Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Breaking the Rules

Jennifer is thinking about breaking the rules.

I’ve always been a rule follower. I’m an only child, and we tend to be “good girls,” especially since there’s no one else to blame for things! I was raised to listen to my teachers and to do the right thing. And usually, I don’t mind.

But lately, I feel like there have been a barrage of writer’s rules thrown at me. It could be because I just came back from a conference. It could be I’m spending far too much time on social media. It could be I’m reading too many blogs. It could be that I’m letting my inner doubts surface and therefore I’m paying too much attention to the “I can’ts” rather than the “I cans.”

I’m starting to rebel. I’m starting to believe the adage, “Rules are made to be broken.” After all, there are so many rule breakers out there, why can’t I be one of them?

It was with this attitude that I walked into the keynote address of the published author’s retreat part of last week’s writer’s conference. As I mentioned in last week’s post, Virginia Kantra was the speaker, and she said something that resonated with me, especially in light of all the rules I’ve been told lately:

Writers feel like there’s a secret handshake. They think of Point A as unpublished and Point B as a bestseller. There is a part of us that wants to put in our 25 years and get our gold watch. There should be a secret to getting from Point A to Point B. Well, there is no secret, map or one way of doing things. We can learn from each other and support each other. If you try to follow the rules or someone else’s map, you will get lost.

I love this! The good girl in me is freaking out a bit, because, hey, there are rules and there are some that really shouldn’t be broken—like grammar and ethics and…--but there are also “rules” that aren’t really “rules.” They’re more like suggestions. And if you get bogged down in keeping track of all of them, and following all of them (which would be quite a feat as many of them contradict each other!), I think you loose some of the joy of writing.

And I don’t know about you, but I NEED that joy.

So forgive me, but I’m going to take a break for a while. I’m not going to worry so much about Every. Single. Rule. I’m going to break a few. I might even break ones I shouldn’t. Oh well.

Some rules ARE meant to be broken. And I think figuring out which ones I can break or bend might be fun.

Wish me luck!


  1. I agree, Jen.
    Here's a long article with various writers listing their 'rules'. It's worth reading, but if we attempted to follow all these rules, we'd never write anything!
    Ten Rules for Writing Fiction
    Maybe the important thing is to know the rules, but also to know which ones can be broken. A lot of so-called rules are actually advice (or one person's preferences), which you can take - or leave!

  2. When I write romance, I tend to break the rules. This usually takes place within an intimate scene but sometimes, when the plot is complicated and I feel the reader just has to know what's going on in both the hero and heroin heads, well... I break rules. I have a knack for doing it seamlessly (I feel) and as a reader, you are never left wondering what's going on.

    Go ahead, break the rules. Sometimes you just have to.

  3. Interesting link, Paula. Maybe you should post it on our Helpful Hints page?

    Thanks Wendy. The key, as you said, is to break them seamlessly. Go, go, go! :)

  4. Will do, Jen, although I do wonder if anyone looks at that page!

  5. You go girl! What a great attitude...and very liberating, don't you think?!


  6. As long as I stick with it, and don't abuse it, yes, it's liberating. Otherwise, it's just careless. :)

  7. I've always read: Learn the rules before you break them.
    That implies that it's okay to break rules as long as the reader doesn't get lost.
    Dialogue, especially, is rule-breaking. None of us speak who we write. That said, I've corrected a few bad speech habits since I started focusing on grammar while writing.