Last weekend, I had the very great pleasure of listening to Kelley Armstrong talk about the craft.
"There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." -W. Somerset Maugham
For those who don't know, I'm a great fan of Kelley's. I've probably handsold as many copies of her novels as our local bookstore has, just because I enjoy them so much and because I think everyone needs to read Bitten.
But anyway, there I was last week at breakfast, and Kelley was giving a speech about The Rules. You know...the rules that Every Writer Needs to Know, the ones we're told and told again from the moment we pick up our pens:
Don't use prologues. Don't use adverbs. And for heaven's sake, don't use the passive voice. Et cetera, et cetera. A laundry list of things we shouldn't do. And Kelley's comment was that rules on getting published are most often quoted, she's observed, by those who aren't yet published, and that writing rules are rather like the Pirate Code: They're more like guidelines, really.
Not only was I happy to discover she and I were kindred spirits on that point, but I was pleased to see that many in the audience for Kelley's speech were writers who were just beginning, still in search of that first contract, still discovering their voices, because they're the ones who really need our reassurance that The Rules aren't absolute.
They have a place, The Rules. As with grammar, it's probably best that one knows the rules first, before breaking them. If I split an infinitive, for example, I know I'm splitting an infinitive. Or using a fragment. But I've chosen, whether for style or cadence or emphasis, to be ungrammatical at that moment, just as I often ignore what the writing books tell me to do, and use adverbs, or start a book slowly. I know that I'm doing it, and that it's not the accepted thing, but for the sake of the story I've chosen to do it.
And that's what new writers deserve to be told: that it's OK to break The Rules, because there aren't any. There are as many "right" ways to write as there are writers, and part of your path as a writer is finding the way that's your own, that works best for you.
What's the rule that you find most constricting? Mine is "always use the active voice". It's terribly exhausting, for my characters...
Come back Thursday, to read Julie Cohen's post.