You don’t have to look far on the internet to find multiple people posting their own “writing rules”. It’s on Twitter, Pinterest, blogs, published books, and more. Some are from professional authors, some from amateurs, and some from just random people who think they have talent but haven’t published anything yet. As authors ourselves and people who often publish blogs about writing tips and tricks, this begs the question, do you actually need rules for writing? Are there actual do’s and don’t’s that make or break your book? Or is it all just nonsense from people with superiority complexes?
Too Much Info
When you start to look up some guidelines for writing online, it doesn’t take long before it all just feels too much. “Describe eyes like this”, “Don’t describe eyes at all“, “Don’t use prologues“, “Use prologues”, “Don’t slow down your pace“, “Give the reader time to breathe“. It all feels a bit contradictory. If you are looking for hard advice to follow, it can seem like a losing battle.
This reminds me of an amusing quote I found on Pinterest once that made fun of these writing rules by saying “the best thing to give your reader is just a blank page“.
Do Rules Have a Place in Creative Writing?
When you are writing a creative piece, is there really a need for rules? Do you need to follow a formulaic plotline? Or do you simply write what is in your heart? Everyone has different tastes in stories. What one person likes to read will be completely different than what someone else likes to read. It begs the question if there is much of a point in sticking to certain specifications as if that will magically make your book the perfect story for every single person in the world.
We once worked as part of a writing team for a company, and one member of the team believed that stories should have a “you did this / you go there” POV so that the reader is drawn in to believe they are part of the story. But for both of us personally, we really dislike those types of POV’s and don’t enjoy stories written like that. This team member spouted out all these “rules for writing” to support his point, but does that have any merit when it actually comes down to personal taste?
Breaking the Writing Rules
We watched a documentary about J.R.R. Tolkien once, and something said in it will always stick with us. It said that his Lord of the Rings books would be considered completely unmarketable today because they break all the “rules” of telling a story. And yet, they still live on as one of the best works of fantasy. Unless, of course, you don’t like The Lord of the Rings, in which case refer to the paragraph above.
We knew an author who was a huge Stephen King fan, and he read many of King’s guides on writing. As such, he believed one should never, ever, use adverbs. However, he was also a big fan of Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle. Having read The Name of the Wind, we found this an interesting point of view since Rothfuss liberally uses adverbs. In our opinion, both authors tell fantastic stories, though we are much bigger fans of fantasy than horror.
When Should You Actually Pay Attention to Writing Rules?
So, is there any use for these writing rules if all it comes down to is personal preference? When we post blogs or entries on social media giving writing tips, it is with the intention that people will use this if they are seeking help, or an outside point of view. Not as a rule to always follow. We really dislike the dialogue tag “said” and use it as infrequently as possible. We have written a blog post about alternatives to use. But if you like “said” and hate all other tags, more power to you! You do what works best for you. That post is only meant for those seeking input on different ways to write dialogue.
If you love you writing as-is, don’t worry about what others say you should or should not do. We do think that everyone can benefit from hearing outside viewpoints on how others go about their writing, and writing courses, but that doesn’t mean you suddenly have to change what you do entirely just because someone else does it that way.
Perhaps we should change “writing rules” to “writing opinions”. So many young, potential authors get scared off of ever starting a book because a random person on the internet will toss around these rules like they are decrees sealed in blood that you must follow or end up a failure with no future. This is just silly. Tell the story that is in your heart exactly the way you want to tell it. There are people out there who it will resonate with. And in the end, you have told your story the way you wanted to, and that is the most important thing.