Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Know the (Writing) Rules to Break the Rules Well

by PeggySue Wells @PeggySueWells

One day, my daughter practiced music while I mixed together a favorite recipe in the kitchen for scones.

“Mama, was Bach a nice man?” My six-year-old called to me from the piano in the living room. 

“From what I’ve read about him, I believe he was a nice man.” I considered the list of ingredients in my recipe and substituted pecans and cranberries for the chocolate chips. “He wrote the minuets you’re playing to teach his wife and children how to play the piano.”

“Good.” She played a few notes. “Then he won’t mind that I am fixing his music.” 

Fixing Bach’s music? This was the spunk the piano teacher appreciated in my young daughter. Her long cinnamon-colored hair shining, Leilani sat beside the equally petite – though full grown – piano teacher, the two of them small on the music bench. Leilani played her lovely rendition of Bach’s Minuet. Her teacher applauded and exclaimed how thoroughly she enjoyed the creative arrangement. 

“Now, play what is written on the music score,” the teacher said. “Just one time so I know you can read the notes and play how he wrote it.” 

Writing, like music, has rules. Once we know the how-tos of the craft, we add our own voice. We have to know the rules to bend and break the accepted format with such style that readers and industry professionals agree to come along. The rules of writing are the format and structure that allow the reader to trust the author on the journey. 

Bach created music that fit into a structure. Listeners recognize the slow, stately ballroom dance for two as a minuet, anticipating the piece will continue throughout in triple time. The composer arranged the order of his notes onto the familiar treble and base clef notation system. Following the common rules of music, he shared his melody with the world. 

Rules help readers feel confident that their investment of time and money to read our work includes a guaranteed level of return. Industry standards guide the writer much like lines on the musical stave contain creativity. And all writing rules can be broken. The key is to know the rules so you can break them in a manner believable to the reader. E.B. White gave us a talking pig in Charlotte’s Web, and we suspend reality and go along. In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain exchanged proper literary dialog for a collection of true-to-life regional dialects challenging to pronounce. And The Book Thief shifts from the usual living, breathing narrator to let Death tell the story. 

Knowing and applying the rules of the craft produce satisfactory results with recipes, music, and writing. Adjusting the recipe, adding musical improv, and telling the story your way comprise the next step in adding your voice to your art. The more you experiment, the more the process becomes intuitive.

Keep up-to-date on the current rules and trends in writing by 
Be familiar with current trends in the writing industry. Then, go ahead and bend a few rules.


Tropical island votary and history buff, PeggySue Wells parasails, skydives, snorkels, scuba dives, and has taken (but not passed) pilot training. Writing from the 100-Acre wood in Indiana, Wells is the bestselling author of twenty-eight books including The Slave Across the Street, Slavery in the Land of the Free, Bonding With Your Child Through Boundaries, Homeless for the Holidays, and Chasing Sunrise. Optimistic dream-driver, PeggySue is named for the Buddy Holly song with the great drumbeat. At school author visits, she teaches students the secrets to writing, and speaks at events and conferences. Connect with her at www.PeggySueWells.com, on Facebook at PeggySue Wells, and Twitter @PeggySueWells.


  1. Good article and the analogy was good. The scones sounded interesting as well. My recipe uses raisins. LOL Prayerfully we can get out and do those extra events in 2021. Donevy

    1. Raisins would be good. At Christmas we made scones with pecans. I'm thankful for the technology that allows us to have virtual meetings and conferences - we would be pretty isolated without those.

  2. Had I not read this blog today, I would have missed an important contest deadline. THANK YOU!

    1. Hooray! So happy this article had multi-purposes for you.