I mentioned via Tweet yesterday that I have been networking with some local authors. I like meeting other folks and I hope it will lead to some chances for peer review, honest (i.e., brutal) critiques, and exposure to other writing styles.
As part of that today, I got shown this blog post titled, “43 Words You Should Cut From Your Writing Immediately,” by YA writer Diana Urban (front page for her blog is here). This was also in context of some other developing and newbie authors (of which, I still consider myself to be both) discussing some general rules of writing. You know, the norm: minimize adverb use, showing instead of telling, kill off extraneous dialogue tags, et cetera.
During this discussion, one other person in the group turned me aside and said, “What’s with all the rules?”
“Well,” I said, “they really aren’t rules. More guidelines.”
The person beamed. “Well, then I can break them, right? Rules are made to be broken.”
I spent a few minutes trying to explain to that person that while there are no such things as hard and fast rules in the writing industry (other than Yog’s Law), that the guidelines exist for a reason – that is, they reflect the mores of the publishing world, as driven by what they are able to sell, which is driven by what the readership wants to see.
The person was nonplussed. I said, “Look, it is your writing. You write exactly what you want to write and nobody will bat an eye. But if the idea is to be published – and read – sticking with the guidelines gives you a much better shot at getting there.”
Everyone loves the idea of being a maverick. Everyone wants to do things their own way and ride the wave of success that comes from being revered for not following the crowd. But for every one of those success stories, there is a pile of a thousand broken dreams that didn’t work out.
Writing rules are not made to be broken. They are made to be stretched, at best, and are best done by experienced writers who have an idea of what to do. I mean, if you are taking a beginning class in juggling rattlesnakes, are you going to go out there without your safety gear just ’cause the instructor did it once? Never mind that she only did it once and was paying utmost attention to what she was doing. Hell no, you aren’t.
If you are a starting writer and take the attitude, “I am going to use all the adverbs I want and everyone will love it,” … well, you are just asking to get bitten.
And for the record, I think the list linked above is pretty good and spot on. I am a habitual abuser of several of those words, though I was relieved to see it wasn’t many. Sure, there comes a time when any word on that list would be appropriate or even desirable.
It is a matter of juggling snakes long enough to figure out just when that time is nigh.