The Rules to Writing: When to Break Them

Did you ever read a truly unreadable book and wonder why it was so unreadable?

Anyone who’s been to the most basic of community college writing classes has probably heard the classic mantras of:

Show Don’t Tell!

It was never ‘just a dream’

Don’t describe the curtains…

…and all their friends.

Writing stories seems to be full of rules and most writers really don’t like following rules. If they did, they wouldn’t be writing and creating their own worlds, they’d be happily living in the real one.

But you really can’t get away from the shining examples of rule-breaking which make for truly unreadable novels. I’m not going to give any examples. That would be just mean. Plus, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones…

However there is a brilliant book, How Not to Write a Novel, written by a couple of publishers which gives you some examples of the kind of unreadable corkers they have come across.

But you know what else there is? Amazing examples of stories and authors who consistently ‘Break All The Rules’.

Check out this  Stephen King Video for his piss-take of some of the classic rules.

Unfortunately, this leads a lot of new authors into thinking that Stephen King is a Billion-book selling author because he ‘Breaks All The Rules’. That’s not it. He is a prolific writer with a very likable tone of voice and a lot of original ideas.

So when can you break the rules?

First, learn to write with the rules, learn why the rules exist and why they make stories readable and not the kind of books you want to throw out of the window of a moving train (I miss trains with windows). Then decide which ones make sense in your style and to your readers.

Once you’ve learned why rules matter and how to break them with style, then go ahead and break ’em. Then, maybe you too can pull off this totally ‘Break All The Rules’ pose like the King himself.


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