Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Dozen Indie Writing Rules You Should Sometimes Break

by +EdieMelson @EdieMelson

Classroom Rules . . . NOT!
One of the first things we encounter as new writers are the rules of writing. Unfortunately these rules are presented as immovable precepts that writers must abide by to reach the goal of being publishable.

Then, as we gain more experience, we encounter certain anomalies hidden within the writing community. What once was black and white has no turned a muddy gray. And as confusing as it may be, that muddy gray is the place we want to be. Very few things are cut and dried in the publishing industry. So today I want to share a dozen writing rules you should sometimes break.

Show don't tell is whispered everywhere.
1. Show don’t tell. This mantra is whispered at every place where two or more writers gather. We’re told that telling is always bad. The truth is something entirely different. There are time when you want to tell something instead of showing it. The key is in knowing when to do what.

2. Never use sentence fragments. I’d have to vehemently disagree with this one. Sometimes fragments are a great way to add emphasis and in dialogue they’re a must. Follow a conversation closely and you’ll see we talk in sentence fragments.

3. Prologues will keep your book from getting read. Not true. There are times when a prologue makes the story better. It can give the reader the information they need to connect with a character, help establish the stakes of what a character wants or something else entirely.

Adverbs are said to be a sign of lazy writing . . . NOT!
4. Adverbs are always a sign of lazy writing. Again, not always. There are adverbs and there are adverbs. Consider these examples:
Dorothy smiled happily. Happily is unnecessary here, a smile is generally happy so the adverb doesn’t tell us a thing we don’t already assume.
Dorothy smiled sadly. The use of sadly here is something unexpected and adds a new dimension to the sentence. This is an adverb worth keeping.

5. Never end a sentence with a preposition. There are time when it’s wrong, but there are times when it’s fine. For instance, this sentence. What did you step in? 

Successful writers work from an outline . . . NOT!
6. Successful writers must always work from an outline. This is usually one of the first rules that gets tossed out the window. A lot of successful writers are intuitive writers, meaning that they start without a plan and follow the story to the end.

7. Never start a sentence with AND, BUT or OR. You don’t want to do it all the time, but especially in dialogue you’ll have instances where you should start a sentence with and or but.

8. Don’t use clichés. This is one I hear a lot, and I do think you have to be careful about this. But it could be that you have a character who talks in clichés, then you’d need them. And sometimes, clichés just work. So be careful, but don’t be legalistic.

Never, never, never . . . beware of never.
9. Never use passive verbs. Active verbs are usually the best choice, but not always. Sometimes inserting an active verb makes a sentence too complicated.

10. WAS is a passive verb. Yes it is—sometimes. It’s also past tense verb. Using it in the past tense is fine. See #9 about using it in its passive form.

11. Never use sentence fragments. I’d have to vehemently disagree with this one. Sometimes fragments are a great way to add emphasis and in dialogue they’re a must. Follow a conversation closely and you’ll see we talk in sentence fragments.

12. Write what you know. In today’s digital paradigm, research is just a click away. I think it’s much more important to write what you want to know. If you’re passionate about a subject, that will come through in your writing.

These are the rules that I know can be broken when the situation calls for it. I’d like to know which writing rules you sometimes throw out the window. Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Don’t forget to join the conversation!



  1. I'm a big rule breaker when it comes to starting with "and, but, or" and using fragments. I believe when we're writing in Deep POV then grammar rules can often go out the window. People think non-grammatically (I know...gasp) so we should write that way if we truly want to give readers a sense of being in the character's head.

    As for the old mantra of write what you know - I'm more inclined to tell pre-published writers to write what you WANT to know. If you'll enjoy researching it and learning about it, write that. You're excitement about learning the new information will breathe life into your story in a way that writing what you know usually doesn't.

    1. gosh. Your. Not you're. Some grammar rules shouldn't be broken. Like using the right word. *turns fire engine red*

    2. Jess, all good thoughts! And no reason to be embarrassed, typos just mean you're human! Blessings, E

  2. Thanks, Edie. I always appreciate your guidelines.

    1. Marjorie, I'm so glad I can help! Blessings, E

  3. Regarding Rule # 12. I am reading a book called Imagine. It talks about how we can get so focused in our specialties that we don't make possible connections. It helps to have a nonexpert come in and they can often see something that we overlook because we are so familiar with it.

    I've also heard that they is always someone who knows less than you do about any particular subject. Rather scary sometimes.

    1. Tim, great thoughts! Thanks so much for stopping by, Blessings, E

  4. I'm a big rule breaker. Only because I don't know any better. :)