Raise your hand if you’ve ever read a book or blog titled something like “The Rules of Writing”.
Alright. Hands down. Now raise your hand if you religiously follow those rules you’ve read about (if you raised your hand previously).
You needn’t look far for “guidance” on what is and isn’t permissible in today’s publishing arena. In fact, if you start searching in earnest, you will soon find yourself inundated with an inexhaustible list of no-nos that will land your manuscript straight in the slush pile!
Thing is, whilst many of the “rules” of writing make sense and come from the hard-earned experience of those seasoned in the industry, other rules just sound so arbitrary… faddish, even. For example, “don’t write any long sentences”, or “don’t over describe your setting like Tolkien did.. nobody has the attention span for description anymore,” or “whatever you do after, you must start your book with short, punchy, edgy paragraphs or you’ll lose your audience…better yet, you’ll never have an audience, because no agent will touch it if it’s not edgy enough for 21st century readers”… Really?
And I’m pretty sure I’ve read some rule breakers that aren’t suffering too badly for it. I mean, G.R.R. Martin has more POVs in one novel than I can count, his descriptions make Tolkien’s sounds like haikus, and he describes the sunrise as “the fingers of dawn”(apparently a notorious no-no in the literary world). Has rule-breaking inhibited his career? Well, as my grandad used to say, ‘I’ll bet he cries all the way to the bank.’
But then, for those of us not so well-established in the publishing world, it’s tricky, isn’t it? We want to prove we’ve done our homework.. we want to tick the right boxes for our would-be agents… whilst somehow remaining “original”. So here’s my question for you, dear writers:
Are you a writing-rule-keeper, or a total rebel? Which rules do you consider to be “musts”… & which are “really more like guidelines”?
Let the conversation begin!
*Want to read more on this subject? Check out this article by writer Andrew Toy.