When I was in high school and college, I absolutely hated having the English professors telling me that I had to write a certain way, had to follow certain rules. After spending twenty-eight years writing, I have come to learn that the only rule that a writer has to be concerned with is keeping their readers’ attention…by any means necessary. Needless to say, I have come across a few rules that I rarely use, even though some of them were the cornerstone of what I was taught for 16 years of English composition classes. I have decided to share with my readers and budding authors the rules that I have found to be utterly useless when it comes to writing fiction and other types of written entertainment. These are not all-inclusive, so there very well could be a follow-up blog regarding even more utterly useless writing rules.
1. Write what you know: Anyone who has ever written any type of fiction knows that this is one rule that should have never been written down when it comes to the creation of mythical lands, creatures, characters, the really bizarre, and the really hideous. The whole point behind skill as a writer is to write in such a way as to make the reader think all this is possible, even though they know there is no such things as goblins and werewolves and zombies. Readers should question the sanity of the writer, wonder how on earth they know so much about murder and crimes (it’s called imagination and research, in case you didn’t already know), but not actually think that the writer is a serial killer. If one must write only what they know, then it would mean Stephen King had to become a mass murderer, a psychic, and a traveler of time and space to create the fruits of his imagination. Likewise, Anne Rice not only met Lestat, but somehow managed to follow him around all the decades of his life. Of course, this didn’t really happen, but the fact that they didn’t know any of this through firsthand knowledge but had the readers so convinced that these people and events really happened is just a testament to their talent with a pen.
2. Never write in first person perspective: I don’t know who came up with this rule, but it’s about as useless on some stories as udders on a bull. Writing in third person is the better choice if you have a lot of characters and want to explore several points of view and emotions of those characters. However, there are a lot of stories that sound better and are better told from the first person perspective. For example, romance stories and erotica are almost exclusively written in the first person perspective because it helps to pull the reader in and put them directly into the thick of the story. If the story is well written, the reader may even feel as if they have been put center-stage in the storyline and are experiencing everything for themselves. It is a very personal and oftentimes emotional ride for the reader, something that is very hard to pull off when writing in third person.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, then cut it: This goes back to not BSing your way through a story. This rule holds true to 99% of writers. However, sometimes BSing is a good thing, if, and only if, you are talented enough to keep your readers interested. Interest is the key phrase to this rule. The only thing that matters is to keep your readers reading your every word. If they are skipping through parts of it, then you are failing as a writer. Cutting unnecessary words may be necessary at times, and at other times it can be a big no-no. If it helps the flow of the story, or keeps readers interested, then keep it in the storyline. If it is just fluff that has nothing to do with the storyline, is not intended to break up the monotony of a storyline, or is just not that interesting to read, then cut it from the work.
4. Pick a writer you really admire and immolate his/her writing style: I have no idea if professors still adhere to this rule from days gone by, but this is the first rule I tell authors to avoid. You do not want to be known as the writer who writes like ‘insert-famous-author’s-name-here.’ Fans of that writer will run out to purchase your work, and, when they discover you do not write exactly like their favorite author, they will never read another piece of your writings. To make matters worse, with the information age, they can have turned a huge chunk of possible readers against you before anyone even gives you chance, thanks to the power of internet, Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, and weblogs. If you want to be known as a great author, then find your own writing style, your own voice, and be known for being perfectly you.
5. Everything must be perfect and follow all the writing rules: Good grammar, well structured sentences, proper spelling and punctuation is extremely important. However, a writer shouldn’t be afraid to break a rule every now and again. A fragmented sentence here and there isn’t going to hurt, so long as it appears in the proper place, like when a character is having an inner monologue. Putting it in an improper place. Like here. Makes little sense. But if I do this just right. Like add it here – Wait. What was I doing? Tina thought to herself. Well, you get the idea. Some rules can be broken, if done in such a way that it helps the flow of the storyline and does not hinder it. Other rules, such as proper spelling, subject/verb agreement, and double negatives should be, for the most part, followed to the letter.
At the end of the day, the -ONLY- thing that matters, the only goal of a writer, is to be read. You must keep your readers’ attention regardless, so writing rules be damned. If that means writing fluffy and flowing words or cutting it down to a little bit of nothing or even taking a hundred mile trip around the point to get to that point, then that’s what you do. Following any type of rule should only be done if it is helping the storyline and if it is going to keep the readers’ attention. Because even if your work is only a single page long and written perfectly, if readers skip through any part of it, then you have failed as a writer.