Monday, November 1, 2010

Melissa's Myths for Mondays

There Are a Set of Rules You Must Follow

I’m still trying to figure this one out. For every rule, there are stories of people who break them and still get published. I often hear that people who are published can break the rules, but debut authors need to follow them to the letter. Then I read a debut author who broke all the rules.

So what’s up with this? I’m what my mother calls a “first born rule follower” so if I know there is a rule for something, I’m going to try to follow it. But I don’t want my writing to feel boxed in. On the other hand, I can be totally scatter brained and I am not detail oriented at all, so I often “break rules” simply because I just forgot there was a darned rule. Maybe I should make that my number one rule, to remember all the rules.

What about you guys. What rules do you think are important, and what rules do you think can be broken?


  1. I know what you mean. I was reading a book the other day and in the middle of an important reveal, the author goes into two pages of backstory. What's the deal with that?

  2. For the most part I think rules are important, and exist to keep people from sabotaging their own work, but there are two grammatical rules that I have a bone to pick with (wait, make that three).
    1) You can't start a sentence with but or and.
    2) Sentence fragments
    3) Ending a sentence with a preposition (now you see why I needed three)
    I don't like these rules specifically because if they are broken PROPERLY and on-purpose to establish the tone or voice of a piece, then they work just fine. Because all three of those rules are broken in common speech every day.
    Okay, phew, off my grammar horse.

  3. The worst thing you can do, as a writer, is to even look at rules. There are no rules because *you* make them.

  4. This is how I deal with it. The common sense rules are, well, common sense. So if the rule is to send a manuscript to an agent double spaced then by all means double space it.

    But when it comes to the deeper more rigid literary rules I've said more than once: Rules shmules. Life's too short to live by someone else's standard.

    The most important thing is that you tell your story in the most effective way you can. If certain rules don't allow you to do that then break them.


  5. I think you need to pick and choose what to follow and what to break as the story dictates.

  6. Are we talking about writing rules? I'm not even sure I know all the rules. ;)
    I've certainly read first chapters which start really slow vs. stories where there is so much action in the first chapter, my head is spinning.

    Right now, I want to focus on writing the best story I can.

  7. There are so many rules broken that I see in published books. It drives me bonkers. I try not to break them, since I'm unpublished, but still, it does make me kind of fume sometimes!
    Nice blog, and nice to meet you!

  8. Nicole, Ha :D love it.

    I do think there are some common sense rules like Jai said that should be followed, and other that should be abandoned. But I guess it just comes down to the darned subjective nature of this business.

    But I try to be aware of the rules, so I know when I'm breaking them, and I can be consistent when I do.

    I don't even worry about But at the start of a sentence, or ending with a preposition, or fragments especially in dialogue, because I've heard those are outdated for fiction writing.

  9. I once had an old art teacher (who also rescued owls) and she said, “You must first know the rules so you know when and how to break them. All rules are departure points.” I’m a first born too but I was never the rule follower in our family, I let my younger sister do that. She got all the praise, I had all the fun. I still do. (Hey, I did 3,562 words today!!!! Go NaNoWriMo!)

  10. Yeah, I htink if you break them well, it'll work, newbie or not! Tough one!

  11. Honestly, I don't know. I think some rules are there for a reason (like trimming description and focusing on the action) but we often forget that there are different rules for different age groups. And yes, I have noticed a definite difference between new authors and already published author's. Sometimes its like the rule book goes right out the window. This can be a good thing for creativie freedom- a bad thing if the piece lacks clarity.

  12. It's all in the WAY you break the rules and the WAY you keep them ;)

  13. Well, sorry I'm late to the party. I agree with JEM--I HATE those three rules. And I break them all the time. :) I adhere to rules like word count for the genre, showing versus telling, and the -ly word ban. I usually don't give a rat's aspercreme about the rest of the rules. (Until an editor sends a revision request. Then I tend to pay attention).