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Books that encourage "breaking" the rules

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Old 05-02-2012, 04:15 PM
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Default Books that encourage "breaking" the rules


There seems to have been many quality posts about "breaking" the cliched rules that are so often propagated in much of "how to write fiction" literature.
For a long time, I too was a follower of these rules, which I have now come to believe are more or less the product of a larger popularity of movies (and, therefore, movie formula) as opposed to written stories.

Every time I tried a new story, I somehow stumbled because the rules wouldn't let me write something I felt would make the story more readable, more engaging, simply: better.

That was, until I saw it done otherwise.

Many published authors break the rules, and this thread is dedicated to them. Some of them keep more closely to a formula, some move far away from it. One such example - and the one that inspired me - is Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, one of the defining classics of crime literature. The novel is certainly not known as the most elaborate piece of writing, or as "high art", but it still inspired an entire genre.
Hammett's characters come to life not last thanks to a liberal use of adverbs, and because the author is not afraid to use "was" to describe people and places concisely and to the point. In fact, the entire first paragraph is dedicated to nothing but a static description of the protagonist, in which "was" is almost the only verb used.

Certainly, the story is from 1929, and "best practice" has changed since then, right? Right??

Wrong. The Maltese Falcon is still a very readable book to this day. It is a great piece of evidence that following alleged "best practice" is not a miracle cure to make you a brilliant writer, nor is it something you should pay undue attention to in order to become one. Readable and interesting fiction follows its own rules.

Have you had a similar experience? A moment that made you think that many things that are proscribed by writing theory books may not align to the stories you want to read and, for that matter write? I would be very interested in your recommendations for great stories and authors that break the 'rules'.

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Old 05-03-2012, 02:12 PM
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My teacher once told me it was wrong to create sentences with just one or two words like: It was dark. Motionless. Frightening.

Apparently it breaks "the tension", but I have seen Jeff Abott-my favourite author- do it many times. I do think it actually causes tension when it is used in an appropriate way.
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Old 05-03-2012, 02:40 PM
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[QUOTE=Auverquille;493507]


"Readable and interesting fiction follows its own rules".


Gold is where you find it and that statement is pure gold. Thank you Auverquille.
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Old 05-03-2012, 08:46 PM
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I can't think of a good book that doesn't bend the rules somehow.
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Old 05-04-2012, 07:17 AM
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The only rule that counts is to tell a story that keeps readers turning pages.
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Old 05-08-2012, 04:12 PM
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Any Dean Koontz book.

So often he doesn't do what would be expected at the opening of a chapter. Instead, he uses a technique of creating confusion, which seems odd, but it works perfectly. It forces the reader to stop and reread some parts to try and understand where he's taking them.

The reader was expecting something else from the end of the previous chapter, but the confusion throws off the reader and gets them off balance, and now Koontz has the them in the frame of mind he's after to direct them, for the moment, to forgetting about what just happened but to hold onto the suspense of it, and then he takes the reader by the hand and says, "Come along this way and I'll show you something else to be curious about."

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Old 05-09-2012, 08:55 AM
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Also, any Mary Higgins Clark book. She seems to break so many of the rules, but she keeps her stories moving so fast and so full of suspense that it doesn't matter, at least in terms of enjoying the ride.

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Old 05-14-2012, 06:38 PM
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It's funny that you brought up the build of suspense because I have been struggling with just that. As a writer suspense can at times feel bland. I already know how things are going to turn out and it makes me a little jaded, there are no surprises. One of the most difficult things is stepping into the reader's shoes and forgetting what I already know in order to to keep the story fresh.The secrets I conceal from my characters as well as the ones I keep from the reader are a nagging source of confusion. I'm constantly questioning whether I've revealed too much or too little.
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Old 05-16-2012, 02:09 PM
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Lemony Snicket's 'A Series Of Unfortunate Events' certainly doesn't follow the "If it doesn't help move the plot along, then you shouldn't include it," rule! That fellow goes off on huge ramblings and tangents, yet his work went on to be made into a movie.

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Old 05-17-2012, 10:02 PM
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Originally Posted by Ember View Post
Lemony Snicket's 'A Series Of Unfortunate Events' certainly doesn't follow the "If it doesn't help move the plot along, then you shouldn't include it," rule! That fellow goes off on huge ramblings and tangents, yet his work went on to be made into a movie.
That reminds me of one part in one of his books (Grim Grotto, I think) where he goes on and on about something completely irrelevant, and afterwards says that it was so boring you'll probably be asleep now and not have to read about the terrible things coming up. Which I found hilarious.
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Old 05-18-2012, 05:38 AM
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I'm amazed people still buy into the - rules that must be followed to write good fiction - malarkey.
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Old 06-08-2012, 06:28 AM
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Rules serve a purpose for the 90% of folk who think they can write. And for everyone else they can be a useful guideline: rules should be broken for a reason, for a specific effect, and not just because you don't know any better.
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Old 06-08-2012, 06:54 AM
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Absolutely.

I also think a lot of the myths about how to write good fiction that people claim as rules are generated by critique forums like this one. When giving critiques, people use catch-all terms to get their point across about what works or doesn't in a posted story, but those terms catch on across the internet until people start spouting them as rules that must be followed.

The actual basic rules of grammar, punctuation and spelling, that some of us learned at school but seemingly a lot less kids now do, are the building blocks used to write, and everyone should know them, or if they don't, learn them. Anything after that is personal choice.
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Old 06-09-2012, 09:00 PM
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Actually, 90% of the "rules" like those discussed here serve absolutely nobody. They are crap rumors passed on by people who can't write and have a little trouble thinking for themselves.

What kind of moron tells people not to use adverbs or "was"?

Myths is a good word for it.

And, as I have said over and over... the ultimate source of writing practice is readily available to all: the body of published work. If your favorite writers do it, best-sellers do it, Nobel laureates do it, why should you not do it because some anonymous pinhead on the internet or dip whose only published book is a "how to write good" book says so?
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Old 06-09-2012, 09:01 PM
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If you want to see some of these myths debunked, there's a series on it right here. Written by a professional writer who is wise, respected and well hung.

http://www.indiesunlimited.com/categ...ts/lins-rules/
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Old 06-25-2012, 03:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Lin View Post
Actually, 90% of the "rules" like those discussed here serve absolutely nobody.
Actually 90% of the rules you pretend don't matter are basic grammar, punctuation and common sense. They serve everybody.

The ones people get upset about constitute about 2%.

But forget that. The big advantage of self publishing is that nobody will ever tell you your writing isn't any good again. Throw the rules out; you don't even have to spell words right any more if you don't want.
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Old 06-25-2012, 03:15 AM
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Originally Posted by Lin View Post
If you want to see some of these myths debunked, there's a series on it right here.
I thought debunking involved more than just having an opposing opinion.
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Old 06-25-2012, 03:20 PM
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Of course it means more than that.
It means having an opposing opinion that is obviously, tacitly superior and better taken.

(Alternatively, could mean "kicked out of bed")
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Old 06-25-2012, 10:09 PM
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I look forward to seeing one.
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Old 06-26-2012, 07:25 PM
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I KNEW nobody actually read these posts first.
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Old 06-26-2012, 07:27 PM
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But since it's come up, this isn't like MythBusters or Scopes on TV. You can't do some cool experiment to "disprove" a rumor.
They have to be debunked Socratically, as it were, but invoking common sense and the reader's understanding.

For somebody to say, "never use adverbs" has nothing behind it to disprove. By pointing out how lame that is, you accomplish it.
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Old 06-27-2012, 08:29 AM
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I think there are some people who are just born with the innate ability to write masterpieces. They break numerous "rules" along the way not intentionally, but simply because they do not make sense for them.

The rest of us mortals I believe should learn the rules. Do we need to follow them all of the time? Of course not. However IMHO part of mastering any rule is knowing when and how to break it. If you do not understand the rule in the first place and are not a writing demon from birth, you're highly unlikely to get it right.
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Old 06-27-2012, 08:34 AM
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You miss the point. The "rules" discussed in that link, and in my Indies Unlimited series aren't really "rules"

People SAY they are and call them that, but they are actually just rumors, myths that can actually mess your writing up if you pay any attention to them.
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Old 06-27-2012, 09:29 AM
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Personally I find these myths/rules/whatever you want to call them quite useful.

Some of these rules you list I must admit to be completely unaware of. For example, I read once that using brand names should be encouraged - because it more specific. The only reason I could see for avoiding this is your book may become quickly outdated, which is likely the same reason people caution against using real people.

The style guides I have read also have no problems with ellipses.

The first draft of my novel had a long prologue. My wife and kids both hated it, so I cut several chapters completely, began right in the action, and the entire novel reads much better now. To be honest, though, I didn't really know what was wrong until I read about it.

Rules about the protagonist, three acts, and character arc are hammered into our brains in grade school but are relaxed come high school.

Adverbs and the passive voice are a bit more complex and I would argue that every writer should understand the logic here. Descriptive adverbs can bring life to a text while unneeded ones can quickly kill it. Similarly, in many cases the active voice is stronger than the passive. Part of learning this rule, however, is learning when the passive voice is acceptable. For example, most technical writing heavily uses the passive.

Generally when I read through my favorite books I find that authors always break rules, but they follow more than they break.
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Old 06-28-2012, 08:44 AM
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So one person says it's a rule to use brand-names, another says it's a rule not to.

Rules don't generally work like that.

The idea that avoiding adverbs and passive voice is some sort of "rule", rather than a rumor-driven myth is asinine.

Again, these are not rules.

Let me try that again.

These are not rules.

Repeat reading that as necessary.
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Old 06-28-2012, 01:16 PM
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You likely are familiar with the Rule of Thirds in photography. It is not truly a rule, but it certainly does improve a lot of photos. No professional photographer follows this rule all the time, but when they do break it they do so intentionally.

You are correct in stating that these are not actually rules, but many of them are useful hints. Perhaps that is a better word as "rumor-driven myth" insinuates that the advice is never useful - which is certainly not true. A hint is something you may choose to use or not use, but is almost always useful to know.

What you are saying is certainly not as revolutionary or incendiary as your words imply. Few of us on this board truly takes these for rules of law. It does however deviate from the original question - which was to name books where the author cleverly flew in the face of these rules/hints/flapoozles in a very effective way.
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Old 06-29-2012, 10:51 AM
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Default Blame it on the New Journalism wriiters

When New Journalism writers Talese, Wolfe, Didion etc got bored writing formulaic newspaper articles, they spiced things up by changing POV's in a story, adding subject attire descriptions, and violating every rule in Warriner's book. The result? The creative nonfiction and experimental fiction forms we see today.
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Old 06-29-2012, 02:33 PM
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The rule of thirds is a natural law, basically. It has it root in the phi relationship, commonly known as the "Golden Mean". It's hard-wired into your perceptual system and to a lot more of the natural world. Look it up.

There is a big difference between that and some stupid asshole saying not to use adverbs.
That's not a "guideline", it's not a useful hint, it's not a technique. It's total absolute bullshit.

I'm not trying to be radical or revolutionary for crissakes. You'd have to have your head in a hole to think of that. What I'm trying to be is common sense, what writers actually work with, instead of mythical rumors and people running around repeating them so they sound like they know something or want eyeballs to their idiot websites.

You can either see that, or not. Your problem, nobody elses.
But straining around trying to get some sort of legitimacy for this bullshit is not worth your time.

When you get past all this newbie quibbling about trad vs indy and rules vs common sense and such, you might start getting your writing on the road to something.
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Old 06-29-2012, 05:07 PM
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I must say, I wish I had found the ignore list feature on day 1. Now this place is truly awesome.
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Old 06-29-2012, 06:52 PM
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I had a feeling that you mostly just talk to yourself anyway.

And certainly aren't interested in learning anything.

Last edited by Lin; 06-29-2012 at 06:54 PM..
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