During my years as an apprentice writer, I’ve encountered many writing rules – things to do and things not to do when producing a piece of writing. In my opinion, some are good, some are bad, and some are downright ugly.
They can come from all over the place: how-to books, creative writing courses, other writers, people’s blogs and other places on the internet. It’s useful to know the provenance of a writing rule, but not essential, in order to use it. What’s crucial, at least for me, is that you have to believe in the rule.
Unless the reasons behind a writing rule are blindingly obvious, I have trouble taking it seriously, unless a convincing justification is given. All too often, I see rules where this is not the case. A classic example is:
“Never start a chapter with dialogue.”
To this day, I’ve never heard a satisfactory reason given for this. Perhaps it was someone’s personal preference that somehow got amplified into a rule by a Chinese whispers effect.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could create and maintain a list of writing rules, including an indication of their true usefulness. Well, I propose we start one right here. I’ll start it off and you can all chip in and help.
- They’re not really rules, they’re just guidelines.
- Rules can be broken, if you know what you’re doing.
List of Rules
Here are a few to get us going…
|Rule||Description / Justification||Rating|
|Avoid cliches.||They’re well-worn and will bore the reader.||Good|
|Avoid adjectives/adverbs.||Unnecessary descriptive words slow down the reader and tell them what to think, rather than letting them imagine things for themselves.||Good|
|Don’t start a chapter with dialogue.||?||Ugly|
|Don’t use prologues/epilogues.||They can bore the reader with uninteresting back-story, rather than throwing them straight into the action.||Bad?|
|Show, don’t tell.||Describe characters, places and things by what they do and what happens, rather than long descriptions. This will increase the narrative pace and keep the reader more interested.||Good|
|Use all senses.||Writing with five (or more) senses enriches the reader’s experience.||Good|
|Start a chapter with action.||Good for narrative pace.||?|
|Murder your darlings.||Remove pieces of text that do not help the story. Even if the author likes them, the reader may not.||Good|
|Avoid speech tags.||They can jar the reader out of dialogue if they are over-used. The word “said” is apparently somewhat invisible.||?|
Please help me to complete this table by leaving comments below, or sending me a message firstname.lastname@example.org. What other rules do you know? Are the ones above correct or wrong, in your opinion?
Thanks — Captain Black.