Forget the supposed 'writing' rules and write a great story!

Yesterday I read a post on writing a great book…

You know those posts... The type that attempt to teach you all the things we learned in Comp-1 about punctuation and sentence structure, and then the dynamics of writing a story that we learned in Comp-2, where we read all the great works of literature throughout the ages. Yep, that stuff.

I’m sorry, but if you don’t know that you need to insert a comma before a direct address, no writing post on the World Wide Web is going to help you write a great book.

Of course the post also included all the other stuff that ‘professionals’ throw at aspiring writers:

Don’t use prologues
Don’t use adverbs
Never use a dialog tag other than said
Never use ‘asked’ as a dialog tag
Never use ‘had’ in non-dialog writing
Don’t sigh or huff your words
Never write in first person
Blah, blah, blah

So, being the curious author that I am, I decided to download samples of the top ten books on Amazon and took the time to read the first chapter of each one.

Surprise—well, maybe not, or you wouldn’t have seen this post—almost every one of the authors broke at least one of those ‘rules’ stated above, and several of them, broke EVERY rule.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm still learning too! Top selling authors don’t have the time to write these posts, as they are too busy writing WHAT PEOPLE WANT TO READ! But I know this...all the writing suggestions in the world can't save a boring book.

My opinion, other than the normal 'grammar' rules that you learned in grade school, forget the supposed 'writing' rules and just write a great story!

I know some will disagree with me, but it’s true. None of the books on the bestseller lists are there because they didn’t use ‘hopefully’ in their prose; they are there because readers liked the story. If we all wrote the exact same way, with the exact same rules, what fun would that be? It wouldn't be fun at all. I like different types of storytelling. There's a reason we have an author's voice.

Long story short, all the rule following in the world won't sell more books. The only way you will sell MORE books is by writing a better story and writing more of them.

Then, just like the first snow, eventually a snowflake will stick, then another, then another, then another, until you have enough flakes sticking that you have a winter wonderland in your backyard.

Yes, you need to edit your books. Editing is not the point of this post. But, write a great story before you start worrying about all the other specifics.

Until next time, happy reading and writing!


Thank you for stopping by my place and reading my musings. Remember, these are just my opinions and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. If you have questions, please feel free to leave them in the comment section, and I promise you I will answer.  If you’re curious about what I write, please visit one of my author pages, where you can read all about my novels and short stories. And hey, I’ll even give you a free book just for stopping by.

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  1. Thank you! I know I've probably been creating enemies by saying there are no absolutes and do what's right for the story. Glad to know there's someone that thinks like I do. lol

    1. I do...

      It took me eighteen months to sell my first novel because I wouldn't bend on the prologue. It's what I wanted. Yes, it's different, but, it's how I wanted to *show* my story. I didn't want to do what everyone else was doing.

      Over a hundred thousand downloads later, I believe I made the right choice. It's not like the other books, and readers recognize that. Oh, some will still hate me; as you said, we make enemies when we go against the grain. But...I will continue to write what I believe my readers want to read. And as Frank Sinatra said, "I did it my way..." LOL! Thank for stopping by and commenting, CP. :)

  2. Great writers write great stories. I do agree with those who say you need to understand the rules before you break them, but in the end, if you're writing from your heart and telling a great story, readers will gobble it up. As for commas and too many adverbs and all those other rules, well, that's why editors like me work with creative writers like you. I love helping writers polish a story to a point where the reader gets so caught up in it that he/she doesn't even think about whether or not rules were broken.

    1. Absolutely! And you did read that I wasn't bashing editing, right? Of course books need editing. To me, that's a given. I loved Christine's post with all those famous authors who used those *horrible* prologues...the nerve!

      And adverbs serve a purpose. Their purpose, however, is not to tell the story; the author is supposed to do that. My thoughts are that if it sounds natural, use it! If you can imagine the character rolling his eyes, by all means, let them roll their eyes. If they wouldn't know who versus whom, you better rewrite that sentence. No, I don't think you should use the wrong word; rewrite the sentence so it never comes into question. I had a character once who would never have known when to use I or me, and the situation came up where she should have said, 'he and I' not 'he and me'. I couldn't do it. I couldn't write 'me' when I knew it was 'I'. So...I rewrote the sentence. Problem solved! That's the difference. Authors need to know that it's not about just writing well. Fixing the grammar wouldn't have moved my story along, and using the wrong word would have earned me a poor review.

      Yes, grammar came into play. Because I knew the rules, I veered around them to stay in character. :)

  3. Yep. Rules in writing aren't like rules in, say, baseball; they're much more flexible. Knowing when to break them is as important as knowing what they are.

    1. Exactly! I'm glad I found your post today. I followed, so I'll be looking out for more great posts. Hope the book is coming along great, since I see you were picked up over a year ago. And yes, I've used waking up from a nightmare in one of my books, and it was perfect. For me, anyway, and I have to do what's right for *my* story. :)

  4. Interestingly, I didn't know all of these rules. Funnily enough, several of these have been quoted to me in the past year by writers I met on Twitter. Ignorant of many of these rules, I began reading my favourite authors' work in a new light. Did they break the rules? You bet! Are they sold in 44 countries and translated in 25? Yep! I am with you, Carmen!

    1. Thank you, Susan. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. amazes me how often I see those types of posts. I understand that new authors are looking for direction, so I don't begrudge anyone for trying to help. BUT...if a prologue works, use it! If--as YA Guy mentioned above--a character waking up is the way to start a story, by all means, write your heart out. That goes for passive writing, using contractions and split infinitives, and starting your sentences with 'and' or 'but'. These are not hard-fast rules; they are suggestions. So if your prose is riddled with them, yes, you have an issue. On the other hand, though, if it sounds unnatural to write in active tense or without using a split infinitive, you better not do it. All that matters is that the reader 'gets' it. Trust me...I learned the hard way. :) Thanks for stopping by, my friend.