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working writer wending her way through the labyrinth that is self-publishing

Thursday, August 4, 2011

rules, rules and more rules!

Why has writing changed so much in recent years? why are adverbs verboten and passive voice obsolete? who decides these things? Yes, I am in agreement that the overuse of adverbs can be annoying but many times the meaning of a sentence is changed when the adverb is removed. A good "really" or "carefully" can change the entire tone of a paragraph...And many times the use of 'was' in a sentence (passive voice) is the only way to go--yes, yes, I know, used too much it becomes tedious and slows down the action. But occasionally? and the thing about POV...REALLY? is it that hard to sort through if it isn't absolutely exact? (there's that pesky adverb) For instance, if a character has a thought and it is an aside to the story and it's clear who is having this thought, why not? (separated out, of course) And yes, I know we need to understand POV before we begin to break the so-called rules.I read books all the time, well written books by published authors, who are much more lax about these issues than those of us who are newbies...and why why WHY does writing have to be so spare? If the story is a fast-paced mystery, this goes with the genre but if it is a more descriptive novel? Are we as readers really so lazy that we'll put down a book that isn't bare bones?

My editor, bless her heart, has been asking me to go into MORE detail about my characters, even peripheral ones...and she wants more background story. The book of mine she's editing is a fantasy and it is my opinion that if I add more I will lose readers--in that particular book the main plot line needs to be first and foremost.

Try picking up a book written back in the olden days (1970's, for instance) See how writers were getting their thoughts down back then...is it just the age of twitter that's doing this to us?  I would love to have your thoughts.


  1. Perhaps it is age or education that causes one to be interested it such things as adverbs. As you state used correctly and not in excess the only outcome is enhancement of the "story"/statement

  2. Excellent post. I think the key to 'breaking new orthodoxies' is whether the prose is both musical and unobtrusive - ie the words don't get in the way of the story and images sink into the mind without the packaging rustling. 'Rules'governing the usage of 'was' and adverbs etc are useful guidelines but as you suggest, should never be prescriptive

  3. Mike,
    I love how you put that--"images sink into the mind without the packaging rustling." Thanks.

  4. I'm thinking that you are reacting to the critique I gave you on the pages I read of your last week. Mike's statement about words not getting in the way of the story, images not distracted by rustling packaging, gives strong support for the need for a few rules like the ones you mention. Probably, though, this refining of sentences and words happens during the re-write phase, after the first thrust of getting the story out and into some sort of shape. And even then, rules can be and are broken by good writers, usually on purpose. I am an addict of the incomplete sentence. Strunk and White would take my computer away from me if they could. But they can't. And I can start a sentence with "but" or "and" any time I choose, old fogies. When I want to. You can too.

  5. Hi Nikki,

    You won a book in my contest. Please email me with your address so I can send it to you! rochelle@writenowcoach.com