Archive for August, 2012


Breaking the Rules

copyright 2012 by Sherry Garland

In my thirty year career as an author, I have attended a few writer’s workshops and even taught a few workshops myself.  It is obvious that some students want a specific list of rules to follow that will lead them down the road to publication.  They want to think that if they do Rule #1, followed by Rule #2, and so on, they will have a finished manuscript that no editor can turn down. They have a deep seated fear of doing anything different, of breaking any of the rules.

Here are three of the rules that used to be on the list: MG novels should be approximately 30,000 to 50,000 words.  YA novels should not have any profanity or sex. Avoid using the omniscient POV because that style is outdated and distances the reader from the characters.

I’m sure you know where this is heading.  You probably know which examples I am going to use to demonstrate authors who broke the rules and had mega-successful books.  Start with length: Each HARRY POTTER book was humongous, yet kids devoured the pages. As for profanity and sex, the award-winning YA novel LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green took care of that rule.

That brings me to the last rule I mentioned: omniscient narrators. It’s true, that POV was popular in the 1800s. But looky what happened recently: THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak.  Here you have a narrator that knows everything, past, present and future. He seamlessly leads the reader from one location to another, from one character’s experiences to another’s, describing what is happening to a soldier in Russia in WWII, a father in WWI, a Jew walking to a concentration camp, a girl stealing a book.  The reader feels the love and pain of each character; there is nothing distant about this omniscient narration. In my opinion, this is one of the best books written in the past ten years. It was so refreshing to read a novel that had depth, humor, and history all rolled up into one emotional package.

So, I guess what I am trying to say is that yes, some basic rules do need to apply, but if you tie yourself down in a little box surrounded by rules, you will never write a great work of literature.


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