Thursday, June 26, 2014

There Are No Rules In Writing, Only Guidelines

When it comes to writing, authors need to remember that everything done in a story depends on the story. In other words, there really are no right or wrong answers, just better ways of doing things, or approaches that are wrong in that situation. I am always frustrated when I read instructional articles or blogs, or I attend workshops, where the speaker/author proceeds to tell people "this is the way you do it." In reality, the speaker/author should be saying "this is one way you can do it" and then follow it up with "and here are some situations when it would work/"

I use the phrase guidelines. These are the suggestions that we give on blogs like this to get you thinking about your individual story and your individual circumstance. These are parameters to work within to allow you as an author to maintain your own unique voice.

If we take the time to really read through a lot of writing textbooks out there, we would find a unique wording that shows up in every one of these books. The authors will frequently use qualifiers that say things like "sometime authors should" or "generally you would want to" and so forth. The idea is, the rules they are speaking of tend to be a trend or a generally accepted approach, but sometime another approach may work. One of my favorite that I always find myself arguing with people about is the use of active or passive voice. "You should never write in passive voice" many writers proclaim. And yet, grammar books all simply say that active is "generally stronger" but there are a lot of times when we do use passive voice and it is fine!

I don't want to go into a lot of detail on this one other than to remind you to listen and use your brain. If you read something or hear something about a skill or approach to writing, stop and consider if this is right for you. Does it work for you situation?


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  2. As always, such a helpful insight. I really enjoy your blog. Alas, I write mysteries and children's books, which means I can't submit to you, but I always like to see what new advice you have.

  3. Interesting note on passive and active voice. I just finished reading a Grisham novel with quite a bit of passive voice and it worked just fine. I think craft books warn about passive voice because new writers could easily craft an entire novel in passive voice without knowing it. The biggest issue I have with passive voice is when I pair it with all my subjective complements, I end up with a page full of the word "was."