Friday, June 05, 2009

Breaking the Rules For Fun

I’m still having fun playing with my new toy, but mostly that involves reading the book and admiring the pretty colors. I’m hoping to make some progress soon but I just started yet another project (more on that in a future post) and it’s taking longer than I thought to get it off the ground. Once that’s out of the way, well, something else will come along.

I am enjoying the book, however. James V. Smith’s “You Can Write a Novel” has a different approach than any other how-to-write book I’ve seen. He doesn’t advise you, or say, “well, there are many ways X could be done, and some people like to do this, others like to do that, but you need to find what works best for you.” No, he say: “Do it this way.” Granted, that may not work for everyone, but I like the concept.

Many of the rules he puts down deserve to be set in stone like that, such as don’t litter your prose with adjectives and adverbs, don’t use three good words when one excellent word will do, don’t use obscure language; rules like that—the rules I break every day.

Despite having delusions of genre, I mostly write humor, and a lot of that humor is in creative or unorthodox use of the language. When I write, I’m not aiming for a short, pity sentence with a strong verb; that certainly would add intensity and drama to my humorous anecdote about falling down the escalator at Reading Station, but it wouldn’t make it very funny. Revision, to me, often involves hunting up the most sublimely obscure adjectives I can find (there, I did it again) so the sentence doesn’t read smoothly.

This isn’t a problem, it’s just an observation. Despite my sporadic fiction output these days, when I do write a short story of work on a novel, I don’t find it difficult at all to change gears. I just find it interesting how the carefully crafted language of the humorous personal essay would ruin something like The Hunt for Red October or The Da Vinci Code.

It’s also interesting that you can improve almost any piece of dramatic fiction (especially from a beginner) by simply going through and taking out the adverbs, but you can’t punch up a humor piece by randomly sprinkling it with modifiers. Humor doesn’t really follow a set of rules, which, if followed, will produce hilarious results. The only rule in humor writing is it has to be funny.

So I’ll keep on breaking the rules when I write my essays, but when I finally get to the novel, I’ll have to start behaving myself.

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