There’s always a lot of talk about the rules of writing – in social media – on writing forums. More often than not it consists of people shouting that the rules are nonsense, that the rules don’t apply to them. After all, writer X breaks this or that rule all the time and they’re a bestseller!
So I’m going to explain to you why the rules are important and why they do apply to you. But first of all, let’s get one thing straight – they’re not really rules – they’re guidelines! But for the sake of simplicity I’ll carry on referring to them as rules for now.
The second thing you need to be aware of is that the rules are there to help you.
Writing is a craft, and as such we need to study and lean about the tools we can use and how to wield them. In this case our tools are words. An artist first leans how to mix the colours on his pallet, how to apply the paint to the canvass to obtain different effects, how to work in different sorts of medium. Once the craft has been mastered, then is the time to push boundaries. Writing is no different.
Let’s take the often cited rule about adverbs that can prove so contentious. “Avoid using adverbs”. There’s a reason behind this. New writers often use adverbs as an easy way to qualify a verb, but the danger is that their writing can become lazy and too reliant on the one technique. Avoiding adverbs forces the writer to think about different ways of expressing things, using stronger verbs and different means of expression.
But once the writer has mastered this and is no longer dependent of adverbs in their prose they can look again at where an adverb might be the most suitable tool to use. After all that’s what adverbs are – another tool in the writer’s arsenal. “Avoid adverbs” doesn’t mean “Never use them”.
So when people say “But writer X uses adverbs all the time” be aware that writer X has studied the craft and knows precisely when an adverb is the best tool to use.
So my advice to you is this. Listen to the rules. Learn them. Understand them. And only then, when you really start to understand your craft, can you start to look at how you can bend them for maximum effect.
Learn the rules before you try to break them.
After all, they’re not really rules. Only guidelines.