Do you always follow the recipe?
When I first learned to cook, I leaned what tools to use, how to read the recipes, and how to mix the ingredients to make something edible and tasty.
Have you ever asked your mother or grandmother for a recipe only to have her say, “I don’t use a recipe. I just use what I think is the right amount”? She had a recipe that she followed at first, but through the years she memorized it, tweaked it, and maybe lost the original.
My grandmother made some delicious rolls, but she couldn’t tell us how to make them. She just did it. My husband’s grandmother made delicious molasses cookies. She shared the recipe with family members, but none of could make our cookies taste like Grandma’s.
As writers, our chosen form of communication is the written word. We learn correct spelling, grammar, and usage so we can communicate clearly and effectively with our readers. We read books and attend writers’ conferences to learn the rules of good writing and to receive useful advice from the professionals.
In the July/August, 2019 issue of Writer’s Digest, pages 8 and 9, an article by Jeff Somers, “Bad Advice Boogie” caught my attention. The premise of the article is that, as creatives, we are allowed to break the rules of good writing if it will improve the finished product or help us move forward with our WIP.
For instance, have you been taught the following?
- “write what you know”
- “show, don’t tell”
- “write everyday”
- “never write a prologue”
- “avoid the passive voice”
Mr. Somers agrees that these and other rules are good, “but there are times when you should break them.” He believes, “You learn the rules of writing in order to know how to break them for maximum impact.”
Whether we follow or break the rules may depend on the genre of the manuscript, the publisher’s writing guidelines, the advice of a wiser editor. Breaking the rules may or may not be worth the risk.
When we plan ahead or outline a manuscript, it gives us guidelines to start and the flexibility to change if necessary. Learning the rules and listening to useful writing advice is good. As we become more skilled in the craft of writing, we learn when the rules can be broken.
Do you “break the rules”? How do you decide it’s the right time to do so?