Today I present a list of some of those bogus writing rules that more often than not end up thwarting the development of beginner writers.
Rules will be rules
Rules are unbreakable… Sure, like the one about the split infinitive. The truth is you can happily split as many infinitives as you wish, provided the meaning of what you write is clear. By the same token, if you know what you’re doing and why, you can break, vanquish, pulverize as many rules as you want.
Rules are useless rubbish. Well… Ever tried to drive on the wrong side of the road? Maybe at night, with your lights off and on a highway? The fact is, Just like the rules about driving are thought up to make driving as safe as possible, writing rules embody, with varying degrees of success, principles of effective communication. They’re not perfect. And there are times they need to be broken, but on the whole they are here to help us — not to turn our life into a living hell.
Just a small note. To drive fast, to drive really fast you must forget about many safety rules. But to do so successfully you have to possess a keen sensibility for perfectly handling your car even under the most difficult conditions. The good news is that with writing you can learn “to go fast” without having to risk your life or those of the others. That’s a win win, so exploit it!
Write only when you feel like it. I know people who keep saying they have interesting ideas for their books and that they are just waiting for the right moment — for Inspiration! Well… They haven’t written anything in years. And chances are they’ll be writing nothing over the next few years as well.
Write every single day. Even the day you must attend a funeral — your own. For sure, there are people who must write every day to keep their momentum. But there are also writers who write in spurts and are prolific all the same.
As a matter of fact, productivity and quality are only loosely related to either of these rules. The creative process is so complex it’s simplistic to hope to reduce it to any simple rule. In any case I would advise you against waiting for inspiration. In fact also those writers who write in spurts don’t wait for it. When they start a new work, provided they don’t find some unexpected problem, they tend to work on it consistently.
Cut adverbs as they were poisonous weeds and be sparing in your use of adjectives.
Hemingway sort of “invented” his minimalist way of writing. But he himself ended up overdoing it occasionally. And then there are plenty of great writers who write in a decidedly richer prose.
So, instead of thinking all the time about the formal appearance of your writing, think about what it is you’re writing — the content. Because the most perfect piece of writing is nothing if it is unable to stir emotions and solicit questions. To use a cliché, grammar is important, but content is king.
By the way, clichés are surely overused, but they have become clichés exactly because they encapsulate important truths. So, if you want to, work on your use of clichés, but remember: an occasional cliché isn’t the end of the world 😉
You must know intimately your characters. No. You don’t have to. You can if you want. That’s it.
After all, we strive our entire life just to get to know ourselves. As a result, I surely haven’t the time to get to know also my characters in such devastatingly intimate detail.
Besides, a bit of mystery helps me look at my characters with a more open mind.
Never use prologues. Well, I love prologues. And George R.R. Martin uses one in A Game of Thrones… But, hey, what can he ever know about writing and composition?
The same goes for epilogues. The point is if you have something important to say, say it in the way you think it’s best for your story.
Use no more than one exclamation point every 100.000 words!!! You can do that and write perfectly good prose. You can also use your exclamation points liberally and kick ass all the same.
For example, let’s say you’re you’re writing a 1st person point of view novel, and your main character is a fifteen year old extroverted girl. Some exclamation points are in order, I would say. But even if you used a lot of exclamation points in a book deploying an omniscient point of view there would be nothing necessarily wrong. In any case, if you’re curious you can find many exclamation points in Tom Wolfe’s works.
Romance is for suckers. Horror for tough guys. This is nonsense. Genre is just a handy way to roughly describe a story. But irrespective of the genre, every writer has a duty to write a stellar story. Besides, genres can be mixed up. So much so that in good hands a romance can turn into the goriest feast of the century, and a horror can morph into a tender if desperate love story. So write the book first. Then decide where it belongs.
For today, that’s it. I hope you find this list helpful. Above all, I hope you make yours the notion that right and wrong need to be put in context, each and every time. Happy writing.