A Note On Breaking the Rules of Writing

Okay. I’m on my soapbox today, so I’ll get right to it.

You can’t parachute out of a plane without first knowing the rules of sky diving and how to open your parachute. Well…you could but it might not end well. Same goes with writing.

Rules are a necessary part of life. They just are. Rules give guidance.

BUT – and it’s a BIG BUT – the rules are not always unbendable, especially in writing, because writing is an art form. If we couldn’t bend and even break the rules, everyone’s writing would be annoyingly similar. Creativity wouldn’t shine through our work. BUT – again, it’s a BIG BUT – a writer needs to completely understand the rules BEFORE they commit to breaking them. This is why I say study other authors work.

AND EVEN THEN, even if you know and understand the rules like the back of your hand, breaking them still isn’t easy. Why? Think about this example:

You know how to use grammar. As a matter of fact, you have a Ph.D. in grammar. You can spot a dangling participle from a mile away. That’s great. You know the rules. BUT…that doesn’t mean you can write a book without punctuation and run-on sentences floating around everywhere. Unless your Cormac McCarthy who used it as a means of mirroring the starkness of the world he’d created in The Road. He didn’t do it just because he could, he did it because it meant something to the overall novel. It was a technique and part of his style

So…before you go destroying all the rules, make sure you know them first of all. Then make sure you know how to use them. THEN…think about how altering the rule adds to the crafting of your novel.


Here’s a couple more For Instances:

Show Don’t Tell: We’ve all heard it a gazillion times. NEVER tell. Yet I can pick up books all day long that have TELLING throughout. Why? Because sometimes it’s necessary to tell. Sometimes telling fits the scene or the moment or the character better. Not every single detail needs to be shown. If you spend six paragraphs describing a character walking to the store, you may want to rethink that passage. Was the detail important enough to be shown? Did anything happen to further character, emotional or plot development? ONLY THE WRITER can determine when to tell and when to show. The thing is…a good writer knows how to use both techniques to their advantage. Showing is always good when done correctly, but even showing can be done WRONG. 

Follow A Structure: Oh my. This one is tough. I love structure. Why? It makes books flow. Makes them more readable. Makes them a little easier to write. BUT…does that mean every novel has to start with Set Up? Can they NEVER begin with the Inciting Incident? Does the Inciting Incident HAVE to happen on page 30? NO. NO. These are guidelines. That’s all. Take a look at the opening page of Gone by Michael Grant which I highly recommend:

 Uhm…pretty sure that’s the moment everything changed. And it’s on page one. Not page thirty.

The point is this: Break rules when there is a reason or need. Break rules when the act adds to the character, emotional or plot development. Break rules when it reflects the mood or theme.

If you break the rules, know why. Have a reason. And do it well.

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