Carolyn J. Rose is the author of several novels, including Hemlock Lake, Through a Yellow Wood, An Uncertain Refuge, Sea of Regret, A Place of Forgetting, and No Substitute for Murder. She’s now at work to a second substitute teacher cozy mystery, No Substitute for Money, and hopes to have it out this summer.
She grew up in New York's Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She founded the Vancouver Writers' Mixers and is an active supporter of her local bookstore, Cover to Cover. Her interests are reading, gardening, and not cooking.
Please help me welcome Carolyn J. Rose
Writers, Don’t Let Rules Box You In
Like it or not, we all live by them.
At least some of the time.
And to some extent.
Some rules are imposed on us by nature, others by family, school, society, and government—there are requirements for food, water, and shelter, mealtimes and curfews, assignments and tests, traffic laws, taxes, etc. If we ignore the rules, or flaunt them too often, there may be consequences—illness, accidents, fines, incarceration, or worse.
Then there are the rules we make for ourselves—some for excellent health or safety reasons. We avoid certain areas of town after dark, we check to make sure our doors are locked, and we read ingredients to prevent allergic reactions.
There are also rules—sometimes ill-conceived—that we make in an effort to enhance relationships. We let that other person select the movie or pick the restaurant or control the remote. We hold on to a particular hairstyle or color. We espouse a candidate or political party—or at least pretend to until we’re alone and marking a ballot.
There are rules based on superstitions. We might avoid stepping on a sidewalk crack or refuse to walk under a ladder. We might knock on a door exactly three times.
And then there are rules we make simply because we’ve reached an age where we can set standards for ourselves—no matter how ludicrous others may think they are. One friend has a policy of never seeing a movie that her mother-in-law recommends. Another won’t eat orange vegetables. A third refuses to dine at a restaurant that advertises both Chinese and American food because he’s convinced neither kind will be good. And a book club member won’t read a book if she finds a simile on the first page.
Lately, I’ve made an effort to be more flexible and easy-going about rules. (Except for the one about refusing to go to any place that requires me to wear a dress.) I fear that the more rules I develop, the more difficult it may be to discard or alter any of them, and the more rigid I may become.
As a writer, rigidity—outside of an effort to meet production goals—can be deadly. Too many rules about number of point-of-view characters allowed in a story, complete sentences in dialogue, paragraph length, or the “correct” words for attributions can have the same effect as drilling a hole in your head and pouring cement on your brain.
To free up my writing, especially in a first draft, I work to define my writing—and my characters’ thoughts and words—less by rules followed than by rules broken.
That, I confess, sometimes makes me uneasy. But uneasiness sparks creativity.
And, if I get too apprehensive or too insecure, I can always grab for a few guidelines.
Leave a comment and tell me about one of your rules—the best, the worst, the most vital, or the silliest—and get in the drawing for an e-copy of one of my books.