Since I work in a library for my day job, I’m a big supporter of Banned Book Week. Held by the American Library Association every year in the last week of September, Banned Book Week “celebrates the freedom to read” and I think, in a writer’s case, the freedom to write as well.
I was scanning through the self-help writing book Techniques of a Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain recently and found a spot where he warned against traps a writer falls into. Here’s what Swain claims they do:
“1. They take an unrealistic view.
2. They hunt for magic secrets.
3. They try to learn the hard way.
4. They refuse to follow feelings.
5. They attempt to write by rules.”
From his “trouble with rules” section, I quote him: “No writer in his right mind writes by a set of rules. At least, not by somebody else’s rules. Why not? Because rules start from the wrong end: with restriction; with form; with mechanics; with exhortation about things you shouldn’t do. Where SHOULD they start, then? With feeling. YOUR OWN feelings.”
My critique group set up a rule for me a month or so ago. I’d finished a certain story that covered a certain topic and they told me in no uncertain terms it was a bad topic, that no one would want to read about it because it was too depressing.
Well, now I’m determined to shatter their rule and break free from their restrictions. The tricky part will be executing it with a certain amount of style and voice.
Yeah, just call me a rebel with a cause.
If you think about it, it’s rule breakers in history that carry on the classics. If D. H. Lawerence hadn’t written Lady Chatterly’s Lover that talked about—gasp—sex, then would so many stories we romance lovers read today be out in print? If it’s only a controversial subject making someone cringe, then exploring the issue further and learning about it should be allowed.
I encourage you now… be your own rebel. Go the library or bookstore and find one of the following stories this week. Read a challenged book and celebrate the fact that these authors broke the rules of their time so they could enrich and entertain us.
- Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
- Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
- Call of the Wild by Jack London
- Cujo by Stephen King
- Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
- Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
- Harry Potter (the Series) by J. K. Rowling
- How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
- James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
- Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
- Lady Chatterly's Lover by D. H. Lawrence
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding
- Rights of Man by Thomas Paine
- Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
- The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger,
- The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker
- The Bluest Eye or Beloved by Toni Morrison
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
- The Giver by Lois Lowry,
- The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- Ulysses by James Joyce
- Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Or go HERE to find more challenged titles.