Writing Rules Are For Shit

So on an agent blog this morning someone had written in to talk about how “bad” J.K. Rowling’s writing is.  I’ll note that they failed to mark the two times in her Harry Potter books she used a really strange saidism for something Ron said, but really?  Really?

And, instead of saying, “Dude, chill on the writing rules”, the agent sort of kind of agreed with the assessment.  What the what?

I think writing rules are something that newer writers latch onto because they think if they just follow all the little rules they’ve heard that they’ll be successful.  And they assume that if they aren’t successful it’s because there’s some rule they haven’t learned yet.

But go and look at some of the best writers out there.  Look at Stephen King.  He uses parens in his fiction writing.  Seeing that was what finally freed me up to sort of kind of ignore the rules of writing.  If I want to use an adverb, by god I will.  If I want to use a saidism, I’ll do that, too.

Writing rules are what we should look to when something isn’t working.  But not before.

Instead, sadly, it’s the first thing other writers look to when they want to critique someone’s writing.  “Hey, I noticed you were telling in this paragraph instead of showing” or “You repeated this word three times in this paragraph.”

Yep.  For a reason.  Because I didn’t need to spend five chapters getting my characters from Point A to Point B and the repetition of the word was a stylistic choice meant to provide emphasis.

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard some newer writer call out every use of “had” or “was” without understanding why you might call those words out.

And, yet, I almost never hear anyone mention filtering words in critique (like heard or saw when in first-person or deep third-person point of view), even though removing those will strengthen a writer’s writing ten times more than the removing every use of had or was.

Why doesn’t anyone ever stop to think how many really, really successful writers are “bad writers” and realize that maybe the criteria they’re using is wrong?  Story trumps everything. Writing is just the way you convey that story to your audience.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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