Success only flourishes in perseverance -- ceaseless, restless perseverance.
--Baron Manfred Von Richtofen

Friday, September 30, 2011

Why We Have Rules (and why you should break them.)

Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it. 
~Henry David Thoreau

Haven't had a Thoreau quote for a while, and this one seemed appropriate to what I've been thinking about lately.

The Writing Rules. 

Yes, I've blogged about this before. That's okay. It's worth talking about again. I'm sure you've heard these "rules" for writing. To be verbs, adverbs, show don't tell, blah, blah, blah...

There are actually good reasons for these rules.

Avoid using "to be" verbs (is, was, etc.): Because this often indicates a passive sentence and those are, well, passive. Active is more engaging. But, really, we can't eliminate one of the most used verbs in the language now, can we?

Don't use adverbs: Because adverbs don't leave a strong impact on the reader. Unless you use them judiciously and sparingly. Then they'll have an impact.

Ditto for dialog tags other than "said."

Don't start sentences with an -ing verb: Because if you overdo it, your sentences all have the same cadence and become sing-songy. Readers will tune out. But, hey, once in a while isn't a problem.

Show, don't tell: Because telling distances the reader from the story. There are times when you need a little distance in the story. Don't show when showing would be boring or unnecessary.

This will hold true for any writing rule you've ever heard. It's important to know these rules. It's important to know why they are brought up. It's important to know when to ignore them.

We each have a unique voice.  Don't stifle yours by obsessing about the rules. Only you can decide what is right for your story. Trust yourself to know.


Stephanie Black said...

Great post! Once you know the "rules," then you can choose when to skillfully and deliberately break them to good effect.

Terry W. Ervin II said...

Abide by every 'writing rule'...
in moderation. :)

Tyrean Martinson said...

Thanks for the "rules" and the gracious advice about knowing when to stick with them and when to let them go.

When I write a rough draft I don't worry too much about the rules, unless my writing is so stilted that I'm noticing it while writing it. Then, on the second draft, I go hunting with the rule book in hand . . .

Thanks for the great post!

Angie said...

Moderation is good, Terry.

Tyrean, that sounds like a good plan!

Thanks for stopping by, you guys!

Krista said...

I really agree. I actually used breaking the passive voice rule once for characterization. One character was submissive to another - and always spoke in passive voice. I am not sure I pulled it off very well but it was interesting to try.

dellgirl said...

Great post, I agree totally. I love the intro quote, I'd never seen/heard this one before.

Angie said...

Thanks, Dellgirl. I appreciate you coming by.

ali cross said...

I think it's important to know the rules and then to know WHY you must/should/can break them. You shouldn't break rules just because you don't know them or worse, because you don't care.


THEN the rule-breaking serves a purpose and bring life to your story.

At least, that's what I tell myself.

And I LOVE that quote!

Windy Aphayrath said...

I think one other thing to remember about rules is ... if you're going to break them ... KNOW them first. That may sound weird, but understanding the way something works so you can NOT do it that way actually makes you consistent through the entire project, I think.

Elizabeth Mueller said...

Angie, did I tell you that your posts always rock? :D Rules and rules and more rules. Yes, it's true, anyone who desires to become a published writer needs to learn them. It's not an easy road to hammer all this in and then try to find your own voice, but once it's learned, it becomes habit and therefore, natural!

Thanks for the post, girl! *HUGS*

Please join my Darskpell Launch Spookfesta October 31st!

Carolyn V said...

Awesome, awesome post Angie! Just what I needed to hear today. (I'm editing...oh the joy.)

Maeve Frazier said...

Great post Angie! I love the quote.

Angie said...

Thanks, Maeve. It is a good quote, isn't it? =)

Pam said...

Great advice, Angie. Love your ending paragraph. Thanks for posting this.
Pam at