Prologues, apparently, are out, as are dream sequences, passive voice, antiheroes, and adverbs. *shameless plug here for my unofficial Save the Adverbs campaign* Have a plausible plot, yes; I failed in the regard in the first draft of Office Politics, which required revising the last twelve chapters of the book to fix it.
But several of my CPs and beta readers over the years have busted my chops on using “was” and -ly words. In an industry where word count = page count = profitability, using adverbs seems like a wise idea, especially when to say the same damn thing without using one takes two or three extra words. By the end of a manuscript, that’s a lot of added words, not to mention a lot of inflated prose. As an avid reader, I notice when an author has avoided an adverb, and I think “Why didn’t s/he just use ___ly?” My enjoyment of a book is never hindered by an adverb or passive voice, but it is by pretentious overwording. Heh.
Recently, while obsessively searching for a blog post that was the catalyst for the plot change in Office Politics, I came across an older post on Diana Peterfreund’s blog, where she talks about being shocked by all the “rules” cited by contest judges when she was administering a contest – and how she set about writing a book that flouted all of those rules, and sold it a few months later (thereby proving that Captain Barbosa was right, and the rules are more like guidelines than actual rules, subjectively speaking).
I found this fascinating and – I must admit – vindicating. I’m not axing my adverbs anymore, dear beta readers and CPs. I’m not erasing all of my passive-voice passages, either (which I try to use only when conveying emotion and not in action scenes). You can bust my chops on plot plausibility, but I will whip out my SAVE THE ADVERBS badge and flash it in your face if you point any fingers at those -ly words. I may even make a new badge for my own Passive-Aggressive Rule (Don’t Get Aggressive About My Passive Voice) to go with it. If one of my characters is unlikeable, great; that means s/he has reached your emotions. If I want a prologue and it serves the story, deal with it. Likewise with dream sequences. But do, please, tell me if my plot is as implausible as the theory that the moon is a giant Ritz cracker spread with white cheddar Cheez Whiz.
The thing about writing… You throw too many “rules” at us writers, and you end up just sucking all the ink out of our pens. We’re unable to fully realize our creativity – and push it beyond boundaries – in such stifling rule-boxes. There are some rules that should be followed: basic grammar (and I do mean basic, as I’m guilty of not just breaking but trampling some of the more nitpicky grammar rules); the serial comma (such as “I’d like to thank my parents, God and Laura Bush.” Use it, people, because by all that’s holy you do NOT want someone thinking that your parents are God and Laura Bush when, in fact, they are not); split infinitives (“You have to really watch him” does NOT mean the same thing as “You really have to watch him”); and keep your punctuation outside the parentheses when the parenthetical segment is part of the current sentence. And by God, PLEASE learn to use the right word (your and you’re are NOT interchangeable!!!)
But all the rest – prologues, rock stars, wealthy love interests, dream sequences, passive voice, adverbs – those things are subjective. My opinion is they only weaken your story if the reader lets it, and it’s going to be one damn nitpicky reader who lets it. [Insert rude opinion about damn nitpicky readers.] You don’t have to use them if you don’t want to, but keep your Writing Rulebook away from my work, thanks. 😉