I’m feeling awfully rebellious toward this industry lately. Terribly, awfully so. I’m just recovering from the dreaded “end-of-novel” blues, and as I awaken from that coma, I see rules all around me. “Don’t write a prologue“. “Don’t introduce characters from our world to another.” “Don’t stick that fork in that light socket.” You know the drill.
What irritates me so much is that when I started this whole thing, the rules became sacrosanct to me. I mean, don’t get me wrong, a lot of those rules have served me well, such as cutting down reliance on adverbs, learning to stop worrying and love the word said, and eliminating almost all exclamation points! Those are good rules. Rules for effective communication. They shall pry my Oxford comma from my cold, dead, festering hands, and yet I also stand by the fragment sentence when used by a character.
Two matters are really grinding my gizzard, though.
One is the proliferation of such rules as those listed above. Since when is writing a prologue illegal, if the prologue fits with the story and conveys useful information that can only be conveyed outside the context of the story (as the prologue in City of the Dead, you shall not have it!)? I’m sure some authors abuse it, but are we really going to throw out the recycling with the trash? There are a dozen other rules like this, as seen in this excellent post on IO9, but these rules just seem absurd to me. Cliches are cliches, but every story under the sun has been written in one form or another. Any author who tries to shape themselves to those “rules” does so at their own peril – true passion arises from writing the story that you want to write, that you feel. Obeying such transient nonsense is a good way to write by-the-numbers pap that might sell, but feel hollow. I don’t know, I just think people should seek to be leaders, not followers.
Two, and tied to point one, is an absolute rejection of stylistic choices that I’m witnessing. This isn’t a reviewer grouse in general, honest. I value reviewers/critics/book bloggers, even if I don’t agree with all their points. My biggest problem, however – and I haven’t seen this in just my work – is that grammar and style have become all mixed up. I’ve seen authors (and myself) dinged for offenses such as characters’ dialogue being grammatically incorrect. Or first-person narration featuring bad grammar. These aren’t errors – they are intentional choices.
I think the best way to explain is by saying that you can look at a character’s diction as the equivalent of a universe. You “world-build” that character’s style via their dialogue and/or narration, and it tells you quite a bit about their background, their internal world, and their influences. If my character is a gutter-punk artist who barely reads, she’s going to use incorrect grammar, it’s just a fact of life. I can use certain literary tricks to ease it and make it less annoying for the reader, but she’s going to screw up. The key here, though, is keeping the character’s speech consistent; like world-building, it becomes more about internal consistency than necessarily the rules of grammar.
This used to be an accepted method, and not that long ago. I read plenty of books from the 80s and 90s that used just such an approach, and they’ve obviously been a huge influence on me. When did readers start expecting dialogue to have perfect grammar? It sounds stilted and awkward to my ear. I just wish folks could open up their eyes/ears a little more. Rules. Bah!
On another note, it’s Audible Credit Day. You know what that means…
Note: This entry may have been written after fasting for a blood test, but any differences in my style are purely coincidental.