Thursday, July 28, 2011

Rules of Writing

I'm going to guess most writers have some brand of style book hovering around near their writing desk.  You can even find style books online.  In them and in any other number of reference sites, books and classrooms, you can learn the 'rules' for writing.

This quote was in the monthly newsletter for Pennwriters:

"There are three rules for writing the novel.  Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." - W. Somerset Maugham

The longer I'm in the business of writing the more I believe in that quote.  I'm not sure when I realized ending a sentence with a preposition isn't really a sin though lots of editors don't like it.  Let's face it though, when we speak we end sentences in prepositions all the time.  Some sentences sound better with the preposition at the end.  How many of you have had editors who insist you don't have a single of, from, or whatever before the period.

I had an editor who insisted I remove every 'being' from my manuscript even the ones like, 'human being.'  She frustrated me a little.  Another editor insisted throughout an entire 450 page book that I should refer to the horse in my book as 'he.'  She wanted the stallion to always be called 'it.'  I threw a few things when I worked with her. 

How about not starting a sentence with a conjunction?  But I do this all the time.  And so do lots of authors, many of them very successful.  Because sometimes starting with a conjunction conveys the meaning the author wants.

So what 'rules' of writing do you break on a regular basis?  Which rules don't you like to see broken? Have you ever had an editor or critique partners who insisted you break no rules?


  1. I sometimes use sentence fragments. OH NO!!! It's true. I preach others not to and then I do. What's next? A tattoo that has a comma splice in it? Oh, it's a slippery slope.

  2. Good one. I use fragments all the time.

  3. Rules change. The rule makers don't want them to, but they do. There are books that are formal and adhere to all the rules. And there are books that are more casual and adhere to what works and is acceptable at the time they're written.

    And, frankly, a horse is not an it.

  4. I break the 'no passive' rule all the time.

  5. I always believed writers should learn the rules first, then break them. As you pointed out, sometimes it's to greater effect for the reader, and that's what we all aim for - a great experience for them.
    I've had an editor or two who frustrated me, but mostly when they asked for changes that altered my story.

  6. I know what you mean about altering the story, Cate. I had one editor who asked me to change the first chapter. I changed it like she asked, and then she asked me to change it in another way. I did. Then another way and all this before she would offer a contract. Frustration.

  7. I am guilty of being a critiquer who insists for writers not to break rules. But you know what? As long as you can get in with a publisher, all that doesn't matter unless it's what the editor doesn't want. :)

    Can Alex save Winter from the darkness that hunts her?
    YA Paranormal Romance, Darkspell coming fall of 2011!
    Pre-order your early-bird signed copy before July ends!

  8. Haha, I like that quote :-) I am guilty of starting sentences with conjunctions. Teachers always told us not to at school, but in every book I read, there they were at the beginning of sentences. So I thought, well if published authors can do it so can I :-)

  9. I end sentences with prepositions all the time, and I also break the no passive rule. Some editors would be likely to slap me silly if they saw my writing :P