Monthly Archives: October 2012

Rules of Writing

Move On and Improve

There are all kinds of rules for writers.  Grammar.  Formatting.  Spelling.  Punctuation – although did you know that colons and semicolons are old fashioned now?  (I miss them.)  Most of these rules are hard and fast, and you can remain safely consistent within your own body of work by choosing and using a style guide and a dictionary.
But when you venture into the craft of writing, into choices that give an author a distinct voice, rules get pretty squishy.
I originally planned to blog about a specific rule I saw this week on somebody’s Facebook post that said  “Never use a long word when a shorter word will do.”  I wanted to write about this because, quite frankly, it was bugging me.   I certainly do not follow it in my own writing.  Moreover, I love interesting word choices in everything I read and view, and I can prove it.  

Case in point, my family recently watched the new movie “The Avengers”.  I thought the plot line was a little weak, but the dialogue held my attention.  For example, Loki, a god from another world who has come to Earth to destroy humankind, outlines his task by saying “I am burdened with glorious purpose.”  He could have said “I have a job to do”, but the somewhat archaic word choices and his considering the end of our race as glorious tell the viewer a few things about Loki.  Later in the film, Tony Stark describes the Hulk as “a man with breath-taking anger management issues.”  Isn’t that better than “a man who gets really mad” even if it does have six more extravagant syllables?

So, anyway, as I searched to find this particular small-words-are-better-than-big-words rule,  Google produced a cornucopia of writing rules from successful authors.

Wow.  There are so many lists, and even more troubling, they conflict with each other.

One advises to only use “said” during dialogue and to never apply an adverb to “said”.  I was a little bummed about that because one of my goals in my current WIP is to replace “said” with more descriptive verbs.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, and more to my liking, are Janet Fitch’s crafty rules that I have linked here.  Janet Fitch’s 10 rules for writers

11 rules by Colson Whitehead gives some pretty broad advice for living as a writer, but he arrives at a very logical conclusion.  Rule 11:  There are no rules.  (OMG, did you see how I blatantly used a colon there?)

Whee!!  Mr. Whitehead goes on to explain what most of us have already figured out.  We are all individuals.  A talented writer knows whether or not to use “said”, or when to insert an adverb, or how many revisions is the right number.  A less-experienced writer can hold up that author’s rules as a lens to examine his/her own craft and tighten up the loose parts, but the usefulness may end there.

Authors with a wide readership make lists of what works for them because interviewers ask them to, not because they think their rules are going to work for anyone else.  We JV players on the sideline feel like we have to pay attention and we probably should.  We can digest the advice for a minute or two, or even eleven, but then we need to move on and improve our own craft.

What do you think, readers and writers?  Are there any rules of writing that should not be broken, or any you particularly love to break?  Does anyone other than me miss the colon in fiction?