Thursday, October 13, 2011

Why Breaking the Rules Works—Sometimes

I'm a natural-born venter, so that's exactly why I loved Betsy's "open forum" post yesterday. I'm guessing at one point or another in my writing career, I've probably complained about all those things.

But like Betsy so wisely observed (there I go with the adverbs), there's a reason why some of these rules exist. It makes for a better final product, and to be honest, it keeps us from getting lazy.

So many writers (myself included) have our pet turns of phrase that we often turn to. And challenging ourselves to tighten things up (including saying goodbye to those aforementioned words often ending in "ly") is a great exercise.

With my own novels, however, there was an instance where I believe breaking the rules made a considerable difference, particularly in setting my story apart. I (gasp) switched tenses between first person and third person.

My protagonist, the illustrious Sydney Alexander, had such a unique voice that I wanted her to speak to the audience in first person. But my secondary characters were vital to the overall story, too, so I often switched to third person, so we had the benefit of varying perspectives. After all, I didn't want readers to experience only one side of the story. If Sydney's sister Samantha just had a hot date, I liked that we got to hear what her guy thought about everything, too.

Now I knew I was breaking the rules, so I wasn't surprised that a few readers and critics found my approach a tad unconventional. But hey, when you're a writer, a thick skin is essential anyway, so what better way to develop one, right?

In fact, I remember my editor even promising it would happen, but what was wonderful is that she had my back anyway. Taking risks is an essential part of life, and sometimes essential to your story, too. So if you can't shake the feeling that it's the right thing to do, don't be afraid to do so. After all, we've all got instincts for a reason, and yours just might be the difference between a good story and one that shines brighter.


  1. Switching tenses definitely added something unique to the books! Is that something you would recommend to a total newbie? I mean you had a handle on writing before you write your first book. 
    Did you have trouble getting pubs to pick it up with the switched tenses?

  2. Nope, I didn't have any trouble with publishers being interested in something different that switched tenses. I guess you just have to be true to your style and see what happens...I'm sure you'll do wonderfully, whatever you choose. :)

  3. Great post Christa! Thanks for piggy-backing and giving that perspective. :)

    Tonya, common advice from veteran authors I hear all the time is you have to KNOW the rules and abide by them before you should worry about breaking them. If you know the rules and CAN write while implementing them, then you will grow to the point where you'll know when its okay to break them.

    When it comes to tenses, I don't see what Christa did so much as rule breaking because now a days there are a ton of different POV styles. The main POV rule is simply not to head hop in a scene (ala Nicholas Sparks) It's distracting and confusing and distrancing to the reader.

    Having tight POV and no head hopping in a story that switches from third to first depending on which character is fine. It's not conventional, and it might not fit some pub's style, but it's not impossible to get out there as Christa proved :)

    You can do it girl! Whatever works best for your story, as Christa said.

  4. Do you know of any other books that also switch POV tenses?
    Are you a total groundbreaker Christa?!

  5. There's a ton! Its really not as shocking as it sounds right off. I'm going blank right now though on examples. I think Lisa Samson has done it. Time traveling stories often do. Ithink maybe Siri Mitchell did? I could be wrong but there are definitely books out there like that :)