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Updated: May 23

Tales of “writing rules” follow us everywhere, from our critique groups and writing groups to workshops, online blogs, videos, etc.

  • Get rid of garbage words

  • Don't use passive voice

  • Don't start a sentence with a gerund (a word ending in __ing)

  • Don't head hop

  • No sex before Chapter 5 (What!)

And on and on it goes.

Try writing to the rules and what you’ll get is blah. Bland, dry, robotic. Nothing unique. No individuality. No heart. Just total annihilation of your individual voice.

Fiction-writing rules, in particular, are best when broken (or maybe I should say, bent a little). The trick is to know when and how to break them in a way that benefits not just your storytelling style but your author voice.

I read a great article a while back by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, authors of the Pendergast thriller series. I believe it was titled “6 Rules of Fiction,” and I highly recommend reading it if you can find a copy. One of those rules was about breaking common writing rules.

Of course, you first need to learn and understand the rules in order to know when it's either okay or appropriate to detour from the straight and narrow.

For instance, the “show, don’t tell” rule is practically impossible to follow with every word, causing many a writer to suffer from extreme guilt and remorse every time they find that they've just written an entire paragraph (okay, so sometimes more than that) TELLING their readers what took place, (oh, the horror) rather than SHOWING them. But the truth is, sometimes certain parts of the story are simply better that way. Just be thoughtful of when and how much.

Then there’s the “write what you can market” rule? Naturally, you want your published book to sell, but if you haven’t written the type of story you love to read, chances are, it isn’t going to be as good as it could have been.

Or how about the “all paragraphs need at least three sentences” and the “don’t write in sentence fragments” rules?

I also recently read an article that said we should never, ever break the following writing rules:

  • Never open a book with the weather

  • Never use a verb other than “said” as a dialogue tag (Ugh!)

  • Avoid prologues

  • Don’t give detailed descriptions of characters (insert eye roll here)

  • Keep your exclamation points to no more than 2-3 per 100,000 words!

Saving the rest for another time, (notice I just started a sentence with an "ing" word) I'll stop now and let you get back to learning all the rules of fiction writing and how best to break them. But before I do, I want to add just one more point.

I specifically want all the romance writers out there to pay attention here because I know we are all told that in writing romance, “you MUST follow the formula.” But, no, my sweetlings. Go ahead and alter that recipe to suit your individual palette. Always sticking to the same old, same old is why you so often hear people say romance books are all the same.

So, stop!

Break those so-called rules in a way that works for your voice, your story, and your characters. And remember: You Don't Have to be Perfect to be Amazing.

May the writing gods bless your fingertips!

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