Thursday, December 3, 2009

Care for a Brownie?


A while back I posted about rules we writers love to break. I really, really love sentence fragments. A lot.

But you know what? Writing is like baking brownies (I just pulled a fresh batch out of the oven and the house smells heavenly). You can make it from a mix, using a formula/recipe or you can do what I do and make it up as you go along.

But you know what?

If you forget the flour you're going to have a runny mess of goo in your pan. And if you leave out the chocolate chips your dessert is going to be bland. But if you add peppermint bark chips to the top those brownies going to be awesome.

A novel is the same way- there are rules you should probably follow. If you have a gazillion dialogue tags you're in trouble, just like if you OD'd on the salt. And if your pages are slathered with adverbs you may as well have left the thing in the oven for an extra hour. A prologue might make the first pages of your book flat, but without the wonderful gooeyness that even warm chocolate sludge still possesses.

I like breaking the occasional rule, but I know I need to follow some of them too. The one I decided to follow that still stings is axing my prologue. I loved it. I still love it. I still think it should be included, but I chopped it, hoping one day soon an agent will sign me and ask why there isn't a prologue for HATSHEPSUT: FEMALE PHARAOH. Then I can whip it out and we can all gush over how wonderful it is.

Are there any writing rules you've followed that were particularly painful?

23 comments:

Amalia T. said...

I don't know what's got everyone anti-prologue, but I'm keeping mine. The book isn't the same without it, and if it belongs there, it belongs there, right?

I'm not sure that I feel like any other rules are nightmarish. Or maybe I just don't think about them. I used to hate using "said" but it's grown on me. Does that count?

Paul Greci said...

Those are some good looking brownies!
Rules? My off the top of my head thought is to know what they are and how to use them before you decide to break them. I think any of them can be broken.

Swapna Raghu Sanand said...

Loved the way you elaborated on why you feel writing is like baking. A warm, awesome post!

Bethany Mattingly said...

Just want to say I have a HUGE craving for some minty brownies now :) As far as following rules, there aren't any that really bother me, unless you count commas. I happen to have a hatred for them because I forget to put them in sometimes and it's a pain to go back.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Amalia- Good for you! I've had a couple people (including Janet Reid) tell me my story doesn't start until Hat's first meeting with her father. I've managed to cut the stuff before that from 20 pages to 5 and some of that was the prologue.

Paul- I agree. I'm all for breaking the rules, but I feel like I can't break them all, at least not all in the same book. Until I'm as famous as Stephen King, anyway. ;)

Swapna- I'm glad you liked it! I love both baking and writing. Tonight I get to do both!

Bethany- Commas drive me banana bonkers sometimes. I feel like the rules for them are different for each source. I have an English teacher friend who just told me I should be using them before every "and." I don't think I'm going to do that- it's not how I learned!

Matthew Delman said...

My personal rule for commas before the word "and" is to only include them if the following action isn't done in conjunction with the preceding action.

i.e. "Tom jumped, and then ran away." vs. "Tom leaped into the air and flew off."

Shannon O'Donnell said...

That's pretty cruel, Stephanie, to get us all brownie crazy first thing in the morning!

As an English teacher, I try to practice what I preach, but I'm sure you've noticed - I love dashes! ;-)

Stephanie Thornton said...

Matt- That's a good rule.

Shannon- I love dashes too! My first drafts are totally littered with them.

Valerie Geary said...

Brownies.... nom nom nom..... particularly painful rule? Not eating the whole pan in one night... :)

Stephanie Thornton said...

Valerie- I restrained myself last night and brought the pan into work. If I share I can't eat the whole batch. :)

Bane of Anubis said...

I used to be a sentence fragment lover, too, but now I've toned it down significantly (also used to do em-dashes all over the place -- but now I only do that in posts and comments :)

L. T. Host said...

I love me a punchy sentence fragment! And em-dashes-- how I adore you so.

Now I want brownies.

Also, I say, hang the rules! Um, some of the time. You're right-- there are times to follow, and times to break, and it all depends on you. (See?! I used another one!)

Susan R. Mills said...

I agree with Paul. It's important to know the rules, but it's also important to know when to break them.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Bane- I still scatter fragments throughout my first drafts, but I go back through and make most of them into complete sentences.

L.T.- I'm having brownies for lunch! And yogurt. I figure that's a balanced meal, right? Especially since the yogurt has raspberries in it.

Susan- I agree. And I get a cheap thrill out of breaking them. :)

Tamika: said...

Brownies are one of my favorites, right after homemade rice krispie treats. I love almost anything warm and gooey!

My compulsion for fragments is probably my number one rule breaker. I'm working on evolving into the right mold of the two.

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

Great analogy. The prologue thing pained me as well. And I've been known to like a good adverb, especially when writing YA. Because I think a teen narrator would use words like totally, seriously, etc.

The romantic query letter and the happy-ever-after said...

Here now, I use a prologue for my short stories to build up the relationships or set the stage but I'll admit to avoiding them for my full-length work.
You take care.

Abby Annis said...

I'm a rule follower, so I have to really talk myself into knowingly breaking a rule. I do it all the time without realizing it, but I'm getting better. At one point, I did try to start my novel with a dream, and I felt all liberated for breaking that rule, but eventually it got chopped because it wasn't working.

Great comparison! Now, I think I'll go make some peppermint brownies... Mmm. :)

Laura Martone said...

Shoot, and all this time I thought sentence fragments were a GOOD thing - and that it was bad that I don't have any.

As for rules I love to break, well, I'm a big fan of adverbs and dashes. But the prologue - which I also loved - finally had to go. Personally, I think it's a cool aspect of the story (and adds to the mystery), but my book is enormous right now, and every little cut helps.

Terresa said...

I think it's Natalie Goldberg ("Writing down the bones") who talks about using the samuri warrior to axe out parts of a WIP to make it tighter, meaner. It's hard to do at times but worth it.

Love your book title, pass the brownies!

Michelle said...

I love that analogy. I would love to breat the research rule - but don't think I'd get away with it! Maybe I should right fantasy...

Girl with One Eye said...

I just emailed Diana about how we all have our own style, kind of like parenting and we have to find what works for us and our style. Which rules to break or to keep. And you are soooo right, sometimes you have to break the rules when you write. That's why they call it a first draft.

Lorel Clayton said...

I LOVE brownies, and Hatshepsut (hated how her son erased all her monuments though), and all things ancient Egyptian, but I hated giving up my prologue. I hated removing an opening dream too. But, I agree they made the brownie pretty flat, and I'm glad I did it.