Some writing rules are made to be broken

Writing may be the easiest part of the story-production process, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. As often as not, it’s difficult and frustrating and utterly painful, but that’s the fun of it. It’s kind of like being a parent. Or a spouse. Anyway, I want to point out a few of the liberties and literary devices I used in my story about Jesus Guzman.

• Alliteration

I never blatantly shoot for alliteration in that “Peter Pepper picked a peck of pickled peppers” style, but I love sweet, fresh and natural alliteration, so, consider the following:

It’s not some puffy sentiment from a wannabe rock star. It’s real. Where he is is in a wheelchair, and barring a miracle or a medical breakthrough, he will spend the rest of his life in it.

“…from a wannabe rock star. It’s real. Where he is is in a wheelchair…”

R’s and W’s sound alike. They pair nicely. So do some C’s and some K’s as well as some C’s and some S’s. But you knew that.

• Dialogue

I love dialogue and see little or none of it in student publications. Part of the reason, I suppose, is because students have no time to follow other students around, snooping in on their conversations. There’s a solution, however. Ask, “What did so and so say? What did so and so say in return? The following is direct quote from Mrs. Guzman:

“I told him again what had happened, and he teared up and cried. When they came to pick him up and take him up from his hospital bed to his wheelchair, he didn’t want to go. But I told him this was just temporary. We’re going to take it step-by-step, day-by-day.”

Rather than using it as a single quote block, I broke it into two pieces: direct quote and dialogue.

“I told him again what had happened, and he teared up and cried,” Mrs. Guzman said. “When they came to pick him up and take him up from his hospital bed to his wheelchair, he didn’t want to go.”

“This is just temporary,” she told him. “We’re going to take it step-by-step, day-by-day.”

The dialogue provides an extra punch. It makes it real, plops the reader into the middle of a scene.

• Repetition

Jesus wasn’t as chatty as I might have liked, but I used  his 3-word answers to my advantage. Note the repetition. It creates pace — a gallop, almost.

What do you remember about the accident? Not very much.

When you woke up, did you realize you were severely injured? No.

When were you told you were severely injured? I don’t remember.

When you learned you were severely injured, how did you react? I don’t remember.

What is your prognosis? I don’t know.

Anything in else you’d like to say about the accident or your early days back in school? Not really.

• Comparison

Turner said Jesus is a cerebral musician who thinks deeply and carefully about each song he tackles. He isn’t a Ringo to everyone else’s John, Paul and George. He’s a multi-skilled, classical percussionist.

The article was published in a magazine for Texas public school administrators, most of whom are middle age or older. They’re familiar with the Beatles — individually and collectively. They understand the allusion.

• Second person

I hate silly second-person leads. “Have you ever been injured in a car accident? Well, Jesus was.” Actually, hate isn’t strong enough a word. However, I like second person if it’s used when the reader — that is, the second person — is actually a participant in the scene. In the following clip, I wanted readers to know that if they were in the Guzman kitchen, Jesus might be drumming on their legs, neck and shoulders.

At home, Jesus is constantly drumming on something: counter tops, furniture, his legs, your neck and shoulders — whatever he finds.

Here’s another example. It’s taken from a piece I wrote about the 2011 Texas School Superintendent of the Year.

“You go places and do things in life a lot because of fate,” he said. “Somebody has a hand in where you go and what you become. It’s not all about you.”

That somebody might be a parent or grandparent, a good friend or a pretty girl you decide to marry, or it might be a stranger you strike up a conversation with while standing around a water cooler with your hands in your pockets. Doesn’t matter. Life takes you funny places. His journey began in tiny Carter, Oklahoma — population 256, give or take a funeral or two. It’s 12 miles southeast of Sayre, the seat of Beckham County, and halfway between Amarillo and Oklahoma City, at the intersection of state highways 34 and 55 and pretty much in the middle of nowhere. In its heyday, Carter had a dry goods store, a Ford dealership, a lumber yard, a cotton gin, a pool hall or two, a leather shop, a movie theater, a weekly newspaper and a hog market large enough to announce itself to anyone a mile or two down wind.

I broke a half-dozen or more old-school journalism rules and don’t care. First, I know the rules. Second, I know when and how to break them. Third, I want people to read and enjoy my writing, so I take a few liberties occasionally. If I screw up, well, so be it. Call me “Ringo.”