Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Good, the Bad, and the Annoyance of Writing Rules (Julie)

As a writer, have you ever started reading a book and then stopped because it goes against most or seemingly all the rules you’ve learned about the writing craft? In my journey as a writer, I’ve come a long way, but of course, still have much to learn. I had no clues about the craft of writing until I joined a critique group and started hearing and learning all these "rules" that editors and agents want us to use.

For example, we are told to "show" not "tell". This makes sense, especially if you are writing in deep point of view where you are writing from the main character's head. We don't say to ourselves, "I felt hurt." Inside we go through the emotions and actions of being hurt. That's what we are supposed to show the reader. It makes it more powerful and bridges a connection from character to reader.

There's also the "no adverbs" rule, or at least only one used rarely. You never realize how many times you use an adverb until you purposely go back and look for them. Instead of an adverb, you are to use an strong verb. To be honest, it can require a lot more effort to not use the adverb. But, rules say no use them sparingly!

So I write away, trying to remember to incorporate these rules, which can be quite frustrating at times. Then I pick up a newly released book and start reading. And glaring at me from the pages are "telling" statements and more than one adverb on a page! I throw the book across the room in disgust...not really, but I do many times stop reading it because it doesn't follow the rules. I'm so ingrained with certain things like a story shouldn't be "telling" that when I start reading one that does, I lose interest. I want to feel with the character, not told mindlessly that he or she is sad, or happy, or feels a certain way. One of my first thoughts is how did it get published if it goes against what editors want?

The thing that really gets me are the stories with adverbs floating around everywhere. I'm thinking, why can they get away with it but not me? So I've started sneaking a few more into my story.

These are just some of the random musings from the mind of an aspiring writer because I very recently checked out a book that was so "telling" I sent it back to the library. Do you ever face the same struggles of wanting to read a book but then can't because it goes against what you've learned? Or maybe you've thrown the rules out the window and write how you want in your own style and voice?


  1. I feel your pain, Julie. It's incredibly frustrating. I've discovered that the focus shouldn't be on the rules but on the readers. Did adverbs and telling bother you as a reader? Or is it only the advice of other writers that makes these issues bother you? I don't mean an extreme use of them, but a moderate one. I recently gobbled up three books in a medieval murder mystery series. I noticed broken rules, but it didn't really bother me as a reader. I was still intrigued by the story. I think as writers we take these rules too seriously and lose sight of the principle--to make our work a pleasant reading experience for the reader. Sometimes I feel like we've been crippled by Pharisee-like writer "teachers" making up impossible rules because rules make them feel better and give them something easy to mark on someone else's work. It's much easier to thoughtlessly strike out an adverb than explain why a scene isn't working or why that grammatically correct sentence doesn't "sing."

  2. I follow the "no adverbs" rule religiously (haha -- did you see what I did there?) :-) But it doesn't bother me much as a reader, unless I'm seeing them everywhere. I think story trumps rules, because if the story is done well, most readers won't care -- they'll just enjoy the story.

  3. I'm with you, Julie! In a lot of ways, I feel like the more I learn about writing, the more it ruins my reading experience, because I pick up on so many more issues in the books I read. But the many books out there that break all the rules are prime examples that publishers probably aren't quite as concerned about all the rules as picky critiquers :) And I agree with Jill - story trumps all!


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