Sometimes people wonder at me about supposed rules in writing and publishing—mainly in the context of “what will get my manuscript immediately circular-filed?” but also in more artistic terms. What’s allowed? What’s a deal-breaker? Do I really need to have a firm grasp of grammar? Do I really need to read widely and know what’s been done before?

Yes and no. Yes, you absolutely must know these things. But the rules are made to be broken; the trick is knowing how and when to break them. What many folks fail to realize is that the writers who broke all the rules when they wrote classic novels had demonstrated a firm grasp of how to write according to the rules first.

Practice Makes Imperfect

That’s the trick—before you can write the insane post-modern novel that’s told from the POV of sixteen damaged androids who each only have one sensory input working and a portion of fabricated memories on which to base their emotional reactions, all told in the present tense without identifying any of the androids by name, you more or less have to spend some time writing a conventional narrative in order to demonstrate mastery of the basics.

Or, okay, you don’t—or, better said, some absolute geniuses don’t. Some people are just born with an ability to use words and language at a level beyond mere mortals. If you’re one of those people, by all means write your insane novel without spending any time in the trenches, but not before you tell me why in god’s name you’re reading this blog.

For the rest of us, writing a conventional novel (or two, or 15) following all the “rules” of construction, pacing, and dialog tags is an absolute necessity. When you can turn out a tightly-plotted story with well-rounded characters speaking like real human beings without breaking into a sweat, then you’re ready to start screwing around, breaking rules. You can just hop on a dirtbike and start doing sick tricks. You got to learn to ride that sucker first.

Unless you’re one of those aforementioned geniuses. In which case WHY DO YOU MOCK ME BY LURKING AT MY BLOG?

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