Friday, October 5, 2018

9 Stupid Writing Rules That Aren't Worth Following

Ah, writing rules. Like pretty much every other type of rule, I am not a fan.

Some writing rules are okay. Most just make me think: Hah. I bet I can break that one and still write an awesome story.

See, writing rules are very stifling. People throw them around like law, which results in writers misunderstanding important writing concepts or creating stories that all sound the same. I don't necessarily think that all writing rules are bad, but I do think that pretty much all of them are more like guidelines.

Let's discuss some of the top writing rules, along with reasons they aren't always worth following:

1. Show, don't tell. I need this rule to go away. It is quoted way too often, and is usually used in illegitimate scenarios. I'm going to let you in on a secret. It's going to blow your mind. You ready for this? Okay, here we go:

Sometimes it is okay to tell.

Yep. You heard me. Telling is a necessary part of writing. Sometimes you have to tell backstory or world-building. Sometimes you need telling to explain a change of location, or perhaps even to point out emotions. Because here's the thing: Telling isn't the problem. If you're doing it on purpose for specific, non-lazy reasons, it's fine. The problem is when you slip into telling because you didn't take the time to ask how to most effectively convey information or scenes. So if you want to tell, tell. Don't listen to the haters.

2. Never write prologues. Pffft. Please. This is absurd. While it is true that many people completely butcher prologues, it is also true that it is entirely possible to write necessary, important, stylistically beautiful ones. I explain how in this post, if you're interested. Which you should be, because we should all be coming together to stop the discrimination and abuse of prologues. The mistreatment is unacceptable and must cease.

3. Don't start a story with an action scene. Okay. I understand the concept behind this. If you start a story with an action scene, the stakes are fairly low because readers don't know any of the characters yet and thus don't care if any of them are hurt. It can also be somewhat jarring. HOWEVER. That does not mean that you cannot utilize opening action scenes to establish world-building, character status, POV, and story mood. So grab your sword, helmet, and rush into battle!
Unless you're writing a romance novel or contemporary YA book. In which case...maybe don't.

4. Write everyday. If other people want to follow this, good for them. But it is absurd to think that everybody needs to do this. Is it good to write on a regular basis? Yes. Is it important to do so as a professional writer? Yes. Does "regular basis" need to equal "everyday"? No.

5. Don't use adverbs or adjectives. I don't know how to say this nicely, so I'm not even going to try: This is incredibly stupid. Adjectives and adverbs are amazingly helpful. They are an important part of our language and can help convey ideas, images, and emotions in beautiful ways. Can they be overused? Yes. So treat them like any other type of word: Use them with purpose and meaning. That is all.

6. Don't use said. What did Said ever do to deserve this treatment? Said is a cool guy. He can help the dialogue flow smoothly without making readers get caught up in other, fancier dialogue tags. It's true that Said is better left out for some writing styles (I personally don't use him very often, as I write Deep POV and tend to use action to tag dialogue). But that doesn't mean that he needs to be discarded altogether.

7. Always know how your story will end. *puts on leather jacket and aviator glasses* *tattoos the word "rebel" across forehead in case the jacket and glasses were too subtle* No. I refuse to bend to this rule.
Again, some people may need to know how their story ends before they start writing. It may be their writing process. That's totally fine, but also isn't for everyone. This rule can stifle your writing process and result in you having to force specific plot points into your story in order to reach the set ending. In addition, going into a story with an ending in mind can blind you from seeing that there is another, better way to end the story.

8. Write what you know. Can you hear that? That's the sound of me screaming in pain because I rolled my eyes so much that I sprained them. "Write what you know" is possibly the single-most irritating, misleading rule I have ever heard. Stop telling people this. Seriously. STOP. If you absolutely must throw this rule around, do so responsibly by explaining what it truly means.

9. Eliminate passive voice. I can feel people glaring at me, but I don't care. Somebody needs to point this out, and it may as well be me: "passive sentence" is not synonymous with "weak sentence." A sentence can be written in passive voice without coming across as weak. Sure, passive voice shouldn't be your go-to, and it certainly should not be in the majority. But sometimes it provides good contrast, or is important to POV or character dialogue. Stop demonizing it.

What are some writing rules you think we could do without? Let's rant together in the comment section below!

On an unrelated note, I will be doing a livestream with amazing indie author J.E. Purrazzi tomorrow (Oct 6, 2018) at 7 PM EST. You should stop by! It's going to be fun. Read more about it here and be sure to set a reminder to be notified when we go live!

Related articles:
Why You Shouldn't Listen to Writing Tips Blogs
12 Writing Myths You Need to Stop Believing

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  1. Love these,and #9 is good to hear. Passive tends to be my go-to during 1st drafts, and I try to change it, but there are just some sentences that can't be written in active voice!

  2. Aaaaaalll of these! "Show, don't tell" really gets to me because half the time people seem to have no idea what it means.

    And THE PASSIVE. If you can find it, there's an awesome discussion of the passive voice in Paul J. Hopper's "A Short Course in Grammar" (pgs. 192–4 in my edition). It's about English sentence structure and the way and order in which information is revealed in a sentence, and how the passive plays into that. I want to throw it at every writer, but I'm not sure photocopying pages from a book and plastering them on the internet is legal. :P

  3. Agreed. Seriously, I hate it when people take these rules out of context and treat them like the law.
    Especially "show don't tell". This can definitely be taken too far, and I've read fantasy and sci-fi stories by beginner writers where it's impossible to figure out what's happening because they refuse to tell anything. What exactly is this made up food? Who knows. What does the magical race look like? Apparently you have to guess.
    And I like my adverbs. Sometimes, very rarely, I even use them after "said". I'm a rebel too :P

  4. Said is not dead. It is very much alive! Sure, I don't believe in overusing it either, but I'm not a fan of superfluous dialogue tags. I also don't believe every story needs to be 100% grammatically correct, especially when using first person. Nobody thinks that way. (If you do, let me know.)

    1. *Raises hand tentatively. Writer side jerks it down and glares at me.*
      Right. No grammatical correctness here!

  5. First, I just have to say that your gif usage is fantastic.
    As for the post - while I think that some of these rules do have their place, I definitely agree with you that they can be over used and confusing. Especially "said is dead". Seriously. Dialogue without it just sounds like it's trying too hard (excluding action tags. But you know what I mean - every other sentence is declared, or stated, or breathed, or shouted, etc).
    But my least favorite of these rules has to be seven. Is it important to have a direction for your story? Yes. But that doesn't mean you HAVE to know the ending, especially considering that things change, and what changes in your story can lead to a completely different ending than you originally envisioned. It just, ugh. I've rarely had a story that actually goes right where I was planning but that's usually a good thing, and people insisting otherwise simply on principle riles my inner leather-jacket-wearing rebel writer.

  6. Thanks for writing this! It's so nice to see this written by an experienced author. I've always been bothered by all the rules you listed, but I was never sure if that was because they're bad rules, or because I am a bad author. My least favorite is said. Why would I ever write "The grass is green," Bob articulated, when I could write "The grass is green," said Bob? Honestly, Said is awesome, and necessary (I think).

  7. Oh, I love this so much! These rules so annoy me. Especially the "show don't tell" and the "said"

    and I love your humor! And your header is so unique!


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