Tag Archives: writing rules

When it’s time to break the writing “rules”

By Claire W. Staley

There are specific rules that are almost always followed in fiction, such as no adverbs, show don’t tell, and don’t overwhelm your readers with too many characters at once. Agatha Christie broke all of these rules in And Then There Were None, a mystery novel involving ten strangers with shady pasts on a deserted island. And yet, she is praised as one of the greatest mystery novelists. After reading this novel, she had me question my own past. Was I a murderer, too?Christie,AndThenThereWereNone

The reader is immediately introduced to all ten characters at once, and the reader gets multiple points of view. It’s chaotic, but I kept reading. She uses adverbs all the time, and yet it seems appropriate for the story type. They did not jump out at me as usual. She tells the reader what is happening and how the characters are feeling instead of showing them, but it works because the reader is never supposed to understand the characters to their fullest extent.

There is a time to break all the rules. There is a time to do what feels right instead follow conventional norms. There are times it makes sense to forgo the common, but the decision should be made intentionally. The author should know why he or she chooses to break the rules, and he or she should understand why the rules are put in place. That being said: listen to your gut and remember that writers are artists, and artists are supposed to do whatever they want with their art. Go forth and be free, and write something amazing.

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Suzanne Collins on writing novels

I just finished reading the incredibly awesome Hunger Gamesit’s one of those books that makes you wonder why you even try to write novels–and stumbled across this excellent interview with Suzanne Collins at Newsweek (published Sept. 4, 2008). She has great insight into writing fast-paced novels based on her experience as a playwrite and screenwriter for children’s television, and I thought this passage was particularly relevant for novelists:

NEWSWEEK: Did you learn good storytelling from kids’ TV?
COLLINS: I started as a playwright. Any sort of scriptwriting you do helps you hone your story. You have the same demands of creating a plot, developing relatable characters and keeping your audience invested in your story. My books are basically structured like three-act plays. I’m very conscious of pacing because you get very little downtime in television.  You have to be moving the story forward and developing the characters at the same time. Another television thing I use is I tend to end my chapters on some sort of cliffhanger, which can involve physical peril, or the moment a character has a revelation. That seems like the natural place to break because we do that in television so the viewers will come back after the commercials.

For more on writing screenplays, I recommend the book Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by New York University film professor Robert McKee. For more on Suzanne Collines, check out her wikipedia biography.

For more on the Hunger Games, check out its wikipedia entry.

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