At some point, every writer has experienced frustration while trying to develop a story that follows all of the writing rules. I know I have and at times its been enough to make me want to quit writing altogether. And yet, it seems like just when we have the rules figured out, someone else has gained fame and fortune from breaking those rules. So why is it okay for them to break the rules but not the rest of us?
We’re not the only ones who’ve noticed this. The writing experts themselves have and now when they publish a book on the rules of writing, they’re trying to compensate for it. So, when you go to read one of those rule books, you might find something like this:
- Don’t write in first person/present tense. Unless you’re Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games), Veronica Roth (The Divergent Series), or Rick Yancey (The 5th Wave); and then it’s okay. But if you’re not one of these authors you should stick with writing in 3rd person past tense because it’s easier for your audience to read.
- Don’t use prologues. Unless you’re Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants), Michael Cunnigham (The Hours), or Dennis Lehane (Shutter Island). As long as you’re one of these writers, it’s okay to use prologues because they did it well. Otherwise prologues are seen as a lazy writer’s way of conveying information about the backstory that they should work into their novel in other ways.
- Steer clear of flashbacks and dream sequences. Flashbacks and dream sequences cause discontinuity within your story line and can make it difficult for your readers to follow. But they’re okay to have as long as your write like Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights), Paul Hawkins (The Girl on the Train), or Gayle Forman (If I Stay), because these authors did it well.
With these rules it’s no wonder writers get so frustrated. The sad reality is, none of the writing rules are bad but all of them can be broken as long as the exception to the rules are executed well and that’s the trick: executing your story so well, nobody cares if you broke a few rules.
In honor of a new year, I recommend we all forget the rules. Throw caution to the wind. Write your story the way you envision it. If you want a prologue, have a prologue. If you want flashbacks, write them. If your story doesn’t work the way you wrote it, your beta readers will tell you and then you can try something else.