Break the Rules

I’d like to wrap up this #febeditmonth with a challenge, both for authors and editors. Earlier this week, I was confronted by someone (who shall remain anonymous) on twitter with regard to passive voice. I was informed that my understanding of “passive” voice is, in fact, wrong (the elimination of a transitive, in this case, “was,” to make the voice active). I backed up my information by quoting Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, which is a commonly accepted source within the industry.

I’d like to preface that, in the case of passive/active voice, Strunk & White does not hold technically accurate as far as grammar “rules” we have in place today (which is an exception I allowed for in the conversation).

If you’re unfamiliar with the reasoning behind this, I’ll give a very brief synopsis so we can move on with some speed.

Merriam-Webster defines “passive” as many things, but the primary definition here is this:

Acted upon by an external agency.

Along with this dictionary definition, a technical “passive voice” would be the structuring of a sentence in which the subject is acted upon or has its state changed by an external force (the door was closed by me), vs. the “active voice,” where the subjects changes or alters the state of a person or thing (I closed the door). It simply lies within the emphasis and the subject of the clause. If you'd like to see more examples, there is a page worth here.

By this definition, only one of the examples of passive voice in Elements of Style actually falls under the technical definition, which this anonymous person was quick to point out (but with much less explanation than I've provided here, I must say).

This little book is meant to examine the rules of writing and help us know ways to follow the rules when our sentences become a little cloudy and difficult to categorize with these rules.

This conversation did bring me to examine what we know and hold to be true about writing, though! As an editor, I am constantly reworking sentences for a variety of writing styles, and it’s always with the goal of zeroing in on the main point, bringing it forward, and giving it impact.

Throughout the course of my blog, I’ve given loads of examples that examine the rules of writing and why we have them – this includes things that don’t fall under “technical” rules and apply mostly to fictional literature, such as how we should always use active voice.

In order to be the best writers we can be, we need to know these rules, but we also need to understand their reasons for existing so that we can break them when it is appropriate. I’ve adamantly and thoroughly outlined each of them in the past couple of months because I want you to be able to examine how you write. Not just following rules and formulas, but taking formulas we know and understand and adding your flair to them. When you master the basics, you can change the way you do things to make it unique and strongly you.

My challenge, for the end of this month, is for you to go back through your work in progress, look at places where you’ve followed the rules, and adjust your prose to make it interesting. Even if it is wild and perhaps a little unnatural sounding, just as an exercise, do something you have never done before. Use unique phrasing.

I received permission from an author I’ve been working with to share a quip of her narrative, which I found interesting:

Doubt would lend the escape no hand. He must trust; it was his only hope.

In this scenario, the main character is struggling to overcome fear and uncertainty, but he recognizes that his doubts won’t do him or anyone else any good.

I found it interesting because I could imagine many, easily-conceivable ways that the author could have made this less interesting, such as the following:

It wouldn't do him any good to have doubts now. His only hope was to trust her.

There was no point in doubting; it wouldn't help him escape. Trusting her was his only hope.

There are a multitude of ways this could have been phrased, but I felt the author's original sentiment was conveyed so precisely and cleanly with the first example that I didn't dare touch the sentence.

Of course, I could go about for days finding examples of interesting wording in the books I love (worth mentioning here is Steven Brust’s Khaavren Romances, which fall under the broader category of the Dragaeran Novels) but I shall spare you and, instead, allow and encourage you to do your own research. Flip back through some of the novels you love, books that caught your eye because of something unique or particularly gripping. Try to replicate the style of many authors. In your edits, rather than just clean up the writing, try to make it interesting by breaking rules and deviating from norms.

As always, thank you to our magnificent OMN beta readers! I still have an April 22nd slot available for edits. You can request a quote here, and I’ll do what I can to help your writing stand out and stand above!

Due to an overwhelming volume of inquiries, beta requests will not be opened tomorrow. The beta readers need a chance to catch up! We will, however, be recruiting another round of betas in March, so if you are interested in joining the program, mark your calendar! Signups will be March 4-March 8. Be prepared to write an essay, detailing your skills and how you would benefit the program, as well as a short bio!

I hope to see you next Sunday!

Amy Kiyoko

Michelle Toale-Burke

Nicole Powell

Natalie Gasper

Gloria Bottelman

Miranda Flores-Ross

Leonni Lark

Sarah Nestler

Avril Marie Aalund

Erin Robinson

Arwyn Sherman

Aaron Thiel

Wes Schulte




#writing #editing #blog9 #fiction #amediting #editingtips #editingmonth #febeditmonth #goodeditor #goodvsbad #writingtips #editingphases #betareading #betareaders #betas #goodbeta #criticalfeedback #critique #howtoimprove #howtohandlecriticalfeedback #rules #breaktherules

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