Breaking the Writing Rules

Yesterday, I found myself nodding as I read this post from author and freelance editor Karin Beery. Personally, I know that there are words I can delete 90% of the time – start, begin and that. They are the written equivalent of “um” and “uh” and very often serve no vital function in my writing.

But I think we all know what Karin means. Everywhere we turn there is a “rule” that we writers have been saddled with. Some people trace these rules back to well-meaning editors. Others lay the blame on writers quoting conference speakers.

Me? Does it really matter where these non-rules originated? Here are just a few that you’ve probably heard.

  • Cut adverbs. You don’t need those -ly words cluttering up your writing.
  • Don’t use the word said. Pick a bolder, more specific word.
  • Cut all “to be” verbs.
  • Never end a sentence with a preposition.
  • Never begin a sentence with “and,” “but,” or “or.”
  • Avoid flashbacks.
  • Do not write a prologue.
  • Your character should attempt to solve the story problem three times before succeeding.
  • The sweet spot for picture books is 200-words, 500-words at most.
  • Young readers will only read about characters who are older than they are.
  • Do not write in rhyme.

Wow. I didn’t think that I’d be able to think of that many but once I started, I just couldn’t stop. There’s so much bad advice out there. So many fake rules!

The reality is that you need to write a solid, compelling manuscript.

::jazz hands:: That’s it. That’s the big rule. If your writing is weak, if it fails to hook the reader? That’s when you’ve failed.

That isn’t to say that I don’t have any writing rules. My own person rules include remember to include transitions, beef up your conclusion, and cut “that,” “start,” and “begin” as often as possible. Why? Because I know what words I use as filler and let’s just say that my editor frequently tells me to “expand” my conclusion.

Does that mean you should argue with someone who states one of the above fake rules and insists that you follow it? It depends. If this is someone who is critiquing your work, you might want to just nod your head and smile. If you know that you tend to end too many sentences with prepositions or every other scene is a flashback, you should likely pay attention.

The reality is that you need to write a solid, compelling manuscript. It may very well include a flashback, a prologue, and numerous uses of the word said. It’s up to you to make your writing work for you and for your reader.