Friday, May 19, 2006

Renegade writers

Over at Charis Connection, author Jack Cavanaugh is inciting literary anarchy. He's actually bragging about having broken a writing rule (on POV) and then--even more shocking--coerced his innocent editor into letting it slide.

Here's how he attempts to justify his behavior:

If you break a rule and it works, everyone copies you. If there’s a ground swell of public rule breaking, they’ll change the rule. The split infinitive is the poster-boy for recent changes. Once the favorite target of editors and English teachers, now it’s acceptable to occasionally split those pesky infinitives.

I suppose we have Star Trek to thank for that. Those intrepid explorers (I'm talking about the series' writers, not Jim and Bones and Spock) encouraged us "to boldly go" right ahead and split infinitives to our mutinous little hearts' content. And we did. To the extent that hardly anybody notices anymore. Which kind of takes all the fun out of it.

That must be why Jack's playing fast and loose with POV. Because nobody's raising an eyebrow over his split infinitives these days.

If you break narrative rules and it works, English Lit teachers will read your prose aloud to their classes as a brave example of stylized writing. You’re a genius.

But what if you break the rules and it doesn’t work? Simple. You’re a hack.

What's that, Jack? Are you daring us to try it?

Okay, I'm in. Who else is in the mood to break a writing rule today?


Pete said...

Sounds good to me. For the rest of the day I'll be telling, not showing.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Ooh...sounds like be a throw caution to the step on the cracks...I'm in!

Shelley said...

My goodness, I break TONS of writing rules...but I get told to fix them because I did something wrong, LOL!

Found my way here via The Writing Life.

Your book on the sidebar sounds great. I'm going to have to look for it in the bookstore the next time I'm there.

I'm bookmarking your site and will be back again :o).

Mirtika said...

I actually mentioned in my review of DELIVER US FROM EVELYN by Chris Well (not yet posted to Amazon, cause, hey, they're taking their time) that he breaks POV, but it works, and that's all I care about. Is it done so it works?

I noticed that in both his novels, in the early pages--page one maybe--he has the same kind of "violation."

And later on, the same kind of violation. It's his style. I can dig it.

I agree with Jack. It's not about the rules all the time. It's about learning the rules (and the reasons for them, the why) and then deciding when you can break them to enhance your idea of the story.

A designer needs to know how the human form and fabric go together, how to sew, how to hem, how to drape, what threads with what fabrics, how to use accessories on a gown, etc...the rules..before they can deconstruct and create something new, that still works. I may not "get" what the designers are doing, but others who know fashion and fabric and style do. The reader may not know or care about the underpinning, the craft--they want a story that works.

It's like TDVC. Critics tear it apart. Writers scoff. Readers bought it by the ton. Something there worked for the reader. The fast pace, the fun of riddles, the globe-trotting, the conspiracy theories...whatever. Something worked. And I figure that Mr. Brown takes that happily to the bank.

Me, I want to have good craft. If I understand a style rule, I'll happily follow it. I have no problem subjugating myself to a discipline if it makes sense and I like the result.

If I think it's dumb or archaic or doesn't work for me, I'll happily ditch it.

I fretted in the beginning over that "to boldly go," because I knew it "should be" "to go boldly."
Then I realized that I preferred the rhythm of "to boldly go". It just sounds better. I prefer "to never die" than "to die never." Part of writing is to be clear, another is to be pleasing. If the phrase is clear and more pleasing with a bit of grammatical fudging, then fudge away. If the editor goes for it, HURRAH.


shona said...

Oh I break one everyday...

Want to have a contest???

Opps! I did it again.

Brenda Coulter said...

For the rest of the day I'll be telling, not showing.

That's the spirit, Pete!

Shelley, thanks for the kind words.

Mir, as much as we enjoy sneering at The DaVinci Code, you're right--something worked for a whole lotta people.

Thanks, everyone, for reading my blog and taking the time to comment.