Shortly before Christmas, Mrs. H. gave the class an assignment to write a short story using words she had posted on the board. When she gave the assignment, however, I was home with strep throat. Without the list of words, I was unable to complete the story. She counted it late, ruining the chances of my class getting to celebrate a free day before the holiday break.
Of course, my classmates blamed me. I cried to my mom. My mom complained to the principal. The principal talked to the teacher. The next day in class, Mrs. H let us have a free day. Unfortunately, no one knew we were getting a free day that day, so no one brought their gummy bears or ghetto blasters (yeah, it was the 80s). I still took the blame.
I declared a personal war with the teacher, refusing to place the necessary commas and capitalize proper nouns. Of course, there were consequences to my obstinacy. I didn’t do too well in her class, but it made me feel better and it helped me develop an I-don’t-care-what-you-say-I’m-doing-it anyway attitude that has been a blessing and a curse.
(To this day, I find myself breaking the Oxford comma rule out of spite. Mwhahahahahah!)
I never really thought about it before I started reading everyone else’s responses, but there are a lot of different rules writers are advised to follow.
First there are the grammar and punctuation rules. Sandra hit the nail on the head in her post when she said writers must know why the rules are there before they begin breaking them. (That story was just for her.)
Then there are rules regarding story construction. There’s the rule about where to place plot points, the show-versus-tell rule, the don’t-use-any-dialogue-tag-other-than-said rule, the exclamation-points-and-all-caps-are-taboo rule, the use-flashbacks-sparingly rule, and what else am I forgetting?
The nice thing about being writers is that we have the freedom to break rules without putting anyone’s life in jeopardy. (Try doing that in a hospital or pharmacy. Er, on second thought, don’t try it.)
But there may or may not be other consequences we have to face for breaking the rules. I may have a lot of trouble finding an agent or publisher for Long Road because of the rules I’ve chosen to break.
Long Road is an inspirational story, but I’m pretty sure CBA (Christian) publishers wouldn’t touch it with a 40-foot-pole because 1.) Nick, the hero, is Catholic (not because of my beliefs, but because of the character itself); 2.) My characters are potty mouths; 3.) There’s a sex scene that’s integral to the plot; and 4.) It's pretty dark.
I can’t change these things without jeopardizing the authenticity and integrity of the story. I’m aware of the odds stacked against this story, but it’s the road I've chosen to travel with it.
Let's hope it doesn't lead to a dead end.
What rules are you willing to break?
Check out what Christine has to say.