Writers Wednesday: Breaking the Rules

One of the first things any good business owner does upon returning from vacation is catch up on stray messages. While weeding out my inbox, I came across this gem from Steven James over at Writer Unboxed, and although the post was a couple weeks old when I found it, the timing was perfect for my purposes.

As I mentioned last week, my primary 2016 writing goal is to make the jump to fiction and draft my first novel by next Valentine’s Day. Presently, I have one failed NaNoWriMo challenge, several outlines in various stages of completion, and about a half-dozen different bits and pieces of stories in various genres on the table, none with significant word counts. (By “significant,” I mean “more than 2,000 words.”) The most promising concept must clear at least one major hurdle before it can progress.

Take any college-level composition class, and you’ll be instructed to follow a fairly rigid set of steps in completing your draft. Assuming you have the bulk of your research out of the way–if, indeed, your project requires research at all–the next major step is the outline. In fictional narratives, we usually call it by a different name: “plot.” What is going to happen in your story, and how does each event connect to everything else? Your outline keeps your project on topic. You know exactly how many scenes you will be writing and what is going to happen in every scene.

Theoretically, that is. As a journalist, though, I rarely had the time to outline articles before drafting them, nor did I necessarily begin at the beginning. Reporters take the most important part of the story, the lede, and build out from there. In a traditional news article format, the lede is what you’ll be reading first. The writing process, however, frequently starts two or three paragraphs from the beginning as we work on the “nut graf,” a brief paragraph that explains the opening lede in, well, a nutshell. Your nut graf is the core of your story, and once you have it established, you can move on to creating an interesting lede, supporting points, and kicker (the end of a typical news piece, designed to drive the story’s point home).

It’s probably not too surprising, then, that I found James’s commentary so freeing. I don’t write linearly as a rule, and this is one of those cases where I suspect that it’s all right to break the rules occasionally, as long as you first know what they are. If you’ve struggled to get past your first couple of chapters, try deviating from the script for a little while and letting your characters be themselves. I’ll still be writing outlines, but now, I won’t feel so compelled to follow them.

What writing rules are you breaking in your pursuit of creativity?


I’m blogging my way through my first novel in 2016. Subscribe to the RSS feed on the home page or find me on Facebook for new updates!

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