure, genres that need a lot of tension–it becomes part of your style, and chances are that if you go that often to that device, you can make that device work for you.
So, those are my thoughts on consistency and writing. If you know what you’re doing, you’re purposely crafting a specific effect, and you develop your style through employing the same devices consistently without overdoing them, disregard the rules.
They’re more like guidelines, anyway. *Captain Barbossa nods in approval behind my shoulder.*
Do you break any of the rules I mention above? Do you abide by one of them religiously? Why?
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