Monday, June 10, 2013

Writing Rules

So I read a lot, as most writers do, and I find that sometimes I’ll read as a writer and not as a reader. What I mean by that is sometimes I see all the things I was told NOT to do as an aspiring author right there on the page in front of me.

“If you want to be a great writer and get published you shouldn’t…”

…use passive sentences.
…overuse adjectives.
…overuse exclamations marks.
…have a first chapter where nothing happens.
…tell rather than show.
…overuse adverbs especially those ending in ly.

And on and on.

Yet I read book after published book filled with these things I’ve been told never to do if I want to get published, if I want to be a great writer. I think these are all good rules and I understand the need for them because when I read a book riddled with passive sentences I want to rewrite that sentence, but are these rules not for everyone? What I mean is are these rules pounded into the heads of burgeoning writers because we may have a tendency to fill our books with passive sentences, hundreds of adjective and adverbs ending in ly, and put an exclamation mark on every sentence that has a slightly higher degree of emotion? Or is it that if your story is good enough, entertaining enough, mind-blowing enough that no one is going to notice that you told us half of your story rather than showed it to us?

I have to say, one of my recent favorite books, an award winning, New York Times Bestselling novel, was mostly telling. A couple hundred of the nearly 800 pages could’ve been shaved off and I wouldn’t have missed it. Yet I loved the story that was TOLD to me, mostly through passive sentences.

So what’s a girl to do? Personally, I don’t like passive sentences so whenever I see them in my own writing I correct where I can—just not on here, of course-lol. I try to make sure that I’m following the rules above, but mostly, I try to tell a good story. Because when I really asked myself which would I rather read, a meh story that is technically, textbook perfect, or a story that didn’t abide by most or any of the rules but had me enthralled? I’ll take enthralled any day of the week!

What do you think? Have you seen a lot of these don’ts in books you’ve read recently? 


  1. I think it comes down to knowing when to break the rules. And the fact that established authors can get away with breaking them easier than a new author.

  2. I have definitely seen tons of books that break the rules. I agree with you though. Story comes first and, if you tell a great story, you can get away with a lot!!

    Quick question though--and I believe I asked you this before but now I forget the answer. Is there a quick way to tell a passive sentence? Some kind of word to look out for? I don't know if I use a lot of those or not. I can never remember exactly what it is, no matter how many times I'm told. It's like I have a friggin mental block against it. haha

    any tips?


  3. Story is everything in writing. If you have no story forget about all the great technical stuff that you did. It won't sell.

  4. First, that picture is awesome.

    Second, I definitely know what you mean, and it can certainly be confusing/frustrating as a writer to see published books riddled with "mistakes". But I have always been of the mind that rules shouldn't really be actively "considered" when writing. Obviously, there are ways to improve writing by looking at these guidelines, and taking the advice to avoid overuse of these things is a good idea. But I always worry about the story first. The other stuff happens at least somewhat naturally throughout the rest of the process, and I try not to focus on being "mistake" free.