On “Rules for Writing” Lists

Argh. Today’s post is short and sweet, about an issue that gets further under my skin every time I see it. I won’t link to any of the lists, but there are tons of them out there. A lot of them include things like consistent grammar and regional dialects (for example, forward vs forwards). So far, so good.

Then we get into rules about using power verbs (croaked instead of said, for instance) or lyrical set descriptions, or adverbs. Bad author. No colorful prose. There is one correct writing style.

Bullshit. BULLSHIT. Go on, try to argue that Kushiel’s Dart and Neuromancer should be written in the same style. Try to convince me that The Concubine (Norah Lofts) should be written like a military thriller.

No, it’s pretty clear that you should tailor your prose style to your story. I’ll be honest, here, sometimes you’re going to strike out. Not every style you try will work for your book, or work at all. Still, the world will never get your best work if you don’t play around a little.

I’m going to say that again: the world will never get your best work if you don’t play around a little. The world will never get your best work if you don’t experiment. The world will never get your best work unless you get up the courage to try something new. The world already has a ton of books. You need to write one that doesn’t exist yet. As with all writing advice, take the bits that help you, and leave the bits that don’t. You like outlining? Screw Stephen King’s advice on that, then. You hate outlining? Stephen King has some great advice.

Don’t ever, ever let anyone sell you on the idea that there’s only one way to write.

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