by Brenda Gayle (www.BrendaGayle.com)
A while ago, I took a grammar course for business writing professionals. I had been out of high school for more years than I care to admit and although I wrote professionally for various not-for-profit associations, I felt I needed a refresher to prepare for the new editing responsibilities I was undertaking. It was an eye-opener. Many of the inviolate grammar rules that I learned in English class had changed, particularly those relating to commas, semi-colons, and colons. (Notice the comma following “semi-colons.” Notice, too, the period inside the quotation marks even though it concludes the whole sentence. I could go on, but you get the point.)
The experience made me wonder how important rules are for their own sake versus how important they are to our perception of ourselves as romance writers–how we express ourselves in terms of voice and craft.
In my contemporary romance, Soldier for Love, both the heroine and hero are forced to work within a structured environment full of rules and regulations. Their attitude towards those rules is a major part of who they believe they are.
Major Julie Collins is a by-the-book kind of gal. She couldn’t have gotten to where she is any other way. But when she falls in love with one of the men under her command, she struggles to find a way to have the man she desires while remaining true to her beliefs about the value and importance of the military’s rules.
Lieutenant Matt Wolf, on the other hand, isn’t as wedded to the rules. While he accepts that they have their place, he doesn’t hesitate to break them when he feels they are misguided or likely to interfere with his pursuit of one very arousing woman–even if she is his C.O.
What about the relationship we, as romance writers, have to the “rules” of our genre?
I can’t think of a subject that garners more debate among writers of romance than whether or not it is okay to head-hop within a single scene. My personal preference is not to. And I admit, I prefer that the books I read don’t, either. However, I have read some great books in which the author not only switched point-of-view part way through a scene, she expertly bounced POV back and forth like a well-played tennis match.
Another rule dissuades the use of “ly” adverbs. I plead guilty to breaking this rule. I love them. I use them (overuse them, according to my critique partners). To me they provide a more visual representation of what is going on. But the conventions of romance writing dictate that they should be stripped from all prose because they reduce the impact of the verb.
In his book, Story, screen writing guru Robert McKee says: “Anxious, inexperienced writers obey rules. Rebellious, unschooled writers break rules. Artists master the form.”
I’d love to hear your thoughts on romance’s writing rules. Do rules help or hinder your writing? Do you have any pet rule peeves? Are there rules that you feel cannot be broken?
I’m giving away a signed copy of Soldier For Love to one of today’s commenters.