Saturday, August 21, 2010

Breaking the Rules

 That's my dog, Chi, on the couch. She's a rule breaker extraordinaire.  Every day, she tests her rules and every day, she gets away with something. I can almost see her thought process "Sure, I'm not supposed to drink the tea or eat the cookies Nan left on the coffee table, but she's probably not that hungry since she walked away and I'm sure she wouldn't mind sharing just this once."  
For Chi, the rules are always negotiable. And at least once a day, she gets away with breaking them.
 I understand rules.  Heck, when it comes to Chi, I'm the one who makes them (my husband, not so much).  
Of course, in writing there are rules too. I want to know what they are.  I want editors, agents, and other writers to talk about them at conferences, blog about them, tweet about them.  I want to know what draws them into a story and what drives them crazy.  
But rules are fun to break. And I love it when writers break them.

Below are some writing rules (ones I've read about, heard at conferences or found on the web) and some great examples of how to break them.

RULE:  Don't start your story with an onomatopoetic word.
RULE BREAKER: Pam Bachorz "Candor"
 First line in her great book:
"CA-CHUNK, CA-CHUNK, CA-CHUNK. The sound drifts through my bedroom window. Pokes through my homework haze."

RULE: Avoid use of flashbacks.
RULE BREAKER:  Gayle Forman "If I Stay"  
As she lies in a coma, seventeen-year-old Mia must make a choice between life and death. The story is told in a series of flashbacks. It is gripping and beautiful.

RULE:  Never start with your character waking up.  I had a list of books I've read that started with the mc waking up, but seemed to have lost it. So I went onto the kidderlit random first line generator to find these. (If you don't know this site, it generates first lines to pb/mg/ya books. It's addictive.)
RULE BREAKER: Eve Bunting "The Banshee" 
First line:
"I'm half asleep when I hear her wailing."
RULE BREAKER: Kristen Tracy "Camille McPhee Fell Under the Bus"
First line:
"When I woke up and kicked the covers off, I moved my legs back and forth like a superpowered scissors."

RULE: A first line should get the reader right into the action.
RULE BREAKER:  Lucy Maud Montgomery  "Anne of Green Gables"
The first sentence is 148 words long. It's not about Anne at all. Here's a link if you want to read it.    It's not really fair to hold this book to contemporary rules and standards since it's over a hundred years old. But I adore this book. And I get a kick out of the long opening line so it's always worth mentioning.    

When I find my misplaced list of rule breakers, I'll post some more. So how do you feel about breaking the rules and do you notice when other writers do it?