Originality and Breaking the Rules in Wrting


grey outcastWhen I first started writing, it was in the days before the internet. The aspiring writer had to seek out and buy a ‘How To’ book, or borrow it from the library.

The first of these that I read contained this helpful piece of advice from the male author, very successful, but you might say, ‘one of the old school’. I have never forgotten his words, either: ‘If you can’t think of anything else to write about, write about your dog, or your wife.’ Seriously, in that order.

But I digress…

For many years now, for excellent writing advice, you can go online and in a few keystrokes, locate many websites full of suggestions and guidance for aspiring and already published (self and traditional) writers about the technical issues of writing and the latest market trends in publishing.

It invaluable to have so many sources giving varied advice regarding such key matters as the issues surrounding the need to have a clearly defined protagonist, point of view, how to create believable and interesting characters, the perils of having a Mary Sue or Marty Stu main character, and all the rest of it.

220px-Renoir23If one is interested in following market trends in publishing, and the latest rumoured top hates of agents, then one can find all sorts of discussions about those.

Writing from the second person point of view is, I think, the only one that strikes a chord with me.

It seems that the current pet hates among literary agents and publishers also include a prologue, a story starting with the main character starting awake from a dream which indicates psychic communication, plus – bizarrely – large blocks of italics. I must say that I consider that last to be unreasonable, as it is a convention that letters etc should be depicted in italics. If we have a long letter in the story, are we then supposed not to put it in italic form?

And finally on these hates of agents and publishers, it seems that they hate brackets, too.

And that isn’t even starting on the ways they hate various themes, ie, hate children’s stories about discovering hidden treasure in a sinister secret passage in a castle (rather strange: I never met a child under nine who didn’t emjoy a story about that).

Rinaldo looking poshQuite honestly, it does seem to be getting to the point where agents should state what they don’t hate, rather than what they do, because it would surely be briefer.

But it also seems to me, with all this talk and advice about writing styles and what agents and publishers find desirable, what is currently fashionable among readers, and all the rest of it, that something important is being neglected.

Originality in writing means breaking the rules.

Originality means thinking outside the box, and writing the story the way it flowed from your fingers during one of those wonderful times when the story seems to write itself.

We all are all – hopefully- inspired by great writers. To name just a few who have personally inspired me, Shakespeare, Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, Alexander Pushkin, Turgenev, Elizabeth Gaskell, all the Bronte sisters, George Elliot,  Balzac, Zola, Joseph Conrad, Bram Stoker, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H G Wells, George Orwell, Irwin Shaw, Patrick Hamilton, Harlan Ellison, Susan Hill, Stephen King and Margaret Attwood…

Of course, that’s failing to mention of my many talented indie author associates. I’ll spare their blushes, but several have inspired me.

But the main thing is, we mustn’t write like those writers we admire.

We can hopefully learn many things from them about structure, plot, characters, and all the rest of it. To name just one instance, when I read Harlan Ellison’s ‘Repent Harlequin Said The Ticktockman’ at fourteen, I saw a demonstration of how writing about a dystopia doesn’t have to mean writing a story without absurdity. Absurdity and horror so often go hand in hand.

But finally, if we want to try and write something original, something memorable, we must strike out on our own, like youngsters breaking away from parental control. That is what the writers we admire did. Their writing would not stand out if they hadn’t. We don’t want to write a second rate version of what someone has already done.

That – and I know I have said it before – is why finally we should go with our instincts  about  writing, even if it sometimes means going against the flow.

Because – and again, I know I have said much the same in a previous post – we may shelve an idea we love, because it breaks some rule or other. And who knows but some other writer may not produce a book which becomes all the rage, and which breaks exactly those rules to which we kowtowed.

mrx%2BnecronomiconI’m not saying that it’s a good idea to send out manuscripts which, just for the sake of it, begin with a prologue in dream form, are written from the second person point of view, crammed full of italics and brackets, and feature treasure hidden in secret passages.

Well, come to think of it, maybe it is. It would be funny to see those agents and publishers’ faces…

Leaving that wonderful vision aside,  I do think if we keep too closely to the rules, we risk sacrificing our own individual style.

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2 thoughts on “Originality and Breaking the Rules in Wrting

  1. All very true, Lucinda. I sometimes feel like screaming when I read something that I felt has been written by numbers, almost (although I have been guilty of this myself in the past). Some people can make it work, but personally I find it refreshing when a writer has the vision and confidence to break the rules. Admittedly, it depends on what you’re trying to do, I suppose. If you’re writing to market, then apparently following the rules and hitting the tropes is exactly what you should be aiming to do. So they say, at least…

  2. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Mari. I so agree with what you say – breaking the rules is only worth attempting for a writer who wants to do something that stands out. Sticking to them rigorously is the way forward for anyone writing for the market.
    I know there are writers in between -who keep to the rules, for now – because they want to gain a reputation – and then branch out. There is certainly something to be said for such a covert approach – and didn’t Balzac himself start of that way?

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