What is it about writing rules that irks writers?
They are constraining and confining. Some stories just can’t work with the typical expectations. There are times when the rules have to be thrown out the window for a writer to focus on the intricate details of the tale that is swirling around in their brain.
But there’s a time to say, “I have no idea what I’m doing, but it seems to be working!” and a time to put on the breaks and realize that a great deal of the structure that allows readers to enjoy a story are built off of writing rules.
The SHOW vs TELL is probably the biggest issue. Painting a picture is difficult without telling if you’re painting with words. It’s the difference between “She opened the door and saw him standing there.” and “The weight of the door was nothing compared to the heaviness of her heart as she stepped into the room and looked into the bright eyes of the man she loved.” Maybe not my best comparison, but I’m writing on the fly right now.
Readers don’t want to have someone tell them everything that happened either. They can think for themselves. Writers often overdo it to drive home a point. I’m so guilty of this, but that is what editing is for. Get the story out and the shave it down, shape it to read better.
An example here is: “He was so angry he yelled,’Get out! I never want to see you again.’ He hated everything about her now.”
This can be conveyed in a much simpler descriptive way: “He set his jaw and glared. ‘Get out! I never want to see you again.’ The hatred and the anger are implied. You don’t need to spell it out.
I am a bit of a minimalist myself. I like fast paced stories that don’t spend pages droning on about every thought in a character’s head.
But sometimes you have to tell. Sometimes readers grow tired of metaphors stacked on top of each other and the depths of descriptive emotional actions. There are times when a writer can sprinkle a telling sentence in a get away with it. Stephen King is a perfect example. He is a master of detailed writing, but sometimes he has a short sentence that just tells the reader what’s going on.
Like everything else, it’s a BALANCE. We say show don’t tell because there’s often wayyy too much telling, but what we really mean is: Show a lot, tell a little. That’s really the trick.
I’m still finally getting a handle on it myself.
Some editors abhor semicolons like the Vonnegut cult members they are, some like them for what they are-the compromise between a commas and a period that works in small doses. I speak in semicolons. Learning to use them sparingly like exclamations took a bit of training.
So how do you know when breaking the rules works and when it’s too much? FEEDBACK!
Other writers are your friend. Writing is NOT a competition, it’s the art form that most links us. It’s about sharing and exchanging and working together. Writers make the best beta readers (if they have time. We’re usually honest, painfully so at times, but only because we understand the importance of polishing a story until it really shines.
Take the good and leave the bad behind.