Four Writing Rules I Take With A Grain of Salt

As I previously blogged about, some rules are made to be broken.  This is the Mother of Invention.  Well, and necessity.  Writing, of course, has a lot of rules that we're told we shouldn't break, because it's considered weak, lazy or amateurish writing.  And a lot of these rules are spot-on.

And of course some of them should be taken with a grain of salt.  As I've been reading about the craft and getting more familiar with the "rules," there's some that I think they should be broken.  Or bent, anyway.

Here they are:

1) Write What You Know
Well, what if you don't know anything?  Then you're shit out of luck. If writers only wrote about what they knew, there'd be a whole lot of one-dimensional novels out there.  This is why research was invented.  This is why imagination exists. This is why travel in the name of research was invented.  I think we can start with what we know then find out what we don't.  And make up the rest (but only if you're a fiction writer.).

2) Don't Start Your Story With a Prologue
I never realized how controversial this particular story device was until I started reading different articles and blog topics.  This apparently is considered a cardinal sin in some circles and to be avoided at all costs.  I say, if it serves the story, I mean REALLY serves the story, why wouldn't you?  Maybe because I read a lot of suspense novels and this is somewhat standard in the genre, I don't think of this as a hard-and-fast one. Prologues give you an intriguing set-up for the action to follow, so I don't mind them. I say if it makes sense, go for it.

3) Develop an Outline
Some writers say you have to live and die by the outline, they they consider them an absolute, no-way-around-it must-do for success in writing, that you without-a-doubt, 100% must know where you're going and how you're going to get there.  I've heard of writers who churn out detailed, ninety page outlines before they even write "Chapter 1."


I recently had the opportunity to hear Gillian Flynn (that's a hard "G"), author of "Gone Girl," "Sharp Objects" and "Dark Places" talk about her writing process.  She termed herself a "highly inefficient writer," who often doesn't know whodunit even when she's thirty pages out from the end (she's winning all sorts of raves for her storytelling ability).  In "On Writing," Stephen King dubbed himself a "situational" writer, eschewing heavy plotting in favor of intuition - "our lives are largely plotless," so says the Master of Horror.  Why shouldn't books be?  King claims with one or two exceptions, the books he did plot felt like "stiff, trying-too-hard novels" and that "a strong situation renders the whole question of plot moot."

I hate outlines - always have.  I'll do plot points so that I have a general idea of where I'm going, but I'm not a stickler about it.  For me, half the fun of writing fiction is being surprised by the twists the story takes, the characters you meet and the way it all ends.  Kind of like reading fiction.

4) Don't Start with Weather
Obviously, not starting with "it was a dark and stormy night" or "it was a sunny day" is a given.  But  done right, weather can set the mood. 

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” — 1984, George Orwell. 

Sounds like weather.