Friday, April 9, 2010

In all things, moderation

"To avidly learn is what keeps life interesting," Elisabeth expounded excitedly.  She spent the rest of the day thoughtfully musing over the lessons she'd learned.  The next blog post was written with much excitement.
Did I miss anything?  Can you pick out all the rules I just broke?  I've gone over a few of the more popular rules in my last few posts.

There are plenty more rules out there.  One of them, that was pounded into me in high school, was not to use "There are".  But these were rules that I'd come across recently and that were still under debate or being discussed.
Now that I've researched and gone over each one, I can say I have a much better understanding of why each rule was put in place.  I know most of the negatives and the positives for each one.  However, I still dislike the word "rule".  I'd much rather use "guideline".
The very word rule implies that there are never any exceptions.  Each "rule" I've gone over recently most certainly does have exceptions (depending on who you talk to).  Guideline implies that you should do it a certain way where ever possible, but there are times when you should do it another way.
Just following some of these guidelines has improved my writing exponetially.  For example, here is my original opening paragraph to my book:
Her first thought was, Oh hell no!  Kat had just woke up to find herself tied to a chair in an old, dimly lit basement that smelled like gym socks.  The last thing she remembered was walking down to the corner store to get the milk that her harebrained sister, Kit, forgot.  Kit was always forgetting everything and Kat, as usual, tried to fix it.  This time, however, it landed her in this basement.  Great.  Just great.
Lots of telling, adverbs, etc.  Here's what I have now:
The smell of old gym socks assailed Kat’s nose, waking her. She opened her eyes and scanned her surroundings, trying to figure out what had happened. A florescent light flickered overhead, casting the room and its dingy contents in intermittent darkness. Realizing that her hands were tied behind her and that she was in a strange basement, her first thought was, Oh hell no!
Kat struggled against the ropes, chafing her wrists. It made no difference, she wasn’t about to stay here, no matter how raw and bloody her wrists ended up.

She remembered walking home from the corner store, a bottle of milk in her hand, then a sharp pain on the back of her head. Her harebrained sister, Kit, had forgotten to stop by the store again. As usual, Kat had tried to fix the situation, going out after the milk on her own. This time, however, Kat’s fixing landed her in this basement. Great, just great.

It could still use some work, but it's better.
Here's what I've concluded.  Moderation is the key.  Using the guidelines will help inspire a higher level of writing.  Never settle for poor writing.  Anything can be re-written.  The big question is, is it being re-written for the betterment of the piece?
Sure I can follow all the rules, but by following all the rules, did I just lose the voice that makes me unique?  Is my writing now bland and sound like everyone else's?  Or have I added to the description and drawn the reader further into the story?
Only you can answer that question about your own work.  Often we get caught up in writing for other people.  What will the agents like? The Editors?  The audience?  Sometimes we forget why we started writing to begin with.
Of course, keeping the rules in mind will help when dealing with editors and agents, but also remember that you are writing for you.  Write what makes you happy.  In the end, you're the most important reader.


Lauren said...

I lied to you - I didn't ignore it. I liked it. I've always wanted to put a before and after thing together just like you did. It's an amazing difference, isn't it? See? We're learning!

Elisabeth said...

Lol, I figured you would anyway. If it bothered me THAT much, I would have taken it down. The truth is, I've revised those first few paragraphs at least twice since this post. I just wasn't happy with it.

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