“Writing Rules,” or Writing Rules?
Every so often someone will ask me something about how I write. First of all, it’s completely hands-on, in my opinion. If you want to write, start writing. All the “how-to” books/blogs/articles/courses out there (and they are endless) don’t mean a thing until you sit yourself down and start trying to put “pen to paper,” so to speak.
Since I started my life as a writer three years ago I’ve written and self-published three novels and a work of non-fiction, and have another novel ready to prepare for release within the next few weeks. I wrote the first book for my own satisfaction, and was hooked. How I Grew Up was published in late October 2013 … yes, I wrote it quickly, but it was a story that had been simmering for decades.
Two more novels followed: Eli’s Heart was released about nine months later, followed by You Are My Song in January of 2015. My non-fiction book, which was really the easiest to write since I was recalling events in my life as a director of musical theater for over three decades, was released in November, 2015. “More Fog, Please”: 31 Years Directing Community and High School Musicals made its debut at the top of one of Amazon’s less cluttered categories. Imagine that! I could pretend I was a “best-selling author” for a few weeks!
That was a serendipity: I was seeking a category I felt the book fit best, and didn’t even look at how many similar works were available on the Amazon site. An example of one of the many things I have learned over the past three years as I’ve sought to improve my craft and understand how to promote and market my books.
Which brings me to the title of this blog: Writing Rules, or Writing Rules? Learning more about my craft has introduced me to a maze of rules which many authors today believe need to be observed as they write. Most of these rules make sense and I’ve learned better how to spot obvious errors as I write. Point of view baffled me for a time – I wrote the first book in the first person – but I think I have a better handle on it now. Growing up in the fifties I had the benefit of an education which taught spelling, grammar, and all those good things that seem sometimes lacking today.
But while writing rules are helpful in better organizing our thoughts … it seems to me it might be very possible to be so concerned about following rules that we don’t remember what we’re doing is writing. Telling a story, sharing our own excitement with a reader. Looking back at my three novels to date, I see improvement in the craft with each book. But I’ve mentioned before, even though How I Grew Up was the work of a newbie author, I’m proud to present the book as I first wrote it.
The first person voice, that of an anguished, confused girl of eighteen, rings true. I re-read part of the book recently, thinking I might make some revisions since I feel my skills have improved, and decided the story as told by the protagonist is as it should be. It’s a compelling story which I let her tell. She was eighteen … in many ways, a very young eighteen. Yes, she thinks a lot about the costumes she wears when she performs the role of Julie Jordan in Carousel. That’s what a high school senior does. I wrote the book within months after directing that same show in the spring of 2013, and the girls were excited about their costumes. About the set. About the first time they heard the orchestra.
In Melanie’s case, a stage kiss turned into to something more, confusing and exciting her. She fell in love with her leading man. I know I’m giving away some things … but there is so much more to this story. She was dealing with a horrific tragedy which happened just before she auditioned for the show. All of this is her story, and I stayed out of her way and let her tell it.
With each succeeding book, I became more aware of ways to improve my craft as I wrote. But I hope I never worried so much about “writing rules” that I forgot this axiom – writing, telling the story, is what should rule ─ what should be foremost. I read something to this effect not long ago, and it makes great sense to this author.
A good friend and fellow author has been re-reading some of the classics, and she commented to me that the authors of that era didn’t seem to worry about “writing rules.” They just told great stories that we love to read. When I read a book, even by a contemporary author, I don’t read it to see whether or not they followed all the rules that are out there. I read it to become engrossed in the story, to follow the journey they take me on, to love or hate the people they introduce me to. (Oops, just broke a rule there.) To turn the final page with reluctance because they’ve captured my imagination and I don’t like to say goodbye.
My take on all of this? Learn the rules … but don’t be afraid to break them. First and foremost, tell the story with all the love you have for it. Art needs passion if it is to live.
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