Writers’ Rules Are Made to Be Broken…I think

I saw a rule posted on Writerly that said, “Avoid Alliteration Always.” Thought of it this morning as I was planning to write a new post for today with the Title “Breaking Bread With Buddhists.” (which was replaced with this post but will be my next topic.)

I beg to differ with Writerly. I like alliteration. Like it Lots. I think it’s poetic. Poetry Packs a Punch. And, like most literary techniques, alliteration is okay when used sparingly and cleverly. Allow Alliteration Agilely.

Rules for writers evolve. Recently I read a novel in which the dialogue was punctuated without the use of quotation marks. My first thought, since it was an ebook, was that it was poorly edited. But I mentioned it to a writer friend and he said, “Oh, no, it wasn’t poor editing. It’s a thing now.” (note my use of old-school quotation marks.)

It’s a thing, now? No quotation marks? What’s next? No punctuation at all how will we know when questions are being asked or when emphasis is intended or when to breathe or one sentence ends and another begins and before you know it the whole thing dissolves into chaos but you hardly even realize it because chaos may be spelled incorrectly because the rules have gone out the window

So, tomorrow I will write about Breaking Bread With Buddhists. And darn it, I will break the rule about alliteration because I still can. I’m a writer. Hear (or rather, read) me roar!

What writer rule do you find objectionable?

Does Critique of Your Writing Hurt?

Yesterday my new writers group held our first session of slow torture  helpful critique. Since it was the first, members were hesitant to volunteer. I stepped up as I have pretty thick skin when it comes to my writing (or so I thought). One of my editors told me years ago she loved working with me because I was perhaps her only client who was not “married to every word.” I’ve always been open to learning how much work can be improved and never took the corrections personally. I wasn’t even sure why any writer would.

Until yesterday.

The sample I offered was an excerpt from Tales From the Family Crypt. I chose the chapter where my father dies in my house. I felt it showcased the humor, (yes, even at the death scene) poignancy and overall tone/style of the book. Group members had read the excerpt in advance and came prepared to share their feedback. It started well. The first reader said “I love Sid!” Sid is my dad and from the little bit she read, she was enamored with his peculiar and spectacular character. As he’s been dead for 20 years it was lovely for me to know he still had it and I succeeded in painting a compelling picture of him. So that made me feel warm and fuzzy.

Two more members spoke and praised the work overall. Said they completely enjoyed the excerpt and wanted to read more. (I gave them copies of the book on the spot!)

The next reader basically said he questioned the narrator’s (aka me) motivation for being, well… somewhat bitchy in telling this story of family dysfunction in the first place. He said he wonders about anyone who tells a story in which the narrator is sane and everyone else is crazy. I responded I understood his point and perhaps if he had been able to read the entire book he wouldn’t have felt the same way. That’s the difficulty in working only with an excerpt and not a complete work, I suggested. But, then I had to ask, “But what if the narrator (aka me) IS the only sane person in the group?”  I mean I had no control over what the siblings in this story did. It’s nonfiction.

The next person was complimentary about my writing. She said she loved the way I wrote; my style is easy to read and wonderfully descriptive. She asked a plot-related question I attempted to answer graciously. She added she thought I could have developed the death scene in more depth. I agreed to look at it again.

Here’s the thing, I thanked each speaker for the feedback and I thought I was accepting all criticism gracefully.

But then the group moderator suggested I stop being defensive and perhaps wait until all the members had spoken before I responded.

What? I was defensive? I thought I was just responsive. So I’m left wondering what happened to my thick skin? Have I become married to every word? Or is writing a memoir a whole different animal from what I’ve written before — parenting books and children’s books?

How do you handle critique?

Is Memoir An Indulgence?

I wrote my reply to the commenter who said, “Memoir is a challenging genre.” I agreed wholeheartedly and added my thought that memoir is an indulgence. To indulge means to yield or to gratify a desire. Its connotation often indicates participating in an activity that isn’t necessarily good for you but is pleasurable. You indulge in eating chocolate or drinking wine or even in gossiping. You do it because you want to, not because it’s good for you.

I think memoir writers like me indulge in some way. Or, perhaps I should speak only for me. I indulged; I satisfied my urge to tell the story of my extended family as I experienced it. Perhaps telling the story wasn’t a good thing, it hurts some of the family members to have this truth out there in the world. But it felt good.

So, did I indulge? I think so. Do all memoirists do so? What do you think?