Writing Rules Worth Breaking

By on November 19, 2020

Writing rules - do you follow them?

While being an excellent writer is a talent, it is also something that one can practice and learn about to get better. Having a natural way with words and a beautiful imagination is important. However, learning the rules and best practices of writing is equally so.

One of the wonderful things about writing and being a writer is having a creative license. That means that you can write about anything you choose in a way that makes you feel happiest and most connected to your writing. You don’t have to be constrained by rules if you choose not to be. However, you also need to accept the fact that if you want your writing to be well received, there are certain guidelines. These guidelines will increase your chances of making that happen. 

Some structure and guidance in fiction writing are important. However, there are some tired old writing rules that don’t necessarily hold as much weight as they used to. Let’s take a look at some of them:

Writing rules that are well worth breaking!

Show don't tell

Showing rather than telling means that you need to demonstrate to the reader the way things are through your clever choice of words, rather than interjecting yourself into your story and telling them. Being overly directive kills the imagination and doesn’t allow the reader freedom of interpretation. It also demonstrates a lack of faith in your own writing and the reader's ability to understand it. Saying that trying to weed out every instance where you tell rather than show is exhausting and unnecessary. There are countless examples of authors who choose to ignore this rule in their work, and it has hardly hindered their careers (think Henry James, Toni Morrison, Tolstoy). There are times where it is more efficient and actually more effective to tell your readers something - and that’s OK. 

Your protagonist must be likeable

A likable protagonist is entirely unnecessary in contemporary fiction. Indeed some of the most famous and interesting characters in novels both past and present are quite the opposite. A complex, intriguing character is far more gripping than a friendly but entirely one-dimensional likeable one. Your readers must be excited by your characters, they must want to know more about them, but they don’t need to find things in common with them nor do they need to want to become best friends to engage with your story. 

Write what you know

Writing what you know makes sense to a point. If you want to write about something tragic, use your own experiences of tragedy to better understand how a character might think, speak and behave in that situation. Any experiences you have had and emotions you have felt. Also the relationships you’ve been in and books you’ve read and career paths you've taken can be used to inform your story. However, taken too literally and we box ourselves in. To write is to be interested in the world, to explore, to ask, to speculate, to research, to discover, to muse, to seek answers. If we only write about what we know we never push ourselves or reach for anything other than what’s already contained within us. What we don’t know is precisely what could motivate us to write in the first place. 

Don’t crack jokes

Attempting to be humorous is a risk. Because if it fails then instead of being something that connects and engages readers it instead makes them crime and shy away. Writers are often advised to steer clear of making jokes for fear these will age badly. However, many humorous books have stood the test of time, and in fact, writers should be more concerned about how their plot and characters will age. If you have a knack for being witty - use it. 

While it’s not always true that rules are made to be broken, there is certainly an argument to test them, question them, bend them, and rewrite them if they no longer fit. What writing rules do you break? Share them with us here!

So now you know which writing rules to break, do you dare to do so? Or if you are a stickler for the rules, check out these simple ones that can help your writing.

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bethany cadman
Bethany Cadman - bethanycadmancreates.com

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