Thursday, June 4, 2015

Breaking the Rules

There are sets of rules that govern everything from doing laundry to doing back flips. And until you learn the rules, you shouldn't even consider breaking them. It's only sort of like this:
One of my favorite stories regards Pablo Picasso, you know, the same Picasso who expressed some of the most intriguing perspectives through his artwork? He started with the basics. He studied the masters and developed his skill before experimenting with his own style. Granted, I think this is pretty customary for serious artists, but I have never forgotten his story.

At the LDS Storymakers conference this year, authors Julie Wright and J. Scott Savage outlined some of the basic rules of writing and how effective writers break them. Let me just say I wanted to utter a loud WAHOO! But I'm a lady, so I kept the wahooing to a minimum.

In my couple of years in the writing community, I've heard all of the following:

Show don't tell
Don't use flashbacks
Start with a BANG
Don't use adverbs, adjectives, and/or flowery language

And let's be honest, there are a ton of others. Some of them are legitimate and let's be honest, some are made up. The job of the writer is to learn the rationale behind the rule. For instance, writers are encouraged to show as much as possible to activate the reader's senses and encourage them to experience the story alongside the characters. Telling moves the story along, but doesn't engage the audience as fully.

Once you've learned the rules and the rationale behind them, there are really only a few things you need to worry about:

Spin your tale clearly & in the most engaging way possible
Develop a great plot, interesting characters, & use skillful storytelling to get the audience invested
Know the rules, use them well, but don't be married to them

All great authors break the rules in one way or another. If you write well, your own style will take center stage and no one will care if you use flashbacks or tell instead of show because you will do it to move the characters and their story forward. My favorite bit from Julie and Scott's presentation was this advice: Whatever literary device you use, make sure the payoff is worth it. Yes, my dears, there will always be critics who will ask for more or less from you. Unless they are saying something helpful, ignore them and keep on writing.

Need more Writing Tips? Try Verbosity (yep, I'm all over using large, colorful words...appropriately), The Good, The Bad, and the Meh (on dealing with reviews), Jot it Down, Dang it!, Wannabes Need Not Apply (own your writerhood!), and the best writerly advice ever: Butt. In. Chair.


  1. Love this. Open any published book, and you'll see where the author broke the rules, sometimes very quickly (prologue, anyone?). You're on point to say our primary concern should be to weave the most engaging tale possible.

    1. Exactly! Everyone breaks the rules. There just has to be a legitimate reason & fabulous storytelling to back you up, but it totally works. Thanks, Allison!

  2. Totally agree. I love reading and writing flashbacks. So there :)

    1. Becoming Beauty is riddled with them! So it's good if I can get away with it. :) Thanks, Terry! Lots of love to you!