I continually see experienced writers and authors toting to newbies these “writing rules.” Rules that must be followed – OR ELSE.

I may not be Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, but I am here to reassure you that YOU ARE NOT WRONG.

Any sort of “writing rule”, which can be anything from “You must write every single day or you are not a writer,” to “You may NEVER use the words ‘it’ or ‘that’ in a sentence,” is not a steadfast law. There are ALWAYS circumstances where said rule should not be applied.

There are some people who will also say that all rules are made to be broken, and that includes writing rules. This is not always the case either.

In the words of Captain Barboza:

What is a Guideline vs a Rule?

Rules are things like your grammatical and spelling rules, when to use a comma, making sure you complete your parenthesis, capitalizing proper nouns. Those are rules that give all writing, whether its fiction, non-fiction, historical or fantastical, a consistent structure. Structure and consistency are important to your readers. They know that no matter what they are reading, when they open your book, they will be greeted with these structural guidelines that will help them to understand the content they are reading.

Guidelines are recommendations that experienced writers suggest to beginner writers that will help take their writing to the next level. These include things like, “try to open your story with action. If you can, avoid talking about the weather in the first sentence,” or the classic “Show don’t Tell.” As a writer, once you gain enough experience to understand WHY the experienced writer suggested that guideline to you, then you know when it is appropriate to Not follow said guideline, and also HOW to to change it. It’s not enough to say, “Don’t do flashbacks,” to someone. It is often recommended so young writers are not caught in the dreaded “info dump” class. There are appropriate times to do a flashback, but you have to understand how to do a proper flashback so you know when to do it and not to do it. (And flashbacks are their own special snowflake of a topic, which I’m not going to get into right now.).

So, how do you handle an experienced writer who tells you to absolutely, never, ever, to do the thing? Do not take what they say at face value. For all you know, they could be regurgitating a rule that was told to them by someone else years ago. Ask them why. Always ask. And if they give you a reasonable answer, ask how that pertains to your specific piece of writing, and why you should follow their rule in your specific case. They should be able to give you an answer more in depth than “just because.” Never be afraid to ask questions of your teachers. It helps you learn more, and it keeps our masters sharp as well. Moreover, its also a great idea to get differing opinions on the subject. Your teacher could be coming from a different style of writing, in which case their “rule” truly is a rule to their style. But, maybe not so much to you and your style.

The wonderful thing about writing is that it is constantly changing. Compare modern best sellers to the works of Shakespeare, or even Orson Wells. They styles and prose are so different, and that’s okay! No matter how experienced of a writer or author someone is, there is always something new to learn and master. The writer that thinks they know everything has a lot yet to learn.