Friday, November 14, 2008

It's the Rules, Writer

There are advantages to going last in the blog rotation. That way if you haven’t had time to write a post, you’ve got a little extra time to post. So thus begins my current blog. I’ve nothing to write about…no wait, I remember a topic that popped into my head when Cathy posted about loops and people advising newbies.So here's my advice FWIW...

Memorize The Rules

First off, it’s important to clarify what are “rules” and what are guidelines. Everything is a guideline.

Rule 1 – ALWAYS know your grammar rules. You cannot succeed in your craft without the book being legible. Know the difference between effect and affect (don’t ask me, I have to look it up every time. *grin*) But even this is smoke and mirrors because I've had editors remove semi-colons and commas to keep readers from tripping over breaks. Remember guideline!

Rule 2 – Know who’s POV your in and then only switch that POV every chapter. Then forget this rule. It’s a guideline. If you do something well (head hop) then all is forgiven.

Rule 3 – Make sure your Chapter heading starts exactly 2.5 inches from the top of a page. Ummm, remember when I said there are rules and there are guidelines. This is a guideline, and submitting a book with a heading placement at 2.25 or 3 inches is not a deal breaker. Worry about the content. While this rule is still a guideline, it's pretty reasonable to expect that your manuscript should be delivered to an agent/editor in a general format of 1-in margins and a reasonable heading starting a few lines from the top of the paper. Want some help with this one? Check out the article I wrote for newbies (Here). I've never been rejected by an editor because of formatting, although I did have a judge measure from the top of the page to where my heading started. I was off by a quarter of an inch according to her comments. Give me a break! No--BREAK the damn rule!

Rule 4 – One inch margins are standard pretty much across the board. HOWEVER, if you’re entering a contest and you need to get that last two paragraphs of a chapter on page 55, use the margin of .85 or .9, it's really hard to tell that your margins are off that one inch mark if you use .85 or .9. And if a judge does measure the margins, and docks you, know this. They would have gone out of their way to find something else nitpicky anyway. So you’d be screwed no matter what.

Rule 5 – Contests are crapshoot. You can enter one and win first place with your manuscript in front of an editor. OTOT, you can enter a different contest and not even final. I’ve entered about 10-15 contests. I finaled in three. The books I finaled with did not sell to New York. Something entirely else did. Contests should never be used as a reasonable expectation of a critique. The feedback you get can run the gamut. Unless you get the same kind of feedback from three or more judges, toss the commentary aside because it’s rarely useful. Don’t forget this rule, just know that the aforementioned statements are guidelines.

Rule 6 – Never, never, under any circumstances, use any other font BUT Courier 12pt. Forget this rule, it’s a guideline. In fact, “most” publishers now prefer Times New Roman 12pt. Right, forget that rule too, instead, try reading the publisher guidelines. That’s the authoritative word, not another writer.

Rule 7 – The number of pages per chapter should be 20 pages and no more. Forget this rule, it’s a guideline. While you don’t want to let a chapter drag on for 40 pages, if you go over 20 it’s not a deal breaker. Nor is it a deal breaker to have short chapters of 3, 2 or 1 pages. A chapter is as long as it needs to be. Write it that way and forget the rules.

Rule 8 – Never, NEVER, write a prologue. Readers hate them and they’re just a way to put in back story. Forget this rule. It’s a guideline. It is possible to provide a prologue that reveals something crucial to the plot that can’t be shown in Chapter 1. But it’s a guideline.

Rule 9 – Always show versus tell. Narrative is bad, very, very bad. Umm, forget this rule. It’s a guideline. Sometimes you can’t do anything else BUT tell. Again, it’s a guideline. It’s far better to show something than tell, but there will be times when telling is pretty much the best way to go.

Rule 10 – NEVER, EVER follow Rules 1- 9. They’re guidelines, not rules. The sooner a writer recognizes that something isn’t a rule, but a guideline, the better off they are.

Forget The Damn Rules

Oh, wait, there is ONE great rule to follow.

Write the good book (thank you Claire Delacroix/Deb Cook for those four words of wisdom).

Now go forth and break rules


2 comments:

Susan Kelley said...

You had me laughing and shaking my head. And the funny thing about the guidelines are how much they differ between editors from one publisher to the next. I recently had an editor ask me to rewrite some things to the exact style another editor had told me was no-no. After banging my head on my cheap little writing desk(carefully so I didn't smash my laptop with my hard carnium), I made the requested changes. As long as she loved my characters and the plot, I'll dot those i's any way she wants me do. Thanks for the dose of common sense. I remember being a newby writer and worrying about all those things you mentioned.

Monica Burns said...

Hi Susan, sorry for the delay in responding. I hate that Blogger doesn't hit me unless I post a comment myself.

I'm glad you enjoyed the post, and yep, rules are to be discarded at the drop of an editor. *grin*

Thanks for posting.