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April 7, 2021


            I can’t say it comes up all the time…yeah, actually, it does. On the writing forums, disdain for writing rules comes up a lot. People just don’t want to follow them. They hate, abhor, despise, them (fill in your word for hate). Oh, and I mustn’t forget resent.

            Why is this?

            Some of them are easy to comprehend, while others are a bit more difficult to grasp, like show versus tell (anyone?).

            The thing is that people, especially in the heat of writing, break these rules all the time when they spew out their mental diarrhea. That’s all good and fine. However, when it either comes to editing, or being hung up on the “rules,” some authors come to a dead stop. They feel creatively stifled because they either don’t understand these rules, can’t figure a way to make their story work using them, or just want to rebel and don’t want to use them. There are more reasons as well, but one of the “rules of writing” is not to use lists, ha ha.


            Following all the rules can be tricky because there can be a lot of them. Some may seem obscure from the outset and take a bit of effort to grasp. Some need to be doled out in doses and not taken to the extreme. More on that in a moment.

            Probably the most difficult one to grasp is show not tell.

            This “rule” is one that frustrates so many writers that they just want to throw out the book. Then they’ll write their story with all tell and forget about rules altogether. Understandable.

            Backstory is another one. This is one of the most broken rules out there. Most authors want to tell their story out of whack. They want to screw with their timeline to justify why this and that happens. It’s only natural. It should be done with a feather instead of a sledgehammer. When an author lays down their “masterpiece” and the first half of the book is backstory, no wonder they can’t find a publisher…or readers!

            So, it can be difficult to not only grasp the rules, but to follow them even when you know them.


            There are plenty of outstanding examples of authors (you notice I didn’t say writers) who use the rules effectively. Sure, they may break one here and there, but for the most part, they use the rules, and it shows with an outstanding and easy read.

            Unfortunately, there are a wealth of bad examples, which as reviews will show, polarize readers. Those that tout the rules love it because while many of these rule breakers are still best sellers, these bad examples are automatically building in a polarized audience.


            The rumblings go from “rules suck” to “there should be no rules.”

            Oh boy.

            I sigh when I hear this and it usually makes for a substantial boost in the self-publishing world.

            Unfortunately, not always. Plus, it gives negative encouragement to up-and-coming writers, who need to at least learn to do it right before they try breaking rules they don’t even understand yet.


            As I constantly remind forum readers, I was a book reader long before I was ever a writer. I’ve read thousands of books. It has, more than once, made me wonder why some books turned me off and some I drank in and couldn’t put down.

            Was it the subject matter? Sometimes.

            Was it the writing style? More often than just the subject matter.

            When I started writing, I learned the mechanics and the rules of writing, some of which have adapted and changed over the decades since I first started. Some of these rules have changed a bit, but not by much. Most of those well-established rules still apply today.

            Through writing, I discovered WHY I didn’t like certain books, even though the subject matter was interesting, and the stories were great.

            Through writing, I also discovered why some books were great to read but the stories sucked.

            It was all about the rules.

            I discovered that the rules were there for a reason. When I was a young writer (young not being age!), I was not all that happy with some of the rules either. However, I knew that if I ever wanted to make my stories easier to read and up to the level that I would want to read, I’d better learn those rules myself!

            Comparing my first manuscript, which I’m editing now, to my later work has reminded me of how far I’ve come in 26 years!


            While I feel their pain, it still pisses me off to see writers touting throwing out the rules or saying there are none. It still pisses me off to go into the bookstore (or use the “peek inside” function on Amazon) and see what looks like a great story ruined when the author can’t even follow a few simple rules of writing.

            Folks, there’s a lot of crap out there that doesn’t need to be. Sure, some of it sells, unfortunately, which clouds the issue.

            I hope I can steer some if not all of you to at least learn and get good at the rules, so you’ll know when to break them. Learn to break them in small ways, not enough to take away from that “easy read.”

            Happy writing!

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