Tuesday, June 16, 2009

RULE ME OUT— Who says there are writing rules?

While on our road trip to the Zion area, we went on a hike that included, among other hikers, a group I called the Obnoxious Family.

Dad was the worst. His entire demeanor was loud and controlling. The purpose of the trip was apparently not to have any wonderful bonding time with his family through the creation of shared memories. The purpose of the trip was to take fabulous photos to show other people what a photogenic family he presided over (he kept demanding that one of his daughters remove her glasses), as well as how much fun this good looking team of his had together. The photos would become the proof.

There are no rules governing how a family should spend their time together. I was just one of many observers. What wouldn't work for one family might be the glue that keeps another one together.

Same with writing.

There are no rules governing how a writer should string words together.


If, as a writer, I hear someone talking about rules, I cringe. I want to throw something. Writing is the creation of an idea through words.

There are, however, expectations and preferences.

I may have a problem with a domineering so-and-so, and that's my bias. He still gets to create the image of his family in his own way. There are no rules.

But I sort of think others may feel the same way I do, and if I'm an agent deciding whether or not I want to represent this family, I will decline in a nanosecond.

Every writer still gets to create their own story in their own way. (I am Boss, Hear me Roar.) The creative process, by its very nature, is free of restriction. Otherwise, it's just a rather dull cookie-cutter. Don't you agree?

But understand that every agent, every editor, will have expectations of the work I present. Expectations involve certain standards of craft on one level, their own pet-peeves on another.

It can get tricky.

The best idea I've heard that seems to work for me (and most recently it came from Chris Roerden), is to not edit my first draft. Get it down with a sense of freedom, then go back and revise. Begin with plot, then characters, dialogue, conflict and motivation. The last thing to edit should be typos and grammar. It's during the revision process that you can examine your work to see if it meets expectations.

JF: BLACK WATER RISING by Attica Locke (about murder and greed and racism); THE NOTICER by Andy Andrews (about defining your perspective); and SPY (audio) by Ted Bell (about greed and revenge and international politics).

CR: STRANGLE A LOAF OF ITALIAN BREAD by Denise Dietz (about a diet leader who solves a murder) and JUST ONE LOOK (audio) by Harlan Coben (about a man with a secret past and his wife's desparate search to save him).

It's all better with friends.


  1. Rules are for beginners. We're not beginners. We are God's creation, called before time to write the words of change on the hearts of the people. hehehe...Don't I wish.

  2. Sheila, thanks. My brain is still a bit lumpy from our trip, so I'm glad it worked.

  3. Good golly, Ralene . . . you had me going there for a minute.

    Nice sarcasm.

  4. Find what works for you and do it. I completely agree. That's how you will maintain the drive, energy, and joy to complete a project.

    But Peg, you make a wise point about editors/agents/readers. As soon as we begin offering what works for us to the writing world, we find out what doesn't work for them. And balancing where to go with those reactions can be a hard thing to do...

  5. Jenny of the PFD, it's nice to know that however we get there, we all face the same challenges of balance.

    Sometimes compromise is easier in a marriage than it is with words.