I always find it funny that writers and editors always seem to have a billion sometimes-contradictory dos and don’ts when it comes to writing “good” fiction. But what is “good” fiction? I don’t want to start a philosophical debate, but one person’s Shakespeare is another’s Rebecca Black, you know? So instead of giving you a list of things that I think make good writing, I’ve decided to look at the rules, whether they come from professionals or amateurs, and I’ve taken the liberty of refuting some of them.
8. No Prologues
Listen, I can’t say I’m a particular fan of prologues, but honestly, a lot of successful writers have used them and their work has been just that: successful. I would suggest that writers stop agonizing over this rule and focus on what’s important. Get back to the writing. Get back to the story and the characters that will carry you beyond that prologue. If it’s essential to the story, it will stick.
7. No Adverbs
I read somewhere that using adverbs is a mortal sin. Mortal sin? Really? Even worse than a flawed plot line or boring characters? I militantly disagree. A couple adverbs here and there aren’t going to ruin a piece. In fact, sometimes I like them. It’s like drinking wine: a few adverbs may heighten your experience, but a lot of them can be draining and induce headaches.
6. Never Use A Dialogue Tag Besides “Said”
I was on this boat once, and then I got an editor and she pointed out how dry this made my writing after paragraphs and paragraphs of he said, she said. I’m not saying writers should go wild, I’m just suggesting that perhaps spicing it up a bit may actually enhance your writing.
5. No Present Tense
Don’t get me wrong: when done poorly, this can be disastrous, but mindless copies of the same old third person narrative can be terrible too. When done well, first person has an almost fast-paced, immediate feeling to it. It also feels more personal and more artistic, kind of like the primitive storytelling that humans were good at for THOUSANDS OF YEARS. So, give it a try. If it works, perhaps your story is meant to be told that way.
4. Use Only Complete Sentences
If you’re writing academically, then sure. Fiction? It can have positive effects.
See what I did there?
3. Write Every Day
It’s not that I disagree with this rule, it’s just that it’s unrealistic and puts a lot of pressure on aspiring writers who ultimately fail at this and then feel inferior for not reaching this goal. Myself included. If I could rewrite this rule, I would say Write a lot.
Life happens. People have day jobs. And school. And children. And lives. If writing every day doesn’t happen, that’s okay. But don’t doubt the need for time. Writing won’t happen when you’re asleep. Just remember, sometimes quality trumps quantity. You may find that writing every day for ten minutes may not be as productive or as enjoyable as writing for 2 hours every couple days.
2. Write What you Know
I don’t necessarily disagree with this, but I disagree with the misinterpretation this rule carries. I read somewhere once that young people made for bad writers because they were too inexperienced. The argument was that young people should go out and experience the world before attempting writing. I even heard that young writers shouldn’t even try until they had a master’s degree in creative writing. In other words, young writers don’t have enough in the “know” category yet.
I say, to hell with that, write away! Forget about what you know and what you don’t. Write something that comes from the heart. 9 times out of 10, what comes from the heart isn’t just something you know, it’s what is meaningful to the soul. Besides, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise was published when he was in his twenties and he dropped out of his undergrad at Princeton without completing. That’s not to say that a writer shouldn’t explore the world around them and get new experiences, I just caution against waiting. Strike the iron while it’s hot, if you can pardon the cliché.
1. There are no Rules
There is perhaps no rule I can disagree with more. Rules are meant to be broken, yes, but that doesn’t mean that there are no rules. Writers still have to adhere to grammar and spelling rules. Failyure to do sow results in sentenses that look like this.
So, don’t listen to those who say that there are no rules. There are. Editors judge pieces based on rules. Publishers judge pieces based on rules. READERS judge pieces based on rules. What this rule means to say is that some rules can and should be broken. Others can even add an element of artistic flair if broken in the right way. Ultimately, you decide, but know that getting an opinion from an editor or trusted reader is always valuable.
Got any rules that plain just don’t make sense?