I have always been ridiculously bound by rules. I'm that person who would rather die than take the department store shopping cart out of the store and into the hallways of the rest of the mall. After all, the cart says right on it: Do not remove from store. So you don't. It's that simple. Instead, you slog through the mall with thirty-five pounds of shopping bags while trying to keep a hold of the hand of a preschooler and bellowing like a drill sergeant at the two older boys who are chasing each other in circles, threatening to barrel into every senior citizen within a hundred yards. That wouldn't break any printed rules.
So what does this have to do with writing? The more I write, and the more I seek feedback on my writing, the more I come into contact with the current "rules" that govern fiction. They usually start with some kind of stomach-punching qualifier like, "If you want this thing to have a chance at publication, you need to..."
I admit, I am very easily steered by such ultimatums. After all, I do want to see my manuscripts make it to traditional print. That's the goal. So it's in my best interest to listen to the rules that say you need to kill adjectives and adverbs. The edicts that declare a certain number of words too many for a first novel. The wagging fingers that kick into motion if you start blathering about backstory. But to what degree?
I try to keep in mind an adage coined by Jeff Gerke of Marcher Lord Press, who says, "Be teachable. Then stop being teachable." The trick is this: using that time where I'm teachable to get good enough at this writing thing that I can start making my own rules for the sake of my story. How do you get to the place where your readers will say, "Sure, it doesn't adhere to compulsory rule #28, but man, it's so good, it doesn't need to." More importantly, how do you reach that point in the eyes of an acquisitions editor?
The kicker in all of this is that I get the sense that the things that get published aren't the stories that follow the rules, but the ones that know how and when to break them to serve the narrative. I hope I can get to that point. Otherwise, I'll have spent a lot of time on formulaic words that don't break out enough to get noticed.
It's going to be tough for me. But I begin to see where friends of mine have always been right that I can be lawful to a fault.
So what about you? What rules of writing (or reading) do you think you break well? Are there some rules of the day that you think ought be followed with Victorian British Nanny strictness? And are there those you think ought be run out of town? Feedback welcome.
My Valentine's Day gift to you will be up and running on Monday night, Lord willing. The Windrider continues on February 14th.