On Exceptions

Photo credit: Nellie0224 on Flickr
So I frequently blog and vlog about writing rules. And writing tips and dos and don’ts. And I say things like  don’t edit while you’re first drafting and prologues are frequently unnecessary and avoid backstory on your first page

But here’s the truth with any and all writing tips, dos and don’ts: there are almost always exceptions.

I try to say this from time to time, because for every writing rule, there’s an example of the opposite that worked. For every prologue that could be tossed is a prologue that is friggin’ amazing—for every writer who blazes through their first draft without looking back is a writer who edits while first drafting and finishes with a smile. For every “best not to do this” there is an example of that very thing working beautifully. 

The main writing rule I can think of without an exception is writers must read. There are probably (definitely) others. But by and large, most writing rules have exceptions and that’s okay. 

The only thing with exceptions is it is much, much harder to pull an exception off successfully. Impossible? Absolutely not. But way more difficult, yeah.

The reason there are rules and tips to begin with is because those rules show methods that make things easier. That generally work, that make the whole writing process more simple if you follow them. They’re mean to be guidelines to help you, rather than laws that must absolutely 100% be adhered to.

For example, many writer types and publishing people will advise you not to start your book with a character waking up. I’ve probably even said this myself. It’s overdone, and often leads to characters dictating every part of their day before the exciting thing happens and yeah, oftentimes it doesn’t work. 

But spoiler: Beyond the Red starts with a character waking up. From the first paragraph. And I wrote it knowing full well that characters waking up in an opening are super overdone, so I did my best to try to do it differently. And I don’t know if it’s going to stay that way in the final, published version, but it’s worked so far.

Would it have been easier to start elsewhere? Maybe. But that was where the story started in my mind, and so I went with it. It was an exception, even though I still actively try to avoid writing openings with characters waking up. 

Writer types and publishing people will advise you not to write in second person. Not because it’s a horrible POV, but because it’s super, ridiculously tough to pull off well and a lot of readers don’t like it. But guess what? Books like Half Bad by Sally Green start with a second person section and has several chapters in second person. And not everyone will necessarily agree with me, but I thought it worked super well. 

I’m not trying to say that I’m special or Sally Green is special—I’m just saying exceptions do happen. And sometimes, learning the writing rules really well means that you know how to bend them and occasionally even break them. And it means that you know how to do it in a way that works. Maybe. 

Ultimately, you’re making things harder for yourself when you break writing rules. But if you manage to pull it off, sometimes the result can be really awesome. 

So if you ever see a writing rule that just really doesn’t resonate with you, it’s okay. There are exceptions. Maybe this is one of them. 

What do you think? Have you come across any good exceptions to a writing rule?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Writer @Ava_Jae says there are almost always exceptions to every writing rule. What do you think? (Click to tweet)  
Have you come across any good exceptions to a writing rule? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)


Darth Lolita said...

I like this. Rules are important and writers (especially those starting out) need to be aware of them. But if you are aware, and you truly believe it'll be beneficial to break a rule, go for it. You can always change it back later.

Also, ditto on the reading rule! That one's non-negotiable. Gotta read, writers. We'll know (probably by your prose) if you don't :P

MK said...

I actually adore prologues. I understand why it's a literary agent pet peeve, because the more I read WIPs from unpublished writers, the more I see them popping up in amateurish writing--but there are so many good prologues out there too. Harry Potter books often have prologue-like first chapters (even if they're entitled "Chapter One") from someone else's POV besides Harry. Tara French has a prologue in all of her books and I think she's the greatest writer that is. I really love my own prologues too, and am going to have to decide whether or not to keep them once I start querying. Maybe if I ever win one of your first 250 words giveaways you can tell me your thoughts as well! (fingers crossed...)

And ditto to the "writers have to read", which I always thought was obvious. But I took a writing class once as was astounded at the number of people who said they "didn't have time" to read. Reading is the one thing I don't have to *make* time for, I do it constantly because I love it so much!

Paige said...

Totally agree on Half Bad. What a great tipping of the "rules."

Ava Jae said...

So true about always being able to fix something later that isn't working. First drafts can be great places to explore and experiment because no one sees it but you. lol

And yeah, the reading rule is a definite must.

Ava Jae said...

Prologues can totally work sometimes—but unfortunately they're overused (in submissions anyway) and are frequently unnecessary in stuff I see. But I have definitely seen many in print that work really well, so it's absolutely not a rule that can't be bent and broken.

And yes with the reading thing! Whenever I hear writers say they don't have time to read, I want to shake them. Nicely. And hand them a pile of books.

Ava Jae said...

Yes! I wasn't expecting the second person but wow, does it work so well. Sometimes breaking rules can have a really great effect.

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