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RULES – WHY BOTHER?

December 5, 2018

I’ve talked about rules quite a bit here at Fred Central. In fact, I’ve pretty much beat them to death. They’ve become my mantra, so to speak. Yet again, throughout all that, I’ve still maintained that they CAN be broken on occasion. It’s not all rigid. Nothing is completely set in stone. However, there are limits.

The other day (as I got this inspiration, anyway), another forum friend, Richie Billing, had a blog article about which are your most hated rules and why. It was quite an interesting article and generated a lot of feedback and he just published the results.

My reply was to go back to why we have rules in the first place. So the writing doesn’t get in the way of the story. It was a bit more elaborate than that, but that’s what it boiled down to. Here, I want to re-emphasize that again.

Thank you, Richie Billing for the inspiration to tag onto your article to go on about rules again!

RULES DIDN’T JUST COME FROM THIN AIR

Many rules of writing came from feedback from readers, consensus amongst scholars, and just plain what makes sense. It’s taken centuries for it all to coalesce into what we accept as the current gibberish we call the English language. It’s been refined and refined, adjusted and tweaked, and styled and processed to become what we see when we open a book today.

The best books do it right.

The worst books suck.

This has nothing to do with whether the stories within said books are great.

It has to do with whether the author is able to convey that story the best way possible.

There are great stories that are almost unreadable.

There are mediocre stories that read great.

There are plenty of “classics” that are almost unreadable by todays standards.

There are also great stories that read great.

Why?

It’s all in the writing.

RULES REFINE THE WAY WE WRITE AND WHAT READERS READ

You wonder why we bother with rules?

Some rules may seem stupid, are annoying, or don’t make sense. There IS the possibility someone just threw a rule out there “juss cuz.” Maybe it’s an industry pet peeve, maybe it’s a bias of a certain editor, or even a writer. Maybe it’s just a random thought.

These arbitrary rules are almost universally shut down by scholars and the writing industry.

The hard-core rules, on the other hand, are the ones that keep writing on track and make it easier for readers to read.

As I said above, they didn’t just come out of a vacuum, they were developed over time.

WHAT ARE THE RULES?

You may have noticed I have not cited a single rule yet. I’ve been talking in general.

I’ve deliberately done that because the main purpose of this article is not to go over them specifically, but to suggest that there ARE reasons to comply with them.

I will give a brief list of a few.

Point of view.

Passivity.

Show not tell.

Grammar.

Prologues and epilogues.

Yup, all the usual stuff, and more.

SELF PUBLISHING IS GOOD AT DESTROYING THE RULES

I have nothing against self-publishing and know a few that have done quite well with it. However, I also know that self-publishing has done no favors to the quality of writing. This is the realm of rule breaking, and it shows.

The prime example is horror. I very rarely get horror in the bookstore, so I’m forced to buy this genre on Amazon. Hence, most of the books are self-published.

Folks, it shows. This is where the authors like to break the rules.

Many of the works have horrendous writing and follow few rules because there’s nobody to monitor them. While the stories may be great, outside of picking third-person, past-tense, which is all I’ll read, many of these authors follow few, if any of the basic rules of writing. The works are poorly, if at all edited. They’re full of just about every rule blunder imaginable. These authors not only don’t follow the rules, they throw them down the toilet.

The writing is not supposed to get in the way of the story.

You’re not supposed to be relieved to get the book overwith, you’re supposed to close the book with a smile on your face, wanting for more.

CONVENTIONAL PUBLISHING ISN’T IMMUNE TO RULE BREAKING

There are some very popular book series out there that aren’t immune to rule breaking, either. I could cite some that have even been turned into movie series, especially in the young adult and sexual categories. The writing is horrendous. These are the types of novels where I can’t even get past the first page, let alone an entire novel.

These books are with big houses and because they hit hot button topics, they get a free pass. The writing is absolute crap, but to get cheap thrills, they get published for the quick buck, with no integrity whatsoever.

Sure, it happens, but do YOU want your name associated with that?

I GUESS IT DEPENDS ON WHERE YOUR HEAD’S AT

Rules don’t have to be rigid. They ARE there for a purpose, though. The idea is so that the writing doesn’t get in the way of the story.

They should not make it a struggle for the reader to get to the point!

Many readers don’t consciously even realize they’re struggling with it, but they DO struggle.

When it’s done right, the reader can put down the book and don’t even realize they were reading.

Folks, THAT’S when you’ve done your job.

THAT’S what the rules are for.

The rules can be fudged a bit, but to be completely ignored, or even abused, burdens and forces the reader to work for your story. You shouldn’t be abusing your readers like that.

SUMMARY

Do your readers a favor and learn to use the rules the right way.

Happy writing!

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