Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Insecure Writer's Support Group: Writing Rules

Welcome to the Insecure Writer's Support Group, where on the first Wednesday of the month we vent our frustrations and fears to the world. This months' question is: "What writing rule do you wish you’d never heard?"

All of them. All rules can be broken. Can't write in dialect? Tell that to Irvine Welsh. Can't use adverbs? Tell that to J.K. Rowling. Can't kill off major characters over and over and over again until your readers scream for mercy? Tell that to George R.R. Martin.

Can't make a living writing? Tell that to me and thousands of other people.

There are no rules, only guidelines that can be bent if you figure out how to do it right. The idea of there being writing rules comes out of high school and college English classes, often taught by people who haven't written very much. Writers have to unlearn all this nonsense in order to get ahead. Author Dean Wesley Smith has done a brilliant series of blog posts called Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing that's well worth reading. I don't agree with everything he says (otherwise there would be no point in my reading him) and I do think he overstates his case in a few places, but on the whole I think this blog series makes excellent reading for all beginning and mid-career writers.

Happy 2017!


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Second time today I've heard about Sacred Cows.
You've certainly proved them wrong about writing for a living.
Happy 2017!

Erika said...

Thank you for the rule bending confidence post today. I love your author examples. It's true, it's the way you use the rules that matter to the reader. If it flows well, I say do what feels right. :)

Tyrean Martinson said...

Happy 2017!
I teach writing classes, but I try to remind my students that the "rules" are just tools, not absolutes. They have to fulfill certain objectives for certain assigments for full points, but I always want them to know that some editor/teacher in the future may ask them to do something completely different than what I'm teaching them. I'm teaching them what's needed to get a decent score on an accuplacer or SAT essay, and the kinds of techniques that might help with college application essays, but when they get past high school all rules are subject to change.

Chemist Ken said...

I enjoy reading Dean's posts too. they give me hope sometimes.

Fundy Blue said...

Congratulations on your story being included in the 2017 IWSG anthology, Sean! What a lovely accomplishment! I agree that rules are made to be broken! But I also believe that it is good to have a solid foundation in those rules before you break them. Wishing you continued writing success in 2017! I can't wait to read your anthology story!

Michelle Wallace said...

Congrats on making it into the IWSG anthology!
Interesting perspective with regards to bending of the rules.
Bending the rules to suit your story is where style comes in, and it also helps to shape the voice. To a degree, writers should also learn to trust their gut.
Happy New Year!

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

Great post. Yes, rules are made to be broken, but not everyone can get away with it. For instance, if most authors were to write a book that consisted of 75% backstory they'd be called out on it---but there is a popular romance author who does it routinely and no one cares because her voice is so engaging and she is much beloved by readers. Popularity makes a lot of those rules bendable.

Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

You can also find him on his Twitter feed and Facebook page.