Writing Tips: Knowing When To Fold 'Em

Today, I'm going to start with a quote: "It's not wise to violate rules until you know how to observe them."
~T. S. Eliot

I think that any writer who spends any amount of time trying to improve themselves as a writer has heard/read some rules. You have, right?

You've been in classes, attended conferences, bought books on character and craft, maybe even read a few thousand industry blogs. The "rules" for good writing and good storytelling could fill the ocean.

For me, it's knowing when to hold 'em, and when to fold 'em.

I like this quote by T.S. Eliot because it reminds me that I do need to know the rules before I go about breaking them. Do I observe proper grammar? Hold--most of the time. Do I avoid all flashbacks? Fold--heck to the no.

As an author, we need to have adequate practice time. I have entire novels that were purely for practice. A regimen to learn the rules, so to speak. Now, when I write (and it's not for practice, because I still do that), I have to decide when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. I have to rely on my previous experience, and I have to know what kind of writer I am.

When I do that, then I know which writing rules I should keep and which ones I should release.

What about you? Are you still holding tightly to all the rules? Or have you been folding a few hands recently?

10 comments:

Paul Greci said...

I think that the more you write, the more you know intuitively when to break the rules---kind of like what you said about practice. :-)

Mflick1 said...

I break almost all of the rules, but then a friend of mine makes me unbreak 85% of them:)

chasing empty pavements said...

This was a nice post, and it totally makes sense. I get so overwhelmed with all the "rules" that are out there for writing! It seems like they are neverending sometimes!

Kara said...

The rules can be overwhelming. I've decided to do the best I can and hope my weaknesses can be helped by those who edit my work.

storyqueen said...

I hear you on the flashbacks...working with that right now. Not quite certain why they are such a no-no anyway.

(Even though, sometimes when I write one, my brain goes all wavy just like the dream sequences on Gilligan's Island...)

Shelley

Matthew MacNish said...

I love that quote, because he's not using the common, modern meaning of observe. Great stuff!

And I totally agree. You have to know the rules, so that when you break them, you're doing it on purpose, and with good reason.

Melody said...

Great quote and great post! My personal opinion (for pretty much all of life, but especially the arts) is that you have to know the rules before you can break them. You have no right to break rules you don't know. Once you know them, know their purpose, then you have earned the right to go breaking as many as you want. Until then... :) And yes, in answer to your question, I've been breaking some grammar rules with my current first-person, present-tense MS. There's a lot of sentence fragments, and a lot of missing conjunctions. But I think it works. :)

Marva Dasef said...

I spent my career as a technical writer, which included editing several other writers' work. They caught holy hell from me.

Now that I write fiction, I decide what rules to break, but I darned well know when I'm breaking them (well, mostly).

An unfortunate habit I acquired is editing everything when I read it. On my Kindle, that means many books have a ton of notes. I never make them public, but have asked writers I know if they'd like to have my edit notes. Unfortunately, after publication, it's too late.

I recommend the Read Aloud feature with Acrobat or reading your work on an ereader (smaller pages makes errors stand out) before shipping your work to publishers or agents.

One additional note: Using a 'to be' verb is NOT passive voice. Look it up. Is, was, are, etc. are perfectly valid words. You can find them in any dictionary.

Jack C said...

People are actually fretting over 'rules'? This I don't understand. Everyone has their own style. Aside from spelling and grammar and the rules of the language, there should
be no formula for a novel. It should be natural.

Jack C said...

People are actually fretting over 'rules'? This I don't understand. Everyone has their own style. Aside from spelling and grammar and the rules of the language, there should
be no formula for a novel. It should be natural.