Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Rules of Writing

We hear all about these pesky little things. You know what I mean - The rules we as authors have to follow as authors to get our books published. The list can become endless. Don't start a query letter with a question. Must insert high concept in first line of query. First sentence must be so amazing we wet ourselves. Head hopping... and so on, and so on, and so on.

Now, I am not one to say to avoid these things. Writing is a matter of communications and we have to follow guidelines for effective communication. But, when it comes to writing, there are no fixed rules.

I spent the weekend at the South Carolina Writer's Workshop and heard time and time again writers saying things such as, "But do we have to do it this way?" The answer is always "sometimes." There are always exceptions to the rule and we can always find a ton of those exceptions.

Still, when we talk about these rules, these are suggestions that will always make your writing better. I am personally of the opinion that many authors who want to challenge the rules are the writers that might not find the success they are looking for. Somehow, in their heads, they feel they are above following the rules. Their writing is somehow different. It may be, but in most cases, listening to those rules might be a wise move.

I should also add, and I have mentioned this before, that using all of the rules in a single piece of writing might become awkward. The best analogy I can have would be adding things to a truck to enhance the look. Adding nice tires - fine. Adding a stabilizer - fine. Adding everything and you look like a fool.

So for those of you that are "anti-rules" I would advise you to stop before you do anything. Really look at your writing and be open-minded. Not only will you find that you may be wrong in places, you may also find yourself finally getting published.



  1. Throughout the past few months, I have continually missed the mark with the work I have submitted to you and to contests. And each time I have suffered a disappointment, I have looked back—six months, one month, a week later!—and seen that I have been living behind a veil. How does this occur? I write, and it sounds normal enough, and then voila! I look again, and it’s as if a veil has been drawn off my face, and I can at last see the work for what it is, which is filled with promising ideas and clueless technique.
    I continue to read your blog thoughts, although they sometimes send me into a downward spiral of self-esteem issues. I read it because it does for me what I am unable to do for myself, which is to rip aside that veil. My question is: when does the veil stop being twitched aside, or cease to exist at all? Where are my coffee grounds with which to cleanse the palate? How do I obtain them, and will I ever obtain them? If you have any more thoughts for me, I would truly appreciate them. As always, I respect your point of view.

  2. Very interesting indeed. I agree with most of this posting. I see it all the time from other writers and myself. There just are some things that do no work when writing and telling a story.

    It's just another thing us writers must engage in battle to be published, after everything you consider we all do to have our dreams come true, is one more thing really that bad?

    As for Anonymous-It's hard to see it in your own work, but if you know your tendencies from previous works make a list of things to check after a few months not even looking at your manuscript. This way it's all fresh to you and you can see what doesn't fit or flow. Always easier said than done! =D

  3. Another excellent post. May I change the topic and ask if anyone has had any experience with the agents who are also advertising their services as "Book Doctors" ? If an agent seems enthusiastic about a submission but also says that it needs , uh, doctoring, for a fee, of course, in order to be more commercially acceptable, is it likely this is a good way to go?
    I don't doubt all sunmissions could use a practiced hand that does not belong to the author, but it seems to me we are on a slippery slope here.
    How much in extra fees raise a red flag? And what about the editors who advertise that service, but also emphasize their understandable "connections" within the business of publishing?
    Hopeful authors OF Course want to believe that a legitimate editor might pick up the phone and recommend that an agent friend take on the ms. Pay for the editing service and wind up with an industry insider boost to boot. Why else would the editor mention his " extensive connections in publishing" ? And might professional doctoring make the difference between selling the ms to a publisher or not?
    I'm sure some of these people are legitimate. Beyond checking with places like Absolutewrite, can anyone share their experience with me? Thank you.

  4. Oh man. Anon#2, go to http://anotherealm.com/prededitors/pubagent.htm

    Look up the agent/editor you're curious about and it will let you know the scoop.

    BUT (Scott, please correct me if I'm wrong) no amount of fees are appropriate. Lots of those are scams from what I've seen and heard.