how to break the rules well · writing problems

Sacrificing the rules for voice

You can break writing rules in order to add voice.

For example, over-description can furnish you with a narcissistic tone:

Constance Fullerton readjusted her Maison Michel fedora above her statuesque profile and put her phone on the table, ignoring the words floating up from it.

Referencing a brand and her good looks (both unimportant to the scene) creates a fussy voice: Constance wants you to see her as high-class. She’s too self-absorbed to care if that lengthens the sentence.

But the sentence doesn’t overdo it. Once the fastidious imagery serves its purpose, it disappears.

Thus the second (active, important) half doesn’t say, “rested her Gresso smartphone on the antique table.” More adjectives and specific nouns would overwhelm us. Constance made her points about wealth and beauty and doesn’t need to reiterate.

Great writers break the rules deliberately and for a specific purpose.

Suzanne Collins starts THE HUNGER GAMES with the waking-up cliche in order to highlight how Katniss’s every thought is about Prim. Chuck Wendig’s voice is full of sentence fragments, which he blends with present tense to create a happening-in-real-time feel.

They break the rules to get a certain point across — and no more.


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