At RA one of the most common questions we receive is “how do I stay true to the voice of my story and not break the writing rules”.
First, you have to know what it is that you are staying true to. Does your character use bad grammar because it is a character trait, a reflection of where they live, their education level, or is it simply because you wanted to write them that way to make it easier on you as the author?
Unfortunately, the latter of the options is the one that is the most common.
Here is an example:
A young writer chose to use an abundance of flowery descriptions (I’m not talking about myself. Promise. *wink wink*) because they claimed it added value to the story. Their readers, however, said that it was distracting to them as they read because they were too busy picturing the abundance of stage setting props instead of focusing on the character’s actions and emotions.
Who were those flowery descriptions for? You nailed it, the Author who shall remain nameless. (Really, it isn’t me)
The bottom line is that there is an often unspoken rule in writing that if whatever it is you are doing distracts from the reading experience then it should be cut from the story. Period.
The reason most authors argue against the rules of writing is because they are looking at their story from (yep, you guessed it) an author’s perspective. The side of the screen where you are amazed by the scene, the intensity of that last extremely complex sentence that spanned for most of the page, and let us not forget the amazing word choice that your teenage heroine came up with out of the blue to defend herself against the bully in the school locker room.
Nevermind the fact that the word choice is completely out of character and probably should be on the list of obscure words seldom-if-ever used.
The reader is going to look at that same scene and STOP. That’s right. The kiss of death for any book is when the reader stops to re-read or process the information you just put in front of them. If they have to stop reading, it should be reworked.
So, here it is in a nutshell. If you do not understand the rules then you assume they don’t apply to you. It’s human nature. Reach out to trusted mentors in the writing community, ask them why they adhere to certain rules and choose to ignore others. ASK. If you don’t know, ask. There is absolutely no shame in asking. We have all had to ask at some point.
Once the rules are explained then you begin to see how and why they SHOULD apply to you. Once you know why they are in place you will understand why your character NEEDS to break the rules to highlight the traits that are specifically theirs. But you have to KNOW before you can make that choice. The beautiful part of this process is that once you learn the rules then you can make the artistic choice to depart from the said rules and “write to your own beat.”
Mandy is a stay-at-home mother of three children and is Founding Editor/Editor-in-Chief of Rhetoric Askew. You can find her fiction in Anthology Askew – the Collective Perspective and her poetry in Tales from Our Write Side.