I hate writing rules
This is part of the Insecure Writers Support Group monthly blog hop.
What writing rule do you wish you’d never heard?
None. All of them.
Okay, some writing rules are good: don’t have too many flashbacks; start with action (can be emotional or physical); um… yeah, thinking here. I can’t think of too many more good ones.
The worst writing rules can be severely damaging to a writer’s story: never have a prologue; don’t start with dialogue; avoid adverbs at all costs.
To be honest, even though I’ve taught writing for the past ten years and am a dispenser of “writing rules”, the best ones I ever heard and taught was “write from your heart, don’t feel you have to act on every piece of criticism, and don’t worry about the sales”.
More recently I’ve taken to heart the concept that it’s all about the characters. The plot is there to show and provide opportunity character growth.
The one rule that I learned (much to my dismay) was to be avoided at all costs was “leave out the parts that people won’t read or will skim.”
I did that.
I wrote a book that only contained the exciting parts. You know what? It was a shit book that was way too short. Because it only contained the exciting parts, the parts that readers would read, it missed those important slow moments when the characters sit back and think about all that they’ve done, all that they’ve learned, all that they want to do. It missed all the warm and fuzzy parts. It missed all the moments of character growth. It missed a lot of important stuff and I eventually had to go back, figure out what was missing—and add in some subplots—and essentially rewrite the entire book.
Don’t do that!
We need those quiet moments. We need those bits where nothing happens but someone sits there thinking or thinks out loud to a friend. Those things are important and an intelligent reader will value those parts as much as all the exciting action scenes.
I learned that rule from a writer who writes books on writing who I thought (at the time) was so knowledgeable. Ha! I was so wrong. And today, in preparation for writing this blog post, I went back to his site to look at his rules of writing and found that I disagree with almost every single one them:
- Never open a book with weather. –why not? If it’s essential to the plot, by God, open with the weather! Need I remind you of “It was a dark and stormy night”?
- Avoid prologues. – I love prologues. Most of my books have prologues. It gives you a touch of who the character was before the book started so that readers have a point of reference as to who they are today and where they are going in the book.
- Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. – “Bull shit!” she disagreed whole-heartedly.
- Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.—All right, I agree with this somewhat—except for that “never” bit. I would say try to reduce the number of times you use an adverb to modify the word “said”. Sometimes there is no other choice, but when you try to do something else that when you get creative and can do wonderful things.
- Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. – “Oh, hell, no!” I love exclamation points—just ask my editor. Yes, I use them too often, but that’s okay (sometimes, and sometimes she takes them out when they’re not needed, which is totally okay too). When an exclamation point is warranted, use it. If you find that you’re using too many, see if you can’t reduce the number. And if you’re writing YA or a character who is very emphatic or a drama queen then use them as often as you want!
- Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.” I use “suddenly”. Nothing wrong with that word when something happens… well, suddenly. But I don’t over use it and I’ll think about the necessity of the word before I use it. But that’s true with all Garbage Words (words that if you remove them from the sentence the meaning isn’t changed): really, very, totally, so, that, and then, just. And maybe you have more words you’d like to add to that list. As to his second point, “all hell broke loose” – well that goes along with keeping clichés to a minimum which you should do, unless you’ve got a character who only speaks in clichés and that’s their “thing”.
- Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Okay, I’ll give him that, but mainly because he didn’t use that nasty word “never” (more on that below).
- Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. – huh? Why not? Readers want to know what characters look like. You shouldn’t spend a paragraph describing them and you don’t need to describe every single character in loving detail, but some description is necessary and if detail is needed, do it!
- Don’t go into great detail describing places and things. –same!
- Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.—er… talked about this one above.
My biggest gripe with this list is that word—“Never”. Don’t “never” do something (unless it’s illegal and then, yes, never do it). For all of these rules there are exceptions. For all of these rules, you might want to do them sometimes.
So, my rule to you and all writers is don’t listen to writing rules—no, don’t “never” listen to them—don’t listen to them unless you know that they apply to you and your writing. If they do, then, yes, listen to them. Or listen to them sometimes.
Oh, and if you’re interested in my writing class, it’s in a book: Chapter One is available wherever you buy books online. 🙂
And don’t miss other blogs in the hop!
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