following yesterday’s post about writing workshops, there was some discussion, mainly at other venues, about the value of writers’ circles and crit groups in general. There was some talk about writing ‘rules’ as taught in creative writing courses, and whether or not they have any merit.
I adhere to the 90% rule, which is something I’ve just made up, and so this post comes with a few caveats:
– First of all, before you progress to reading a few examples below, make sure you swallow your coffee/wine and put down your cup. I will not be sued for the price of a new keyboard.
– Secondly, I am an expert at plucking figures out of thin air, and so the 90% rule has no scientific basis that it is in fact not the 91% or 89% rule.
Right, we got that out of the way. Now what about writing rules? Those ones where people tell you never to use adverbs, or never to start a story with a dream, and things like that. The discussion this morning centred around said-bookisms, those pesky words used instead of said. Here are a few examples offered by my Facebook network:
“Look at the mess you’ve made,” she spat. (thanks to Robb Grindstaff)
“Krikey!” I ejaculated as the milk machine overflowed. (thanks to M. Cid d’Angelo)
“I’m sorry,” he apologised. (thanks to Shayne Parkinson)
Stopped laughing yet? I’ve seen this sort of stuff in published books, as well as the occasions where every speech tag has a said-bookism. Retorted, opined, hissed, growled, etc etc.
What happens here is that I’m distracted. I’m laughing my head off where there is not humour intended, and I’m looking for what the next crafty said-bookism is going to be. Not good unless you intended to take the mickey.
Ah, but there is a rule that says that you should never use a tag other than ‘said’. Purists jump even on ‘asked’ and ‘shouted’. That is, of course, where it gets ridiculous and people start shoutng that the rules are crap and they are meant to be broken.
The way I see things, the rules were never rules in the first place. They were guidelines to avoid the sort of idiocy quoted above (I could find some equally hilarious examples for adverbs). A slightly more experienced writer understands that. The slightly more experienced writer also understands that the ‘rules’ are best adhered to most of the time, but no one’s going to jump if you break a guideline occasionally.
These are my guidelines:
– Stick to 90% of the rules 90% of the time, and no one will complain too much
– Avoid breaking any rules in the first few paragraphs unless you’re hideously famous
– If you break a writing guideline, and a few people comment on it, don’t be defensive about it being your right to break rules. Obviously it was an instance where your rule-breaking didn’t work out for whatever reason. Just shrug and change it.