1. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Something I found about breaking all the rules ...

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by minstrel, Aug 3, 2014.

    I came across this.

    I found myself agreeing strongly with this statement from the article: "There is no one correct way to write, and following every rule in the book won't make your text a success." Most of the rest of it seemed a pretty empty puff piece.

    Any thoughts?
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    The only rule in art is that there are no rules.
     
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  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I think that before you break the rules, you need to follow them until you understand why the rule you wish to break exists. Only when you understand a rule do you understand what it costs you to break it, and what the potential value of breaking it is.

    They really aren't rules at all, most of them. They are guideposts on the most reliable and direct trails. There may be far more interesting routes, but they are not for the inexperienced.
     
  4. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Rules exist to help those of us who have yet to achieve objective success. It's a very amateur mindset to dream that you will somehow be the Neo of the literary world.
     
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  5. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    Rules delineate the sure shot way of achieving some semblance of the success one speaks of. It is not the best way for every writer, and the success rate for each writer will go anywhere from 100% to 0%. However, something like a normal distribution, rules attempt to maximize probability of achievement for a maximum number of people. And, like @Cogito said, to know when the rules don't work, you need to master the rules to begin with.
     
  6. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    The only rules in writing are SPaG (or spAg :D), and those are the ones you should understand before breaking. Otherwise, there's only suggestions and advice.
     
  7. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    The only rule in writing is "If you're writing a book, make sure you use words and not clay or paint."
     
  8. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Just thinking aloud here. I think there's a connection between breaking/bending rules and the rise and fall of literary traditions. If you think about it, rules are completely arbitrary. They're designed to make sure everyone's on the same page. There have been literary traditions based on this idea. So it's not terribly important for an artist to know the rules before he breaks them (well, perhaps on a practical level it is, but then again, perhaps not) in the same way that it's not terribly important for an artist to be familiar with realism before attempting to create a modernist piece. For me, these concepts are closely related. What's more important is that the artist can convince others that his way of doing things is just as valid as that of the "traditionalists."

    That might not make complete sense as I currently have it, so I'll have to think about how I can make it clearer (and also expand on it).
     
  9. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    They're more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules. Welcome aboard the Writing World, Minstrel.
     
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  10. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I've been in the Writing World for decades. I just posted the link for the delectation of our membership. :)
     
  11. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    <cries>

    I...I was going to use that reference!! ;___; <cries> CURSE YOU! CURSE YOU ALL TO HECK!!! <pounds fists into the sand>

    Seriously, though, an expert writer follows this mantra: "...I knew the rules, I understood what I was supposed to do, but I didn't. I was compelled to stay, compelled to disobey..."
     
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  12. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Sorry, @minstrel, the link was gone by the time I got here.

    But you've nudged a brain cell that's been ruminating as I've been going through the editing process. There are two "rules" that I've that I've come across and taken as guidance that, together, have recently gotten me into trouble. One is, "don't spoonfeed the reader; let the reader figure some things our for him/herself." The other is "almost everything the writer researches are things (s)he needs to know but the writer does not." I've repeated both of these many times right here. But in getting feedback from some of my beta-readers, it seems I had gone rather too far in the other direction, leaving much too little information to give the reader context for my story. And then, in trying to repair the shortcoming, I ran headlong into what may be the most popular mantra extant among writers, the command to "Show, don't tell!" Well, the bottom line is that one cannot coherently tell the tale of a historical novel covering 500 years without telling for the sake of scene-setting and context-establishing, and doing so will also save both the writer and the reader the agony trying to dribble it all out in patches of dialogue.

    It's not that one needs to follow the rules or break the rules, but rather that ALL of the rules (other than SPaG, as noted by @shadowwalker above, and even them you can play with at times, but you'd best have a good reason for doing so) are relative. Like planets in space, each exerts a kind of force on the others and is itself exerted upon in turn.
     
  13. Poziga
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    Poziga Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hahaha, this is awesome, I was also thinking about this! :D

    For those who don't get the reference:
     
  14. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @EdFromNY, the link is still there. Click the word "this" in the first line of my post (it's blue, but that might not show up well on your screen).

    That "Show, don't tell" rule is probably the most abused piece of advice ever handed out. You simply can't show everything without boring everyone stiff. You have to know what is important to show; that which you don't need to dramatize, but the reader still needs to know, can be told.
     
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  15. domenic.p
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    domenic.p Banned

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    Ed from NY (Queens)
    You said:
    "I ran headlong into what may be the most popular mantra extant among writers, the command to "Show, don't tell!" Well, the bottom line is that one cannot coherently tell the tale of a historical novel covering 500 years without telling for the sake of scene-"

    Yes it can be done. You can cover as many years as need with show. There is a few tricks to doing it. Since my suggestions will cause a bone fire, I'll let one of the experts explain how it's done. I surrender the floor.
     
  16. Poziga
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    Poziga Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh @domenic.p come on, share your tricks, just try not to be too defensive if someone disagrees with your methods. :) It's also very likely that this expert you are reffering to has different tricks than you, sooo... a little mixture of different ingredients might do the trick. :D
    I think everybody can learn something from anybody, even experts. Like Minstrel's link mentioned; every succesful writer offered some rules, which some other succesful writer broke and expressed his own. Then, another writer broke rules from this second writer and created his own rules... It's a magical circle (I don't know if this is a correct phrase, I translated it literary from my language). :)
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2014
  17. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Domenic, I think the problem is where you cut off the quote - I specifically said for the purpose of scene-setting and context-establishing. To be more exact, one can "show" insofar as the POV character is concerned, but "telling" is really the only way to orient the reader to the main elements of the time and place about which you are writing, especially when the story moves from one era to another.
     
  18. domenic.p
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    domenic.p Banned

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    Ed from NY (Queens)
    No we are talking about the same thing Ed. You see, earth, water, air, fire. You don't tell, you show.
    Thee are many experts on this thread alone. They can explain easier to you than I can...I'm sure of that.
     
  19. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I should probably find the show don't tell thread but as long as we are talking about breaking rules I'll try to fit my comments to the thread topic.

    'Show, don't tell' isn't so much a rule as it is a way to explain to someone, usually a newer writer, why their sentence or paragraph or their whole piece for that matter, lacks luster.

    It's not that one can never tell a reader some bit of information, of course you can. But when I hear a writer say, "'telling' is really the only way to orient the reader to the main elements of the time and place about which you are writing" I shake my head. Of course that isn't the only way, sheesh, aren't we here discussing the fact there aren't any absolute rules?

    Hearing that to me says, this writer doesn't get it. I like you Ed and you write well, but why say something like that?

    There's a ring visible in the night sky around my planet. We know it's not Earth. They speak of their grandparents traveling from Earth. We know it's in the future. The technology isn't that far advanced, we know the approximate time frame.

    You change eras, it's fine to name the chapter after the year. But one could also orient the reader with just a bit of information: a fashion style, certain music, an invention from the era, don't sell your readers short by not giving them credit for understanding cues.

    My story has flashbacks. The age of the characters and the sudden change of scene make the time/place changes clear to the reader. I don't need to keep telling the reader I've changed time and place. I could choose to do that, it's not an absolute rule not to.

    But I would challenge your position that there are certain things which require 'telling' the reader. Is it wrong to ever tell? Of course not. Many a successful detective story ends with a 'tell' of how the clever sleuth figured out who was the guilty party and how the crime was committed. Titling chapters with the year is a common motif and perfectly fine.

    What show, don't tell really says is, telling is often lackluster and boring. When you show the reader what is happening the reader experiences the scene, unlike what happens when you simply tell them.
     
  20. domenic.p
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    domenic.p Banned

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    Show don't tell does not mean it lacks luster, or is boring. It means you are telling the reader the story, not showing the reader the story. Ed knows what he is talking about.
     
  21. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    My post was in reply to @EdFromNY's post, unrelated to your discussion with him. I said what I believe about 'show, don't tell'. You may have your own POV about the significance of what 'show, don't tell' is about. It seems we have a different POV there.

    C'est la vie. :)
     
  22. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    @domenic.p - I'm not talking about the physical elements, I'm talking about the stages of settlements, the geopolitical situations, the struggles for control of the mother country that shape the lives of those in a colony, the backdrop of historical reality behind the fictional reality that I am creating. Some of those things can be shown through the eyes of the characters, but most can't without subsuming the entire story to a history lesson.
     
  23. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Instead of using several sentences to show that a character was tired, sometimes it's better to just write "He was tired." It's straightforward and to the point, and sometimes that's exactly what you need.
     
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  24. GingerCoffee
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    Thus the idea, 'show don't tell' isn't an absolute rule. :)
     
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  25. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I'd say it all boils down to what the passage in question is trying to accomplish, and where the character's tiredness fits in.

    @GingerCoffee - :agreed:
     

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