How to Learn the Rules So You Can Break Them

I write this article with one important caveat. You need to know the “rules” of writing first.

If you’re a newbie writer, the best advice I can give is to write as much as you can and research as much writing craft as you can get your hands on. If you’re still wondering where you can learn the rules of writing, you’re in a good spot on this blog and you can also check out my website where I post writerly content weekly. I also recommend sending your writing to others for feedback. Critique Partners will tell you when you’ve broken a writing rule, even if they don’t call it out specifically.

It’s so important to know the rules because all rules can (and sometimes should) be broken. They exist more like guidelines, anyway.

If you know the rules, you can break them with intention

If you want to sprinkle in a few well-placed adverbs, alright. If you want a character to look into a mirror and describe what his bad haircut looks like, go ahead. If you want five main characters that each live in a different setting, you can!

Your book is your story to craft and can take any shape you can dream up. Don’t let the “rules” of writing cage your creativity.

Here’s what the writing rules are:

  • Industry standards

  • Best practices

  • Tried and tested tools

However, if we as a society only ever did things one way and never mixed it up, we would have never gone to the moon, you would have to slice your own bread, and we’d still be hand writing our books (ouch).

Market Trends and Reader Preferences Change

If you look at a sample of prose from a hundred, or even fifty, years ago, it will look different than today’s best seller. You might say, “well James Joyce spent four pages describing a setting, why can’t I?”

Writing and industry trends change. We have seen the rise of dystopias, vampires, and faeries to know that fact well. Fortunately, writing rules/guidelines don’t shift as quickly as popular subject matter.

This is why it’s important to stay up-to-date with writing craft and industry insights (and do your research). Balance is key. Understand the present environment, know the rules, and then write the story that you’re passionate about the way you want to write it.

If you break a writing rule, defend it

Everything written in the story should serve a purpose (and ideally more than one). If you break a writing rule and someone calls you out for it, make sure you have a reason why it suits your story best the way it is. Write prose that is purposeful.

Writing is a balance (ha, it snuck in there again). If you break a writing rule, weigh out what it adds to your story or what it could cost.