Magical Words Party Talk


Last week Kalayna posted asking our readers for ideas of what they’d want us to post about, and you all responded with lots of great suggestions. Some of those ideas, though, wouldn’t really be substantial enough for a whole blog post, so Carrie had a great idea herself – we’d have a day on which everyone answers the question, and we post all of our answers at once.   We’ll do this every now and then when there’s an open day, so we hope you all enjoy it.  

The question for today is  What was the last “Don’t ever break this rule” rule that you broke and did it work?

Diana Pharaoh Francis

I originally thought I would write my Horngate books from Max’s (the main female protagonist) point of view and I did try at the beginning to use the first person perspective. But it didn’t work for me. I couldn’t build the world the way that I wanted to and it was too restrictive. Plus Max starts out as a bitter, angry woman, which I think would have put off readers terribly. By putting the book in third person, readers can see her struggle with her softer and more dangerous (to her) emotions in an outward and more empathetic way. She doesn’t want to care about her friends, she doesn’t want to love people, but she does and it drives her nuts. The reader gets to see just how far she’ll go out of love and loyalty. At the same time, by including Alexander’s point of view (the main male protagonist), we get the perspective of someone totally unknown to Max and her covenstead. So he asks questions the others don’t and he challenged the traditional ways of doing things that nobody thinks twice about. He gives fresh perspective, and of course, his getting acquainted with Max and her covenstead helps the reader become acquainted with them at the same time and see how beloved Max is. Also, as he falls in love with her, the reader discovers what there is in her to love. I think doing it this way worked far better than a singular first person. I wrote the story that I wanted to write and wasn’t hobbled by the first person point of view.*

*which is not to say that the first person point of view isn’t perfectly legitimate and useful. It just wasn’t the best choice for these books

James R Tuck

Why do I break it?
Cause I’m busy, cause I’m lazy, cause I suck, cause I have a family, cause I have a small business that I am trying to make a not small business, cause publishing sucks, cause publishing is awesome, cause I want to read, cause the day ends in Y and storing dead subplots ain’t my business!
Mostly though, it’s just because I’m not geared toward it.
I write a lot and I write fast. I churned and burned through 80,000 words for BLOOD AND MAGICK (Deacon Chalk: book 3 out now) in SIX WEEKS. But after that I took 3 days off. Just off, no writing, no word count, no nothing. I have at least one day every week where I don’t write because of life and other things. I didn’t write yesterday because of exhaustion from an eleven hour round trip to see Nick Cave in concert (and cross off an item on my bucket list). So I actually lost 2 days of writing. One for the show and one to recuperate. But with two days off I’ll come back and bang out 5-6,000 words and edit 20,000 today while doing all my other stuff. It’s the way my rhythm is, the way I do things, so I work with it instead of fighting it. I fight it and write crap or I go with it and write non-crap.
But even though I don’t write every day and I don’t even have set days of the week to write that only works for me because I LOVE to write. I cannot stay away for too long without getting anty and fidgety. I am driven to the keyboard and the story. If this isn’t you and you want to write, then you probably need to stick to the rule.

Carrie Ryan

According to the rules, a middle grade novel should be between 20-40k words.  Recently my husband and I sold a middle grade series where the proposal — which only included the first half of the first book — clocked in at 45,000 words.  We’re looking at a final manuscript length of 90-100k and though that will change in edits, there’s no way it’s getting close to the length the “rules” say it should be.  

Mindy Klasky

Do as I say, not as I do.  In this case, *really* don’t do as I did.
The year:  2000.  My first novel, THE GLASSWRIGHTS’ APPRENTICE was newly in stores.  I pitched the first chapter of the sequel as a short story, “Saving the Skychildren”, to Shawna McCarthy, at Realms of Fantasy magazine.  I figured, I’d build amazing synergy — a short story in a major genre magazine, just as the sequel to my novel, THE GLASSWRIGHTS’ PROGRESS was released.
Except Shawna rejected the story.  She said the ending started too slowly.  Thanks but no thanks — a nice personal note, but a clear rejection.
I didn’t listen, though.  Instead, I reworked the first couple of pages, cutting description, leaping into the story.  And I put that manuscript back in the mail, with a cover letter that said, “Attached please find the short story, revised per your request.”
And Shawna bought it.  And it came out right around the release date of the novel.  And there were definitely readers who discovered my glasswrights’ world through the short story.
Would I ever recommend someone to, essentially, lie to an editor?  No.  Would I make the same decision today, when I would be certain the editor used an electronic tracking system that made it easy to make detailed notes.  Definitely not.
But my gimmick worked for me!
David B Coe

Continuing my own theme from earlier this week, I find that I tend to ignore, or purposefully flaunt rules when I’m writing short fiction. I think that I feel more free in that medium, perhaps because I usually write my short stories before I sell them, so there is no one waiting for the finished product with expectations of what it should look like. So several years ago, I wrote a short story in first person present tense, which of course one is NEVER supposed to do. But I did it, and I sent it out, and I had an editor — the wonderful Ellen Datlow — contact me to ask why I had written in the present tense. I gave her my reasons and she bought the story on the spot. More recently, while working on short fiction in the Thieftaker world, I have been ending my stories in ambiguous ways. Sometimes Ethan doesn’t save the day; sometimes the bad guys beat him, or he is unable to do what he set out to do. Those endings might be unexpected; they might bother some readers. But to me they feel real, honest. Sometimes the good guys lose, and while I would be reluctant to end a novel that way, using such an ending in a short story works quite well, at least it does for me.

Faith Hunter

The rule I broke with successfully: Never write dialect phonetically.
Back when I was writing as Gwen Hunter, I wrote a series of books set in the deep south, in Louisiana. Long before the “reality” shows gave us a Louisiana Cajun accent—with subtitles, no less—I was writing that accent,  with dialect.
Of course, today, I’d never write dialect for more than a few lines and would quickly change, writing dialect by word placement and phrasing.  But back then? It worked well enough to win me prizes, awards, and a money on it. I don’t mind breaking a rule with it works.
Misty Massey
I edit as I go.  I know, I know, I’m supposed to let go and allow the words to spill out of me like a neverending bag of Skittles, without worrying about if I used the right synonym for ‘blue’ or whether the human body can be reasonably expected to bend the way I said it did.  I just can’t move forward until the sentence is at least close to what I meant inside my head.  I’ve gotten better about it over time, but I still put out slow-but-darned-clean copy the first time around.  I figure if that’s the worst thing I do, I’m ahead of the game anyway. 
Have a great weekend, folks!

10 comments to Magical Words Party Talk

  • As I always say, learn the rules, then learn when and how to bend or break them like the little rule twigs they are. 😉

  • This is such a fantastic idea. I love hearing all of your responses like this.

    Misty – I edit as I go a lot of the time, too! Even sometimes during NaNo. *grin*

  • Ken

    “The code is more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.” -Captain Barbosa

    Thanks, everyone, for the insightful responses.

    Misty…a neverending bag of Skittles would be…well it would be wonderful. Dangerous, but wonderful.

  • Fun post everyone! Thanks!

  • I like this format–great to see everyone’s reponse all together.

  • This was fun, reading everyone’s answers. I think I’ve broken almost all of everyone else’s rules. And I consider myself such a hidebound rule-follower! 🙂

  • Vyton

    This is a great format. Does using this format break any blogging rules? Hope so. Faith, don’t forget the redneck Louisiana dialects up there amongst the *pine hills and whiskey stills.*

  • Vyton, I think it rips micro-fractures in Space-Time, creating microscopic quantum singularities that may, if unchecked, devour the whole of reality. 😉

  • quillet

    Really late to this party, but this was great. Hooray for rule-breaking!

    @Daniel: I’ve been re-watching some Star Trek TNG lately, so your last comment made me laugh and laugh. 😀

  • quillet – I’ve always wanted to figure out how many times everyone’s said they were caught in a quantum singularity or quantum time loop and string all the scenes together into one giant you tube clip. 😉