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Ask an Author: Rule Breaker or Rule Follower?

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I’m sorry guys, but I have to confess that yet again, The X-Files revival totally influenced my choice of question to set before our cabal of wonderful authors. But I would like to point out that, as regular Sahar’s Blog readers have noticed in the last few weeks, although the show has basically gone from a constant companion to an almost complete focus, I’m sticking to my regular posting schedule, including the latest edition of the increasingly popular Ask an Author feature.

Rest assured however; there is again nothing paranormal about the answers to this question. It’s yet another question delving into work technique. As you might infer from the answers, some of us follow all kinds of rules when it comes to writing, while others go all over the place just because we can.

Seriously, writing is sometimes like being a little god of your own tiny world. #delusionsofgrandeur

I personally flip between following rules and breaking them. It really depends on what I am working on. I usually try to follow rules; if I am trying to convey something that the rules I am currently aware of don’t manage to convey, I’ll do research and even take an online writing class to expand my “writing toolkit”. But after a few months at the most, if I haven’t found anything, then I just go ahead and do my own thing.

What about our authors? When it comes to their writing, are they a rule follower or a rule breaker? Do they create their own rules and follow them, or go completely rogue? What about with life in general?

Lee Murray

Many years ago, when I was living in France, I joined a group of international students taking a language and cultural course where we studied, among other things, Jean Anouilh’s version of Antigone. Of course, one of the questions lecturers pose when you study Antigone is whose position would you take and why? Of all my classmates, I was the only one who chose Creon’s position over Antigone’s. So rules over rogue. I still ask myself why that was. Perhaps it’s because I’m the eldest child of four, and so I was always expected to set an example for my younger siblings, to take care of them and be the responsible one. Or maybe it was because I was a bit of a swot at school, regularly getting myself elected as the class councillor or school prefect. Perhaps I took that stance because I’m half Chinese, a culture in which femininity is closely associated with selflessness and duty to family. So yes, in the same way, I think my writing tends to stick to the rules, at least at the technical nuts and bolts level. I don’t mind pantsing a story, but I like the grammar and punctuation to be correct. I like there to be a consistency in style and voice. Accomplished, experienced, out-of-the-box writers can afford to break the rules. Until I’m one of those, I prefer to be disciplined. And in my real life? Well, sometimes the free-spirited Kiwi side of me wins out, so overall I believe my life is a balance of free will and sticking to rules.

F.C. Etier

Typically, readers will notice that my writing is within the boundaries of most of the rules, most of the time (The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.) Particular attention is paid to the rules important to my publisher, and I’ve always been a stickler for English grammar.

At work, my boss refers to me as an “obedient renegade.” One of my many motto’s is, “It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.”

Meryl Stenhouse

Ooh, that’s a tough one. When it comes to life, I’m a rule-follower. I stop at stop signs and do my taxes and cheerfully stick to the speed limit. But writing is one of those places where you can break the rules and no one gets hurt. I used to worry a lot about what makes good writing, but that is such a subjective measure that it’s no use at all for a writer. So now when I write I only work to a single rule: write the best story I can. Times change, my skills grow and change and my interests change. All I can do is write the best story I can write right now.

A.J. Ponder

Gosh I hate rules, if I find a rule, I can’t wait to break it. Especially when it comes to writing.

But there’s a catch. Rules should only be broken in the right circumstances. I mean, imagine there’s a volcano erupting behind you, and a wall of ash is threatening to overtake your car. Do you stick to the speed limit? Or do you put the foot down?

I’ll put my foot down thank you very much – because uncertain death beats certain death every time.

Rules are great, they keep you safe, they stop you from making silly mistakes. But sometimes they’re a trap. They stop you from thinking for yourself, or doing something original. So I’m a rule breaker. Yes, it will lead to some silly mistakes, but maybe, just maybe, the mistakes will be worth it. I suspect that’s why most lists of rules for authors include what I call the “get out of jail free” clause. It comes in various guises, but always seems to boil down to, “if a rule isn’t working, break it.”

P.S. Today’s message is brought to you by, mixed metaphors, grammar violations, and the letter of the law.

Catherine Mede

Ruler follower or breaker? interesting question, because I’ve never really considered it before. As a new writer you’re constantly being told to follow the rules, only those who’ve been writing for a while can break the rules. That’s really confusing for newbie writers, so I just do what I want. I believe if my story is great, people will read it, regardless of whether I’ve followed some rules or not. In life, I take calculated risks, I don’t break rules – they are there for a purpose, to protect you.

Our full roster of authors, in alphabetical order: Angela Barry, D. Odell Benson, F.C. Etier, Jean Gilbert, J. C. Hart, Hunter Marshall, Catherine Mede, Lee Murray, Karo Oforofuo, A.J. Ponder, Meryl Stenhouse, Lorene Stunson Hill, Lynn Voedisch, and Sybil Watters.

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