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Brett Marie
10-02-2012, 08:55 PM
Most of us have heard the saying that you have to know the rules before you break them. It's my belief that a writer's voice can be pinpointed in the rules he or she breaks.

I'd like to see examples of authors who break rules with impunity, and who get away with it. I'll start:

Dalton Trumbo wrote his three-hundred-page novel Johnny Got His Gun using no commas. Not a single comma. It reads like a series of half-delerious run-on sentences. At first it's odd (I wonder sometimes if the comma on his typewriter had jammed), but it doesn't take long for the quirk's usefulness to become apparent. As the story of a soldier left legless, armless and faceless on a World War I battlefield, JGHG is told entirely from the MC's blind, deaf, terrified mind. No commas = one long train of horrifying thought.

Hiroko
10-03-2012, 01:50 AM
I personally prefer to write by the "no rules" rule (in part because I want to write however I want ;)), but one I've heard of and broken is the "don't use foreign languages without saying what it means right after" rule. The language is used to block somebody out of a conversation. Whether readers feel blocked out, too, is up to them (unless they know the language. I know it, but I guess Google Translate is an option).

Writing a whole book without commas would probably cause me actual pain.

EDIT: HEY! I also remembered the "don't use anything but 'said' to push dialogue" rule--I have also broken that.

Eliza azilE
10-03-2012, 02:17 AM
Now and then I'll come across a non-sentence in Updike. This is from Toward the End of Time:

"Toying with my white chest hair, curling it around one index finger, while her headful of of oily wool tickles my shoulder and the side of my neck."

Seems to me one of the biggest rules is a sentence should have a subject and a verb. Nope, says Updike.

And he's right.

Samsonet
10-03-2012, 03:23 AM
You know I could have been blissfully happily ignorant of the book Johnny Got His Gun I never would have heard of it otherwise but now the sheer horror of imagining myself in that poor guy's place will give me nightmares and it's all your fault oh bother. I have nothing to report though. Except "if on a winter's night a traveler"?

JayMan
10-03-2012, 07:59 AM
Cormac McCarthy doesn't use quotation marks in dialogue.

I guess it's part of his super minimalist style of writing. Personally, I don't like it at all--it seems like a pointless quirk. Of course, it's not enough to turn me off his writing. His stories, on the other hand, are enough to turn me off his writing :tongue

Cybernaught
10-03-2012, 08:20 AM
Take a quick look at Finnegan's Wake.

kuwisdelu
10-03-2012, 08:30 AM
There are rules to this writing thing?

Brett Marie
10-03-2012, 01:17 PM
Writing a whole book without commas would probably cause me actual pain.

I know what you mean, Hiroko, but trust me -- in this case, it works! It's all about the context. A complex plot or set of interactions would render a text incomprehensible without commas. But here the lack of comma-style pauses makes sentences come out like bursts of thought (I never think in the ordered way I speak or write). And when the entire story takes place within a person's mind, it works.

By the way, Samsonet, I ought to backtrack slightly. There are passages of backstory, so the book is not focused solely on the horror aspect. But the lack of commas keeps me firmly rooted in his present, trapped mind, even while he flashes back. Where the trick really works is when he panics (as he often does), and all his thoughts come out in a torrent. I tend to overuse commas, so when I wrote a panicked scene in one of my short stories, I tried Trumbo's trick. According to my betas, it worked like a charm.

Updike uses those sentence fragments to great effect at times. At other times, though, I see the trick more than I see its effect. I haven't checked out Cormac McCarthy yet. I suppose I ought to.

Ken
10-03-2012, 03:32 PM
... Johnny Got His Gun sounds like an interesting book. Will have to check it out.

It's not a novel, but may well have been based on one. "Sunset Blvd," 1950. It starts out by giving the ending away. That was something of a convention during that era, but still different compared to prior eras and it definitely broke a rule: "Save the suspense for last."

---------------------------------------


I'm now going to have Metallica's song "One" stuck in my head all day (based on "Johnny Got His Gun").

COOL!!! vv

LindaJeanne
10-03-2012, 03:41 PM
I'm now going to have Metallica's song "One" stuck in my head all day (based on "Johnny Got His Gun"). Well, there are worse earworms :).

Douglas Adams frequently broke rules (or at least guidelines) for comedic effect. "The ship hung in the air in exactly the way a brick doesn't".

Phaeal
10-03-2012, 05:48 PM
... It's not a novel, but may well have been based on one. "Sunset Blvd," 1950. It starts out by giving the ending away. That was something of a convention during that era, but still different compared to prior eras and it definitely broke a rule: "Save the suspense for last."


I think giving away the ending at the start can CREATE suspense. From the moment the reader (or viewer) knows X is going to die, she's nervously watching for the pistol to fire.

James D. Macdonald
10-03-2012, 05:53 PM
There are rules to this writing thing?

Yes.

The rule: If it works, it's right.

There are two strong cautions:

Don't bore the reader.
Don't confuse the reader.

Everything else is commentary.

Eliza azilE
10-03-2012, 07:37 PM
^

Rabbinic genius.

Samsonet
10-03-2012, 09:40 PM
Well of course he would know. He's the one who directed Atlanta Nights! (You will not believe how excited I was to seriously learn that he was on this site.) I'm going to stop here before I start fangirling.

Shadow_Ferret
10-03-2012, 09:49 PM
I never learned the Sublime Rules. I only know the ones I was taught in English class. And I generally don't break them. It took me years to learn them, why should I throw all that work away?

ironmikezero
10-03-2012, 11:48 PM
Do break a rule,

With deliberate intent,

If the result you require,

Is just what you meant.

Samsonet
10-04-2012, 12:28 AM
^ That sounds like a reference to something, but I have no idea what.

Agatha Christie broke pretty much all of the rules of mystery fiction. The rules I'm talking about are things like "the narrator/detective cannot commit the crime" or "there can be no love interest". By then I think she was already a Big Name Author, so she could do whatever she pleased and get away with it.

More on deliberate mistakes. Considering Poe's and Sturgeon(?)'s laws, it seems more likely that a reader would assume the mistake was unintentional (thus, the author is a horrible writer) than the odds of a random reader to "get" the "joke" (in quotes because although they obviously aren't, I can't think of a better word).

Ken
10-04-2012, 01:03 AM
I think giving away the ending at the start can CREATE suspense. From the moment the reader (or viewer) knows X is going to die, she's nervously watching for the pistol to fire.

... you've got a point there. Also finding out how the beginning/ending was arrived at is interesting.

ironmikezero
10-04-2012, 08:47 PM
[QUOTE=Samsonet;7649148]^ That sounds like a reference to something, but I have no idea what.


Actually, Samsonet, it's just a little original poem that was inspired by this thread...

Think of it as a Get Out of Jail - Free card in iambic pentameter.

;)

GiantRampagingPencil
10-08-2012, 05:14 AM
Now and then I'll come across a non-sentence in Updike. This is from Toward the End of Time:

"Toying with my white chest hair, curling it around one index finger, while her headful of of oily wool tickles my shoulder and the side of my neck."

Seems to me one of the biggest rules is a sentence should have a subject and a verb. Nope, says Updike.

And he's right.

No. :) Seriously, though, if his intended effect was to make a sentence that puts my teeth on edge, it works.

And let's not forget the joke about the professor telling his student that two negatives can never make a positive. "Yeah, right," she responds.

blacbird
10-08-2012, 05:30 AM
There are two kinds of "rules". The first are external, the "principles" by which written communication is best accomplished by most writers, and some of which go by the umbrella term of "grammar". Others may be more specific to a particular genre of work: readers of romance fiction arrive at your book with expectations of the genre. Likewise readers of mystery, fantasy, SF, thrillers, etc. You need to have a really good reason to violate either grammar or genre expectations, one that you can make transparent to the reader, and "because I just feel like it" doesn't constitute a very good reason.

The second are the internal "rules" set up by the work itself: Continuity, unity, consistency. The first word one reads in a piece of fiction sets up expectations for the second word, which multiply exponentially in the sentence, the paragraph, the page, the chapter.

Once you have established those internal and individual "rules" in a work, you need to have a really good reason to violate them, one that you can make transparent to the reader, and "because I just feel like it" doesn't constitute a very good reason.

caw