No more writing rules (seriously)
Ah, the ‘Rules’ … Every single time I write about there being NO writing ‘rules’, yet more writers come rushing out the woodwork with counter-arguments on why there ARE.
Look, I understand. When someone says you can do WHATEVER YOU WANT, it can feel weird and scary. But what if I told you the ‘rules’ are just considered BEST PRACTICES … and even then that can depend. Eeek!
Human beings are pack animals, so it makes sense to stay with the crowd doing what is considered “common sense” rather than forging out on your own and doing your own thing.
BUT YOU MUST! Here’s why you should forget about those mythical ‘rules’ of writing and focus on CRAFT instead.
1) A great-looking page does NOT = great craft
YES, grammar and punctuation and spelling are all important. Yes, good format is essential. This is because we gotta “reader proof” our work against the interns and work experience kids who obsess on that stuff. So your writing might look GREAT on the page and yes, that is a good start. But it is not everything. It can’t be!! MORE: 10 Common Errors You Need To Fix In Your Writing RIGHT NOW
2) Character and story is EVERYTHING
I can’t stress this enough. You can forget everything else, as long as you know this. I’m serious. Write a great (aka MEMORABLE) character, doing something really interesting *for some reason*. If this shows you know your target audience, your structure, genre and tone? BOOM. You will sell something. It is as simple – and as difficult – as this! honest, guv! MORE: “Why This Story?” Or 8 Questions They’re REALLY Asking
3) We DON’T NEED any more vanilla writing
This is the thing. There are more submissions than can ever be read. Your screenplay or unpublished novel might look professional, but if it isn’t FULL OF FLAVOUR, then we just won’t care.
We want something that will GRAB us, even if that means we go, “Ewwwwww I don’t like that, YUK!” Because that’s how we remember. Vanilla writing is “Oh sure, it’s fine.” Do we want it? Again, NO. Do we remember it? DOUBLE NO. Better to inspire loathing, than be met with a “MEH”.
So REJECT VANILLA. Have the guts to make your writing strawberry, chocolate, mint, orange, banana, bubblegum, soap, metal, fire, stinging nettle, WHATEVER. Just do it! MORE: Writers, Stop Sabotaging Yourself – Here’s How
4) You must reject writing CONFORMITY
Working with writers, what do I think is their biggest enemy? Easy. THEMSELVES.
Why? Because writers will impose certain standards on their own work and others’, just based on what they perceive is the “right” way. And what’s more, just because LOADS of people think this way? Does not make it the “right” way.
In fact, I’d venture the more people who tell you you’re WRONG about something? The more likely you’re on the right track. So keep going and damn the naysayers to hell! MORE: On Writing “Conformity” And Why It’s A Missed Opportunity For Writers
5) You gotta make your breakthrough YOURSELF!
Writers desperate to break through think it is about conforming to some accepted “standard”. As a result, they fail to STAND OUT. HOWZAT for irony??
So instead you must go out there and you stand up for something you believe in and do it the best way you can.
THIS is how you get your break, NOT by doing what you’re “supposed” to. Never, ever forget that and never, ever apologise. JUST DO IT. See you on the other side! MORE: 7 Things You Must Stop Doing If You Want To Be A Professional Writer
Spot on. Beginner writers LOVE rules because the publishing world is so crazy and unpredictable. Rules are a safety net. Yet, it keeps everyone writing the same thing and afraid to take the kinds of chances that get a writer noticed. I was on a message board where the members actively discouraged other members from trying new things that they had read in a book and wanted to try. The reason: “Big name writer can get away with breaking that rule; You can’t.” If you don’t try things, the worst that will happen is you’ll get rejected. If you do try things, the worst that will happen is you’ll get rejected.
Double edged sword this one. In my opinions its better to KNOW the rules and understand why you don’t want to follow them, than not know them and forge ahead regardless. I’m happy that I put the years in reading the books because I feel the rules give me a foundation to build on. And to take that a little further, all houses are built with the same principles but they don’t all look the same – our writing can be mindful but still wow an audience when we add some damn pizazz!
I’m speaking about the world of screenwriting specifically by the way.
Except there’s no rules, so there’s nothing to “follow”. All that matters is character and story. That’s all anyone wants. HOW you do that is important in engaging your audience, but that’s it. Sure there are conventions – like structure – but there is no formula. Thinking there is, is what holds writers back. ALL writers, not just screenwriters.
It’s good to take a look at the 2015 Oscar nominees for Best Screenplay – those that are available on the net. Each and every one breaking ‘rules’ all over the shop!