Writing rules

This picture has been floating around Facebook and made me laugh out loud (yep LOL for real):

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There are so many “rules” writers are supposed to follow, it becomes exhausting to try to read and follow them all. Especially for new writers it can be so easy to look up all the writing rules and try desperately not to make a mistake. Sometimes though your creativity can be stumped and let’s be honest, rules are made to be broken right?

Some rules are necessary like showing not telling although from my own experience this can be tough to get right or word counts – don’t send an agent a 200,000 word novel and some are there because some things have become cliches like beginning your novel with your main character waking up. But even so, there are exceptions out there. Divergent by Veronica Roth, for example, is a book I loved and has been really successful – look out for the film version soon – and it opens with the main character looking at herself in the mirror – one of the no-no’s if you read the “rules”. It works in Divergent though because the character is only allowed to look at her reflection when her mum cuts her hair once a year – straight away we know she’s in a different world and we’re intrigued about it. Technically, Ms Roth broke a rule though.

In my own book, I have broken one of these “rules” by using flashbacks. A lot of writing tips sites and books say not to use this device but it’s in there and my agent even encouraged me to add more of them. If I’d listened to and followed the rules out there, I may not have written the same book.

A recent article in the Guardian made me really angry by criticising writers on how they use Twitter – again giving us more rules to follow. You can read the article here.Β Writers find Twitter useful because generally we’re working alone and it allows us to communicate with other writers and when we’re published, with our readers. And let’s face it, we’re often full to the brim with self-doubt so if someone on there says something nice about our books, we are going to be flattered and hell, even retweet it. So, what? I think you should be yourself on social networking and run your Twitter how you way to – obviously, if you’re kind of mean you’re not going to get anywhere but you should be free to interact with your fans. If I ever get a 5* review, you can be sure I’ll shout about it πŸ™‚

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I suppose this post is a rather long-winded way of saying that your writing (and social networking) needs to be your creation, you need to find and express your voice in the only way you can and this might mean breaking some of those writing “rules”. I don’t think any truly successful book has ever got to that point by being quiet – they’ve got there by being different and shouting about those differences. Even if you think they’re badly written (naming no names here but you can guess) they’ve made a splash and I think if you want to, you need to follow your own path.

What do you think about writing rules? Have you ever broken them?

Victoria

xoxo

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25 thoughts on “Writing rules

    • Yep, obviously you don’t want an agent or editor to just dismiss your story because it’s all over the place but you also don’t want them to dismiss it because it’s the same as every other book out there. I think you have to follow your gut instinct in the end. Thank you!

  1. It seems to me that if we followed all the rules, we’d never get any writing done! It’s a very subjective thing — as long as we write the book that works for us, I’m a firm believer that at least *one* other person will like it too! πŸ˜€

  2. Damn straight! I actually love reading about flashbacks in books so I’m not sure where the dislike of them came from. Obviously it’s not good if you have an excessive amount of them, but their one of my favourite story devices as a reader!

    I love the Facebook pic.

  3. I think they’re more like…guidelines. lol. I think Jack Sparrow said it perfectly. =) We do have to know them to know when to break them. But you’re right. Just tell the story that needs to be told, get it looked at by other people, and fly from there. And about twitter…during my book launch I was afraid that any new followers would think I was full of myself. Every other tweet was me guest posting somewhere, talking about my book, excited. I realized that’s okay. Readers should be excited for you during this time of your life. The momentum shifts with the person.

    • I definitely worry about seeming full of myself – British reserve maybe but I do think retweeting reviews is a way of thanking the reviewer and acknowledging you’ve seen it. Obviously if that’s all you do it would be boring but it’s a really exciting time and that should be shared! They’re along for the journey with you too πŸ™‚

  4. Love the Neil Gaiman quote. When I first started writing/editing I tried to follow all the “rules” of setting up a freelance business but got so overwhelmed by all the information. Sometimes you just need to choose what works for you and leave the rest.

  5. YES! Such a good point!
    I don’t remember who, but someone brilliant said something along the lines of this: “Learn all the rules. Then break them.”
    I think learning the “rules” is very important. It is equally important to write, write, write with reckless abandon, learn our own styles, and figure out how to break the rules we must to keep our individuality and edge without making the craft fall apart.

  6. Yes! This! Sometimes I’m so busy trying to remember what I am and am not allowed to write, the story loses all its appeal. It’s maddening πŸ™‚

  7. Love the cartoon at the top. Re the rules, I started writing by instinct and have been picking up a few rules along the way.

  8. I think rules are there for a reason. They give us a starting point. But they have to be played with and adapted to fit the situation. I’ve broken so many grammar rules to make my writing flow better and make it a more compelling read. But I knew what the rules were and why they were there. It was a deliberate decision not a blunder. And I think that’s the difference. When we start out it’s safer to stick close to the rules, but as we get familiar with the rules, it’s okay to adapt them. πŸ™‚

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