Sunday, June 19, 2016

Oooh—Taboo: Rectitude versus Risk

Serious writers are usually seriously familiar with all the things they’re forbidden to do: Always “show.” Don’t let your character study herself in a mirror and report what she sees. Avoid anguish, yearning, stormy nights, flimsy nightwear, and rippling muscles. Never start a chapter with dialogue or a sentence with “and.”

Of course taboos originate with good reason. Members of a society agree that a particular behavior—even with language—is so sanctified or appalling that it’s forbidden. People don’t do it. Often, they won’t even mention it.

But what if you judiciously turn a prohibition on its head? One result is a fragrance from The House of Dana, marketed as “Tabu, the forbidden fragrance.” The ad showed a violinist interrupting his performance to bestow a passionate kiss on his accompanist. Pretty sexy, right? 

Follow every rule and you won’t evoke much passion. “She had provided her services as head librarian of the village for nearly five decades.” That’s very sound grammatically, but more fun to mock than to read.

Aside from the stiff formality unsuitable for contemporary fiction, there’s something tantalizing—for both author and reader—about breaking rules. Consider some of these.

~ Sentence fragments.
“It is possible to overuse the well-turned fragment …, but frags can also work beautifully to streamline narration, create clear images, and create tension as well as to vary the prose-line.” — Stephen King, On Writing

~ Weather.
Be careful. It’s easy to lapse into the painful personification of the smiling sun or the equally painful revisiting of the full moon, the rumbling thunder, the unforgiving sky. But make the familiar unfamiliar, and you have a warm, sunny winter day.

~ Dreams
This, too, is quite dangerous, and “It was only a dream” possibly unforgivable. But if a brief, vivid dream lyrically foreshadows, it can add texture, perhaps even humor, irony, or drama.

~ Backstory.
A little goes a long way. But none at all? That thins plot.

            “Show everything” and it might never be clear where your 5000- page novel is set.

Exclamation points!!!
            This one’s for real. Don’t.

Tip: Know the rules so you can choose when to follow and when to flirt.

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