One quick Google search for ‘fiction writing rules’ brings up enough results that suggest that there are ten rules to writing fiction. Which is a handy, nice round number, isn’t it?
I’m currently reading through my novel for the final time before I start the submission process (this read feels like the most painful, surely I know the whole thing off my heart now), and certain aspects have allowed self-doubt and worry to creep it. I know, it doesn’t take a lot to do that, but still.
So, I did what every modern human with an internet connection does in that position. I turned to Google, and found those aforementioned 10 rules and was reminded of why so called ‘rules’ are meant to be broken.
1. Dump some info
If you’ve done any research at all into writing fiction you’ll have come across this rule of no info-dumping. Basically, it’s when the writer explains everything in one meaty paragraph. They ‘dump’ the information. Apparently, this is boring and writers should come up with more inventive ways to getting that information across.
Sometimes, though, a paragraph of explanation is necessary, and can even be rhythmically beneficial to the story. Writing information into a stilted, unnatural conversation between characters feel wrong. Some explanations just can’t be given through dialogue and action alone. This is especially true of fantasy, when there is so much that needs explaining.
Do what is right for your story, as always, but maybe try and strike a balance between explaining through dialogue, action and the odd paragraph of dumpage.
2. Don’t be scared of 3rd person omniscient
My current novel is written in 3rd person omniscient, so imagine my relief when I read about this rule being overdone!
3rd person ominiscient is when the point of view basically stays with the narrator (you) meaning that the reader is aware of what is happening with all the characters and what’s going on in everyone’s heads. It can have a bit of a bouncy effect, so make sure that each character pov change is necessary.
This pov is the one used by countless literary greats, and because it went out of fashion, if it’s done now and done well, it could help you stick out of the crowd.
3. Always use said and never prettify ‘said’ with an adverb, apparently
In his book, ‘On Writing’, Stephen King mentioned that our school teachers were wrong and we should use ‘said’ as much as possible. This is because when people are reading dialogue, they only skim the tag to make sure they know who’s talking. Of course, sometimes the ‘said’ can be replaced with an ‘asked’ or ‘retorted’ or ‘blurted out’, but when in doubt, stick to ‘said’.
Generally adverbs are to be avoided. That’s another rule. Except that sometimes you need them.
‘Of course, you should just do what’s best for your story in opinion,’ Jenny said hastily.
See? The word ‘hastily’ made you hear those words quicker. Adverbs exist for a reason, just don’t abuse them or try to be too clever with them.
4. Regional dialects gave us some of Sir Terry Pratchett’s best characters
Another rule that always makes me laugh is not to use regional dialects. It’s too complicated, to write and to read. Yes, it takes patience and skill to write well in a regional dialect, and yes, it takes practise to read it. But once you get into it, it’s very difficult to stop thinking in that dialect or language.
Without strong regional dialect, we wouldn’t have the magic that is Sir Terry Pratchett’s Nac Mac Feegles. The language of Chris Beckett’s Dark Eden or Joss Whedon’s Firefly would also be lost.
Regional dialects and changes to language can be very tricky to write, but if done well they can be magical and worm their way into your reader’s mind, becoming a part of their language.
That’s only four writing rules that can be easily argued against. There are plenty more. The one rule (not to be confused with the one ring) to breaking the rules?
Do it well.
That’s all. Of course, that’s also the most difficult part.
Don’t break the rules because you want to be a renegade, but equally don’t follow them because you’re too scared to move away from them. Do what’s best for your story, because it’s yours. Have faith in yourself, respect for your writing and love for your story.