Rules: Keeping and Breaking Them

Since my fellow Purple Inkers have already talked about writing rules from their point of view, I thought I’d weigh in and add my perspective. But first, a little you should know about me:

  1. I’m a recovering perfectionist.
  2. I have a BA in English and a Master’s in teaching English.
  3. I copywrite, edit, and proofread at a nonprofit for a living.

So, that all said… Yeah, I like rules. I think there is a lot to be said for following the rules because those rules exist for a reason. In writing, the rules exist really to help the readers. Proper grammar and sentence structure makes the writing flow so that readers notice the content – what you’re saying – rather than how you’re saying it. Point of view rules matter because when readers can easily stay in the head of one character, they feel more connected to the story. They live it through that character. That’s why I don’t like it when writers “head hop” (jump from one character’s thoughts to another, without warning). It takes me out of the story, and dang it, I want to stay IN it. That’s why I try to keep the rules in mind when I write, and it’s why I break those rules only with malice aforethought. When I don’t, my readers might not like my story as much. And I want them to like it.

But yeah, it’s also true that you can learn the rules. For the most part. I think you have to have a facility for language and storytelling to be a good fiction writer, but you can learn punctuation, grammar, spelling… Heck, you can even hire a proofreader to help you with that stuff. You can take courses in writing structure, in characterization, in plot. You can practice. Writing, like anything else, requires hard work and a dedication to making messes before you figure out how to turn messes into art.

Here are some more thoughts on rules and how to break them, from my writer friend, Scott Bury.



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