Know ‘Em, Break ‘Em
~ By Brighton Walsh
I think I’ll start this post off with a bang while quoting Nora Roberts from a past RWA conference:
“If anyone tells you there is a ‘right’ way to write they are a lying bitch.”
Yes, yes I do believe you are correct, Nora.
One of the things I love most about writing is the absolute freedom of it. If I get an idea to write about a scuba diver who finds a treasure at the bottom of the ocean, loses his oxygen, and has to get rescued by a mermaid…all told from the perspective of a crab, I can. Because, really, who’s gonna stop me?
Writing unusual, rule-breaking things doesn’t always mean they’re gonna sell, but sometimes they do because—and I strongly believe this—readers are yearning for something different. Of course, we have our favorites. Our tropes and styles that will always suck us in no matter what, but there is a desire to see something we haven’t seen before. Something that breaks up the usual pattern/style/flow of a story.
My favorite book in the entire world, How to Kill a Rock Star, broke rules. It’s told in three different POVs with no rhyme or reason to how they’re inserted into the book. You’ve got two different first-person POVs (one told as narrative and one told through voice diary entries) and a third POV tossed in to give the perspective of yet another character. I’m one of those people who doesn’t care one way or another if a book is in first person or third, so this didn’t bother me at all. In fact, I loved the way the story was told to give us glimpses at the other characters.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is another favorite of mine, which is told entirely in letter form. I’ll be honest: when I started that book, I wasn’t a fan, and I didn’t think I’d last very long in it. However, it didn’t take long for me to get lost in the story and forget about the delivery.
Another great example of breaking the rules is the Shatter Me series where the author uses strikethroughs for emphasis. Contrary to my reactions on the other two, I’ll admit I wasn’t a fan of this, but I’m clearly in the minority. When I first read it, I went looking at reviews to see what everyone else thought about it, and so many said they really loved the fresh perspective and style.
All rules have their place, but that doesn’t mean they have to stay in their place. Writing is amazing in that you can make just about anything work for you, so long as you have engaging characters and plot.
What have been your favorite rule-breaking books?
Brighton Walsh spent nearly a decade as a professional photographer before taking her storytelling in a different direction and reconnecting with her first love: writing. When she’s not lost in made-up worlds, she’s probably either reading or shopping—maybe even both at once. She lives in the Midwest with her real-life hero of a husband, her two kids—one of which is somehow taller than her, but she doesn’t want to discuss that—and her dog who thinks she’s a queen. Her boy-filled house is the setting for dirty socks galore, frequent dance parties (okay, so it’s mostly her, by herself, while her children look on in horror), and more laughter than she thought possible. Visit her online at brightonwalsh.com.