Thursday, June 17, 2010

When to Break the Rules

By Nichole Giles

No matter where you are in your writing journey, you’ll be regular confronted with rules. You can’t do this, you shouldn’t do that, books should be between this length and this one, and never step out of this line, or into that one. How’s a person to keep up with all of them?

I admit. It’s a tough thing to do. Really. But learning the rules is important. Learn them, know them, figure them out. And then, once you have, you’ll know how best to break them. And when.

When I first started going to conferences, I had an agent tell me that 30 or 40,000 words was way too bare bones for a middle grade book, let alone a young adult one. She claimed that any book with so few words was most definitely lacking crucial elements needed to tell a fully fleshed-out story.

This was right after I’d finished a magazine writing class that had emphasized the importance of tight writing. *big, enormous sigh*

But I took that advice to heart, and began studying the ins and outs of storytelling. I learned how to enhance my story with description and sensory details, how to include scenes that moved the plot forward, but also revealed the characters to the reader. I studied hard, and I learned.

And my recent work is coming in around 90-100,000 words. (Okay, actually more, but I’m getting really good at cutting.)

But. As mentioned in earlier posts, I read a lot. This year alone, I’ve read no fewer than six young adult books that have come in at 40,000 words, maximum. Most much shorter than that.

How did this happen? *more big sighs*

These authors studied, hard. They knew their audience. They knew their characters and scene and story. They knew the rules, and then chose how best to break them. Somehow, they found a loophole by mastering the art of cramming lots of details into as few words as possible.

Each of these rule-breaking books has been incredibly powerful, emotionally charged reading. No wonder they got away with it. In these cases, more words would’ve lessened the impact of the story.

What rule breaking books have you read recently, and were you glad for the authors' rule-breaking judgment calls?

**The books mentioned above are authored by the following: Patricia McCormick, Ann Dee Elis, Lisa McMann.

***All are issue books which include heavy themes and possibly some language. Read at your own risk.

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