1. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    Books that break the rules

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by AASmith, Mar 17, 2016.

    I thought it would fun to discuss all the great books out there that have broken many "rules" of writing. I was on another writing forum and participated in one of those "what are the first three lines of your WIP?" and basically i was told by a few people "don't talk about the story just tell the story." I took the advice though and change it up in my draft even though I knew there are a few books that break that rule that have been critically acclaimed. I was on Amazon yesterday previewing Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, and I realized Ransom Riggs, the author, broke that rule. His character set up the story before going right into it. I then thought of Perks of Being a Wallflower in which the author did the same thing.

    So what writing rules to you hear a lot, yet have found authors who have broken those rules?
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    A lot of writers have broken conventional rules, including James Joyce (run-on sentences), Jose Saramago (mixing tenses, sometimes in the span of a paragraph), Cormac McCarthy (lots and lots of descriptions), David Foster Wallace (footnotes galore!), and Audrey Niffenegger (wrote in first person present tense).

    These "rules" (I prefer to call them guidelines) were meant to help aspiring writers write in a way that is accessible and easy to follow. Unfortunately, a lot of writers take such guidelines as dogma, and their writing suffers because of it. It's important to know that the style, tone, theme, etc. of your writing will often dictate which guidelines you follow and which you do not. This you learn from experience (lots of reading and writing).
     
  3. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    James Joyce, after Dubliners, just threw out the rule book altogether.

    John Steinbeck's East of Eden begins with a whole chapter of description before a single character is introduced.

    Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange is written in an invented language that's a combination of English, Russian, and baby-talk.

    Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker is also written in an invented language - a kind of misspelled pidgin English.

    William T. Vollman's novels have many sentences that are over a page long. He seems to think he's James Joyce, but he doesn't have Joyce's artistry.
     
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  4. Feo Takahari
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    Feo Takahari Active Member

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    The biggest rule-breaker I've ever read that still managed to be readable was Hopscotch by Kevin J. Anderson. I hesitate to call it a good book, but it has good ideas and does interesting things while violating all manner of rules about pacing, description, organization, narrative style, good taste, and common sense. I recommend tracking down a copy just to see how far you can bend the rules until they snap.
     
  5. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    Just a bit of caution..

    First you have to know the rules. Then you have to test them. But only after you have done that, you can break them :D
     
  6. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    lol yes i guess it depends on the rules, but a lot of rule breakers did so with their debut novel. I guess if anything is that good then publisher or editors will look over it.
     
  7. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    Guess it depends on your skill. Almost no one accomplishes that at their first novel..
    But then, publishers wouldn't see the first one. These writers were too good (or had too good a narrator) to let them see the first one...
     
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  8. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I completely agree with you here, @Lifeline. I understand the wish to do something different and out of the box, but I also see the danger (or folly) in wanting to do that first before understanding technique.

    I liken it to art nouveau furniture. It was a wild break from the structure and form of furniture of the day and its organic line and themes never caught on in America (in furniture) because it was seen as just too strange. But regardless of how much of a break it was with prior forms, the person who made this gorgeous desk was still a skilled woodworker first and foremost. Without that skill present in the first place, the execution of the end product would likely have been a disaster.

    [​IMG]
     
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  9. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    Im not talking about major rules, I would imagine a lesser know or first time writer to have a hard time getting away with breaking them. This thread was mostly just for fun, to see if there were rules that were broken often that we should stop calling them rules. you know?
     
  10. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, I don't know. Read House of Leaves.
     
  11. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    Here is a list of common rules I found:
    http://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/feb/20/ten-rules-for-writing-fiction-part-one

    I must say that I think these are all reasonable and valid rules to have especially as a first time writer, though I was surprised to see that you shouldn't use more then two "!" per 100,000 words! I am pretty sure I have more than that in my dialogue.
     
  12. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Two exclamation marks per 100,000 words? That's crap, not a rule :)
     
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  13. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, that's crazy. That's as good as saying, "Only twice in a whole novel, and only of that novel is really big."
     
  14. JLT
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    JLT Active Member

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    I recently read a rule-breaker: Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five with its non-consecutive plot. His character finds himself stumbling from one part of his life to another ... old age to youth to maturity to infancy ... in a totally non-linear fashion. I doubt if anybody but Vonnegut could have made that work.
     
  15. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    In a similar theme...

    Clay's Ark by Octavia Butler. The chapters are set up so that the chronological order of events is split in half, and the last half is flipped around and interlaced into the first.

    If the normal order of events is chaptered like this: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

    Clay's Ark is chaptered like this: 10, 1, 9, 2, 8, 3, 7, 4, 6, 5

    The first chapter is the end of the chronological story; the second chapter is the beginning of the chronology, etc.
     
  16. booksandnoodles
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    booksandnoodles Member

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    I think the 5th wave broke some rules when it make to the POV's. There's a total of 5 character views I remember seeing. It worked so well. Some were in first while others were in 3rd.
     
  17. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    Finnigan's Wake broke every rule of the english language.
     

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