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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ignoring the Rules

Yesterday was a frustrating day at work. I'm helping out another department by filing manual revisions for them--they're way behind--and one of the packets is missing about half its pages. Tech Publications is on my floor so I went over there and asked for a copy of the revision. They didn't have it.

I used to work in that department, in fact, the manual I needed the revision for used to be my book. I said, What? What do you mean you don't have it? They only keep the current revision and one previous now (which meant they should have had the one I needed because it was the one previous, but that's another story). I pointed out how ridiculous that was (and I speak with authority because I did that job). The response? I know, but Jeff said.... And I was only doing what I was told.

Please allow me to bang my head against the wall now. Call me a rebel, but when someone tells me to do something I know is stupid and it's someone I know I can't argue with, I smile, nod my head and ignore them. Seriously, what is Jeff going to do? Conduct a file drawer search to make sure his orders are being carried out? I doubt it.

Sometimes the smart thing is to ignore the rules and do what you know needs to be done. This applies to writing as well as the manuals area at the EDJ. That's the one thing that drives me nuts is when someone is told they have to do something in their story or can't do something in their story because it doesn't conform to the rules. Contest judges seem to be the most fierce in this endeavor at conformity.

An example of the types of rules I'm talking about is the hero and heroine have to meet in the first three pages. (Or two pages or five pages. The rule changes depending on the judge.) My h/h in my latest book don't meet until the very end of chapter 2. My editor didn't ask for this to be changed.

If you've ever entered a contest for unpublished writers, you probably know what I'm talking about. This need of some judges to follow imaginary rules wouldn't be so bad if so many writers didn't take it so deep to heart. They'll come on a loop and say whatever rule the judge spouted and then say why it won't work for their story.

Not too long ago, a writer on one of my loops was ready to submit her work and wanted to know if she should cut her dream scenes because she heard that editors/agents/God Himself doesn't like dream scenes. It just so happened that her story had a character flashing back to a past life and was using dreams to show it. I mostly lurk on loops, but I had to post about this one. Eternal Nights has a character flashing back to a past life through dream sequences and guess what? Neither my editor nor my agent commented on it.

Now, I'm not saying ignore every rule just for the sake of doing it your way. Some things, like the HEA ending, are genre expectations. What I am saying is be smart. Ignore the rules you know are stupid. Or that might not even be rules, just one person's idea that it's a rule. C'mon, don't be afraid to be a rebel!