Exciting stuff! The prestigious Indies Unlimited published a guest post by me a couple of weeks ago, titled “My Golden Rules of Writing.” I’m republishing here under a new name, to separate it from my previous Golden rules post. It’s nothing you haven’t read before in this blog, but it’s a fresh spin on things.
My Platinum Rules of Writing
Writers seem to fall into one of two camps: Those who love following the rules and those who love to break them. My view? The rules taught in workshops and classrooms only matter to editors and other authors, not readers. So, here are my rules; the ones no fiction writer should ever break.
Rule #1: Don’t let your writing get in the way of your story
Fragment your sentences. Break the rules. Hemingway is considered the “master of the short sentence,” but when his stories reach a climax, he will suddenly write long sentences—as long as three or four hundred words, even. So, go on. Have fun with the language.
I love everything about English, but I’m particularly enamoured by the language’s flexibility. Its barbarous nature, as John Dyrden characterized it in 1693, is what makes it so appealing to me. I treasure its imperfections, its wildness.
So, do offend against grammar, if that’s what it takes. Be creative. After all, grammar only has one true aim: to make the written word as clear as possible.
Rule #2: Utilize grammar to make the written word as clear as possible
Everything else stems from that need. Active voice is more immediate, hence it should be preferred. The same is true of commas. In the example of:
“Let’s eat Gramma” vs. “Let’s eat, Gramma,”
It is a comma that separates vegetarians from cannibals. However, use of the (in)famous Oxford comma seldom alters the reader’s comprehension. Just use commas consistently throughout your manuscript, and I promise you: there’s a grammar book somewhere out there swearing that your way is the only correct one!
Rule #3: Creativity Trumps Conformity
English in the sixteenth century was a mangled thing, the natural result of having eight conquering peoples add to its vocabulary and syntax. This trait continued with the Bard himself, who made up many of the words we use every day, such as arouse, bet, drug, dwindle, hoodwink, hurry, puke, rant and swagger.
Then, certain clerks and clerics in the eighteenth century took it upon themselves to craft a “Queen’s English” by inventing rules designed to shoehorn English into “properness”. The problem was, they stole the rules from Latin, which is why so many of the grammar rules make little or no sense.
The moral? Be creative and daring in your use of English. You will hardly be the first.
Rule #4: As long as it has a beginning, a middle and an end, it’s a story
We humans are simple creatures. We love our stories, our myths and our tales. Since ancient time, as long as our ramblings have a beginning, a middle and an end, they’re accepted as stories.
So, stop worrying if commas in your story are misplaced or you use more passive voice than you “should.” Stop fretting that you start your lines with a gerund, or your book with a dream. That your sentences are fragmented. Or that you start with conjunctions or end with prepositions. These aren’t even real rules.
Rule #5: Be fearless
Many writers are constrained by a further rule: “write about what you know.” Why? We can all write about the common, usual, boring, ordinary character. The trick is to make this conventional character do something incredible without making this act appear out of place. Don’t constrain your imagination unnecessarily. Write about what tickles your fancy; what gives flight to your imagination; what you’d like to know, but never got a chance to.
Rule #6: Write for yourself
If you write for yourself, readers will see the authenticity of your writing and love it. Write the kind of book you would love to read. Not the kind you think your readers might enjoy. That is what people really mean when they say you should find your voice.
Rule #7: You are the gatekeeper
For decades, writers were constrained by publishers and agents serving as gatekeepers. Then, the walls came tumbling down, and the writers found themselves free: they could reach their readers unimpeded. Unsure of how to handle this new-found freedom, many writers still seek the approval of the old masters, refusing to publish without someone’s stamp on the book jacket.
My feeling is that, were publishers so good at predicting success, every book they published would be a best-seller. They’re not.
So, stop trying to impress editors and agents. Instead, write to the best of your abilities. Hire a professional to handle editing and proofreading. And when you’re done, share with the only people that really matter: your readers.
I had to share this dissenting voice of my editor, Lorelei, who sent me the following comic in support of the Oxford comma.
This month, it is Pearseus: Rise of the Prince that’s on sale. Read the second book in my best-selling epic fantasy series for only 99c (no, you don’t need to have read the first book to make sense of it).
stunning – amazing and creative!!
Thank you, Mirhan 🙂
This is some seriously good advice.
Thank you 🙂
I really needed to read this today. Thanks:)
Reblogged this on britestarlites3's Blog and commented:
Great post. I think every young writer tries to stick to the rules as closely as possible; the more experienced ones bend them to their needs; the great ones make their own. I remember reading Faulkner when I was a kid and that was it for me. I didn’t necessarily understand what I was reading, but the structure and style still humble me. And it’s all the same language!
What a great way to put it! Thanks – and welcome 🙂
I remember this post. I thought it was good when I first read it and still think it’s good.
Thank you, Suzanne! I have combined both my posts on the subject in this one, hence the upgrade from “gold” to “platinum” 🙂
Sparkling rules! 🙂
Thank you so much! I love how you always have a kind word to say 🙂
I thoroughly enjoy your posts here and FB. Sometimes we just don’t have all the time we wish to comment on many things we read. When I find engaging or entertaining posts I try to at least leave a few words. 🙂
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I also wanted to thank you for including Rule 5– why write only what you know. It’s so much fun to read and research about place you’ve never been and then imagine your characters are there. It comes out real.
I was reading a post the other day about how bad advice that is. Their argument was that it kills imagination.
I wonder if this applies to all genres, though. I imagine that more literary works do need you to focus on what you know. Genre fiction, obviously, needs more flexibility… 🙂
Ah, just found the link to the post I mentioned: https://www.livewritethrive.com/2014/12/01/dont-write-what-you-know-write-what-you-long-to-write/
I had to laugh at the cartoon. You’re right, one can look and look until one find a rule that is acceptable. Commas get in the way, slow down the action, and make things clear. It’s the know when that is tricky.
So many writers allow the plot to destroy the story. Well said, Nicholas.
Thank you!! 🙂
Reblogged this on The Crazy Lady Speaks.
Great post! Advice we should all be taking!
Thanks, Kylie! Where’s your Stormtrooper friend? 😀
I imagine he’s traveling with the rest of Legion 501. They are a great Star Wars cosplay group. His wife (also a storm trooper) was a pretty good sport about all of it.
I’ve heard of Legion 501! How exciting! 😀
They are really cool. This year they had a Darth Vader who posed for photos with light-up lightsabers for free.
That is seriously cool! 😀
Reblogged this on The Life & Times of Zoe the Fabulous Feline.
Reblogged this on Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing and commented:
This is a great post by Nicolas Rossis who was previously featured on Reading Recommendations. Pay particular attention to #7 – something I’ve been trying to tell writers for years now. Perhaps those writers will listen to Nicholas …
Absolutely agree with everything, but especially #7, which I have been trying to tell writers for years – You are the only Gatekeeper who is stopping you from being published. So quit whining about editors and publishers and agents, and get back to writing the best book that you can write!
Great post, Nicolas! I’m reblogging …
Thank you so much for your kind words and the reblog! You’re absolutely right, of course, about #7.
Still, I get why it’s hard for many people to change their way of thinking in such a short time. After all, this Indie revolution has only been available for a few years. 🙂
It’s still very important to look at self-publishing professionally, if you want to be taken seriously
Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog….. An Author Promotions Enterprise!.
Your writing rules are refreshingly simple. Thank you for another great post.
Thank you so much, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! 🙂
Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
As I get older I find that I write as I speak – a little too directly for some….I also find great pleasure in writing about a world I have no experience of yet! Neither have most people unless gifted with the ability to communicate with those departed so there are few rules to bend… thanks Nicholas for giving us some flexible guidelines – always useful.
Flexible is the operative word here. I’m partial to reads by people true to their voice, rather than perfectly formatted.
I love rules # 6 & 7, that’s why I started writing and love sitting and punching away at the keyboard. Great tips Nicholas, thanks for sharing 😀
Nicholas thanks for the tips
A pleasure! I hope you found them useful. Sadly, writing them up and actually using them in my own writing are two different things, especially in first drafts! 😀
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What a fabulous post! You always delight me with your humor, Nicholas! 🙂 I am a strong proponent of #5 for without authors writing fearlessly, I doubt we would have such classics as Animal Farm, A Farewell to Arms or The Bell Jar. 🙂
Thank you, that’s so kind of you! 🙂
I agree. It’s a shame when people censor themselves. Then again, when one thinks of Orwell’s fate… 😀
All hail the Oxford comma. (Thumps chest with fist) Great post.
Will you all stop making my editor grin?? 😀
Another great post. I love the way you promote creative freedom. Phew!
Somebody has to! 😀
Hah! Love the Addendum. I tried to pick a favorite and had to concede that they’re all winners. Though, I am partial to #5, since being fearless makes everything else a heck of a lot easier. Great post!
Thanks and welcome! 🙂
I admire your writing; writing good erotica looks pretty hard to me. I imagine it helps being fearless, as you say. 🙂
Thank you! That means so much coming from you. 🙂 And yes, not being squeamish certainly helps. Experimentation is paramount. 😉
Fabulous reminders. 🙂
Thank you! It’s true, I’ve written about this in various posts in the past, but I thought it’d be nice to have them all gathered up in a single place.
That comic is delightful. I might send it to everyone in my office, if they continue to send me technical reports without the Oxford comma.
Lol – oh no, I’ve created a monster! You do realize the whole point of my post was to argue that things like this don’t matter all that much, right? 😀
Thanks for the comment and welcome 🙂
Thanks, Suzanne! Glad you enjoyed it 🙂
Great list. For the life of me, I don’t understand why so many people have trouble with #6. That seems like it would be the most natural thing to do. Also, I fully agree with comma usage. I’ve read a lot of books where they’re barely used outside of lists and dialogue marks.
Thanks, Charles! I guess people have trouble with #6 because we need our work to be enjoyed by others. By trying to please everyone, however, we end up pleasing no one – least of all, ourselves.
That’s the truth. I think there’s also an odd push to jump into whatever is popular and then do what you want to do after you’re ‘locked in’. Though the risk is that you lock yourself into a genre that you never wanted to write in the first place.
A risk I’m not willing to take. That’s why I’ve written anything from fantasy to sci-fi to children’s books… 😀
Same here, but it’s more that I enjoy fantasy the most. So I don’t want to risk being taken away from it.
Reblogged this on Fiora Books.
Reblogged this on Fiora Books.
This was a really well written and helpful article. I must say however, I am partial to the Oxford comma like your editor!
Why does everyone say that?? Oh well, I guess it does make life easier… 🙂
Thank you…an excellent post. Janet
Thank you! 🙂
As you say, write like mad; then get an editor.
Indeed. I actually enjoy editing, but at the very least you need a professional proofreader to have a look before releasing your baby to the wild… 🙂
As an editor myself, I couldn’t agree more. When you write, you develop a blindness to mistakes that anyone else can spot a mile off.
Guilty as charged! 😀
Good writing is simply always writing. Write when you’re sad. Write when you’re scared. Write when you don’t feel like writing.
What a lovely way to put it 🙂