Breaking the Law I – Know Where the Lines Are

The rules of writing are many and varied, and everyone will tell you what they are. And many will add, “Of course, these are only guidelines.”

What is the difference, really? Is there a time when it’s okay to break the rules, and how do you know? If it doesn’t matter, why are there rules at all? And why is it that beginning writers tend to hear the most about them, when it’s obvious that standout authors with blockbuster fiction break quite a few?

Everybody says you need a unique voice. But everybody also says you need to stay within the guidelines. Is it possible to do both?

Of course it is. The reason beginning writers hear so much about the rules is that in order to break them, it’s important to do two things first. One, internalize, know and use the rules as a matter of course. And two, know what the right time is to break them and what to do to compensate for that.

Internalizing the rules is a twofold matter.

First, be a reader. That doesn’t mean you’ve read a few books, or got through the college reading courses they gave you. That means, read for pleasure, all the time, as often and as varied as you can. There’s simply no skipping this rule, or you are in the wrong business. If you’re not reading, you’re not acquiring the tools to write.

Second, write a lot. I like to say that you have to write a million words of crap before you can turn out a decent, readable novel. That’s perhaps an exaggeration, but it’s not hyperbole. If you’re not writing, you’re not practicing with the tools and your work won’t be professional level.

Reading and writing a lot will allow you to internalize the rules, and help with showing you how and when to break them.

In the next article, we’ll talk about why there are rules, and why breaking them requires compensation.

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