This post is part of my “blog cleanup” series and was originally posted at the last Gracetopia, on blogger. I’ve edited a bit and added an addendum to the bottom. Bon appetit.
Any way you want it
That’s the way you need it
I am a member of/hang out at/lurk at/occasionally read a variety of writing websites. And people are always asking about the rules. “Am I allowed to swear?” “How long should my chapters be?” “Am I supposed to do a prologue? Am I not supposed to do a prologue?” “How much dialogue should I use?” (like literally, “what percentage of my novel should be dialogue?“) “How many plot events do I need in the first 20 pages?”
Good grief, people.
I hereby give you the only writing rule you ever need, the one rule you should remember forever and ever and ever. Free of charge, you don’t even have to credit me when you pass it around.
There are no unbreakable rules.
Anyone who tells you otherwise should be kicked. In the face. (That is not part of the rule, merely a suggestion.)
Write what works for the story. If your chapters are 20 pages, well cool. If they are 50 words, well cool.
Don’t trust anyone who declares there is one right way and then argues with you about their one right way. There are things that have been popular, things that have worked well for many many authors, but that doesn’t mean you have to do them if it’s not what works for your story.
This bothers me like a lot. Not even the answers, the questions themselves.
People ask for rules for a lot of reasons, the main one being they want that one magic bean that will get them published and on the top of the NYTimes bestseller list.
But there isn’t a bean, people. Just write, write, write, and figure out what works for you. Sure, take suggestions, see what works for other people, but if it isn’t what works for you just ignore it.
That is all.
The beautiful and totally fabulous Cat commented on the original post with this:
I like one particular rule, though it’s probably the hardest to follow:
“Leave out the bits the readers skip.”
I definitely concur with that rule. [Elmore Leonard, btw]
Rules that are entertaining/vague/general/witty are ok in the Land of Grace. (See also: “The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there. ~Mark Twain) General wisdom, I’d call this category. With a bit of snark. I’m pretty sure if you asked Elmore Leonard what percentage of a book should be dialogue, he’d just laugh at you.