The Rules of Writing…Made to be broken?

*WARNING* I probably have no idea what I’m talking about.

Recently I’ve seen a lot of blog posts relating to the dreaded “Rules of Writing.”

Like most aspiring authors, those words make me cringe. I’m not talking about spelling and grammar. Those rules are hard and fast. They are almost unbendable, so don’t try.

But what about the other rules? The subjective ones? The rules we see our favourite authors break time and time again, and yet we are barked at to follow.

What rules am I talking about?

Well how about…

Adverbs – Why do we hate adverbs, especially in dialog attribution?

While I try to curb my use of adverbs, I can’t entirely discount them either. I LOVE THEM! Anne Rice uses them – A LOT! James Reese uses them, Ken Follet uses them, Phillipa Gregory uses them.

I like when I know a character said something “acidly,” or when a normally grumpy character says something “pleasantly.” Without that adverb, I may have misunderstood the tone of voice.

Thought Verbs – (Thought, Knows, Believed, Wants etc…). Before anyone jumps down my throat about these, please hear me out.

Too many thought verbs can be annoying – it’s true. This falls under the whole “show vs. tell” umbrella…. BUT…sometimes I just want to KNOW what the character is thinking. Too much “show” causes me to get bored and skip over sentences just to get to the damn point. (*Note – I will contradict myself on this point once I get to description).

It’s okay to tell me sometimes.

Suddenly – Is it a crutch?

I have very strong feelings about suddenly. I’ll admit – I use it. My favourite authors use it. Some of them use it a lot. Does that make their book any less likeable? Did it stunt the flow of the prose? When I’ve finished reading do I put the book down and say “Man, that book had way too many suddenlys”….No. No, I don’t.

I can see the need to use suddenly sparingly, but do we have to condemn it? Sometimes it just fits. It just sounds good in the sentence. I think we need to give suddenly a break once in a while.

Detailed descriptions of places and characters – Well hell. What’s the point of reading if we aren’t given a picture of the setting? Without books, I would have no idea what 16th century Rome looked like, or 18th century Britain, or Greece, or France, or any other place/time I have never been.

I find myself drawn to books with detailed descriptions. I want to see, and smell, and feel what that place is like in detail!

Some authors are praised and renowned for their detailed descriptions.

As far as characters go, some authors choose to use very limited descriptions. This can irritate me. I think there is a thin line between telling me what the character looks like and telling me nothing at all.

When I am reading a book with little or no character description, my mind doesn’t always hone in on one image. I find that my perception of the character changes as the book progresses. And then half-way through the book, I discover the character has blond hair when I was imaging him with black. It’s frustrating.

I want to know what the character looks like. I want to know if the author imagined him with dreamy eyes, a sharp nose, or brown curly hair.

Give me something to work with, at least.

In conclusion…

I am no expert on writing. But I am definitely an expert on reading. I know what I like and what I don’t, and my issue with these rules is that if every author followed every single one of them, reading would become boring – for me anyway.

I think these rules are repeated and repeated with the best of intentions. They aren’t necessarily meant to be carved in stone like the 10 commandments, but they aren’t to be ignored either. I worry that some aspiring authors will take them too literally. They’ll feel trapped by them, oppressed by them, and frustrated by them.

I know I do.

So when I’m writing I try my best to keep these rules in mind, but if the urge SUDDENLY strikes me to break one of them, I do!

It’s always fun to be a little bad, isn’t it?

Follow me on twitter @tamzwrite


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