Being a Better Writer: Micro-Blast #6 -Breaking the Rules, Poetry, Figurative Language, Breaking the 4th Wall

Welcome back readers! It’s time for a Being a Better Writer Micro-blast!

What’s a Micro-blast, you may ask? Why I’ll tell you! A Micro-blast is what happens when I find I have a number of topics on my Topic List (either from readers or that I came up with on my own) that aren’t really worthy of a full post. They’re worth being talked about, but there’s no sense in dragging them out into a full-sized post.

But, rather than dump them or leave you with a bunch of short, concise paragraph posts talking about them individually, I’ve found it’s better to combine them into Micro-blast posts! Cover a couple of topics at once, get the brain stewing, and clear the current list of a few of the less in-depth topics. Ready? Go!

When Can I Break the Rules?
When it works.

No, seriously, this is the answer. But I suppose I can get a little bit more in depth. This one is less about writing and more about the writer.

Look, there are plenty of young writers out there that like to use the excuse of “breaking the rules” to justify writing that isn’t that good. “I don’t need to follow that rule because …”

They are wrong. Because here’s the truth about breaking rules and conventions of writing: While it is done, it’s done by people who are absolutely experienced with keeping the rules. They know and understand why each rule is in place so that they know exactly how and why to break it, and how far.

Again, I will emphasize this: They know when to break the rules because they spent so long keeping them and understanding how and why each rule was kept.

So, you want to break the rules in your writing? Start by keeping them. And I can already hear some of you saying “Yeah, but I already know about the rule, so I’m …” Crud, I hear that one all the time as is, a variant of “I’m a great writer, I don’t have time to be concerned with things like grammar and proper ways to do things” (which is bunk, by the way).

Nope. Cut it. Keep the rules. What you’re saying is “I understand that there’s electricity in the wires of my home. This makes me a qualified electrician.” It does not.

Keep the rules. Work within their confines until you understand the reason those confines exist. Once you understand them, you may find you don’t even need to break them. Or when you do, it will be with express knowledge, purpose, and clarity you would not have otherwise had.

This topic was clearly going to end up as a Micro-Blast. Why? I am not a poet.

No, seriously. Poetry is English, yes, and that means that I did have to have some passing study of it, but passing. We covered the basics. And poetry is a massive field of study. There’s a ton to it, far more than I can cover, let alone know. Especially as its not my field.

But if you want to get into poetry … well, like anything else, you have to learn about it. Start by studying it. Read it! Get books of poetry and read them! Look up collections of famous poets and study their work! Then, go a step further and read books that break their poetry down. Learn about the different kinds of poetry, what makes them different kinds.

Then go a step further. Maybe try a poetry class. Start practicing poetry on your own.

That’s about all I’ve got. This isn’t my topic, and what basics I did learn in college didn’t quite get put on the priority list compared to “writing good characters.” Poetry is a very deep topic with a myriad legion of rules and styles, and not one I’m qualified to speak on other than the barest of details and “go study this.”

Figurative Language
Okay, this one’s a bit interesting. A request from a reader, they wanted to know two things in particular: How to come up with figurative language (metaphor, allusion, etc) and when it was appropriate to use.

So, those two things then. First of all, how to come up with figurative language. This one’s easy. Do two things: expand your mind, and then try some writing challenges for heavy prose and descriptive writing!

Okay, let me talk a bit about expanding your mind. It’s going to be very hard to come up with similes, metaphors, and other comparisons and figurative language if you don’t have a vast pool of experience and knowledge to draw on. You can’t say “the pain burned at her heart, a star scathing inside her chest” without some knowledge of both emotional turmoil and stars, enough knowledge to make the connection and comparison. So get out and experience and learn things, training your mind to draw connections between things that might not be connected in order to make a sensation or even feel more concrete for a reader.

Descriptive writing, on the other hand, is putting that into practice. Look up some writing challenges and exercises (a few of these may help) that push you towards trying to describe and show events without actually talking about the specific event. Challenge yourself to create language that highlights feelings or shows events through clever comparisons.

Once you’ve done that, however, should you use it everywhere? Of course not. You should use it where it makes sense.

Think about your characters. Your narrator. A no-nonsense, by-the-book individual is not going to think in metaphor or simile often. They’re simply going to state things. Metaphor in their situation can work … but maybe not as much as the artist who views everything in colors.

Point being that you should think about what you’re trying to show or present when using figurative language, and why. It’ll take practice, but you’ll soon find places where it works, and places where it doesn’t, based on the story, characters, and pacing you’re going for.

Breaking the Fourth Wall
Hoo boy. This one’s … tricky. And going to be short. First of all, breaking the fourth wall is what we call it when a character directly or indirectly acknowledges the “screen” (the fourth wall framing the set) that the viewer is looking through. Pulling the audience back and admitting that “Yes, this is just a set, and we’re aware of it.” It’s done for humorous or dissonant effect.

Got that? Good. Okay, when should you use it?


Okay okay, you got me. Almost never.

Here’s the thing, and this ties back to breaking the rules like we talked about above: How often do you see breaking the fourth wall done well? And how many times do you see it done with a half-hearted “Oh hey, they acknowledged it?”

You see the latter a lot more than the former. Breaking the fourth wall is usually a form of comedy. And comedy? It’s hard. Hitting a joke just right, especially one that pulls the audience out of the universe that’s been so carefully built? Difficult. Very difficult.

In this sense, writing a good fourth wall gag that doesn’t make the audience true is like knowing when to break the rules: It takes a lot of pre-existing knowledge and skill.

Sands, even when it’s not humor it takes a lot of skill to pull off. There are horror books out there that hint at the fourth-wall, or books that use multiple layers to great effect … but they’re rare. Super rare. Because this is hard to do.

So, you want to break the fourth wall? Don’t. Don’t until you’ve got a really good reason and a solid, solid grasp on why you would do it. It’s like breaking the rules: do it when you know why you’re doing it.

And that’s it! This has been Micro-Blast #6!

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