Monday, September 26, 2011

Breaking the Rules Can Cost You

All you rule-breakers out there, listen up. You’ve probably heard it’s okay to break the rules of writing as long as you understand you’re breaking them. That can be true. However, too many writers who are attempting to do this haven’t convinced me they actually know what they’re doing. For one thing, this exception to the rule is to be used sparingly. It doesn’t mean you can continue to break the same rule over and over again in your book. Break it only when necessary. Otherwise, how is the reader supposed to know you’re consciously making this mistake?

Ask yourself a few questions. Why do you feel it’s necessary to ignore the rule? Are you acting like a rebel? Do you not quite understand the rule and because of that are deciding to break it? Is your story stronger when you ignore the rule or when you follow it, and why?

“What difference does it make? I’m the writer. I should be able to create my story the way I want to write it.” That’s fine if you’re okay with possibly not selling that story. If you want to publish through a traditional publisher, you should consider editors’ expectations because breaking the rules can cost you. How you handle rules in this industry will affect your credibility as a writer. If not done correctly or for the right reasons, rule breaking will diminish the reader’s trust in your ability to tell a story. And the last thing you want is to have an agent or editor believe you’re an amateur.

“But bestselling authors break rules all the time and they’re making beaucoup bucks.” This is true. You can ignore all the rules you want when you’re a bestselling author. However, in order to get to that position, you need to prove yourself and your ability. You have to create a readership based on your skills, not your name. After that, what you do is between you and your publisher (unless you’re self-publishing.)

What kind of rules have you broken? Did you do this purposely? What rules have published authors ignored? Does it bother you to read a book where the author has broken rules you try so hard to follow?

Lynnette Labelle


  1. Hey Lynnette! I'd answered you on my log, but wanted to make sure you found the page on my site that describes the Insecure Writer's Support Group.

  2. Alex: Thanks for checking back. I thought it was a loop, not a blog hop. I have a Yahoo loop for writers, where they can share, cry, celebrate, critique, brainstorm, whatever. If anyone wants to become a member, ask to join: I'll post this in your comment section, too.

    Lynnette Labelle

  3. Hmm, I'm not a big rule breaker. I don't like putting a question mark beside a question, the have the tag he/she asked. Eg: "Where are you going?" Judson asked.

    Just seems redundant to me. In my drafts, I always us a comma instead of the ?mark. Yeah, I get a lot of grief about it from my CPs, but I love the rebelliousness of it :)

    During the revisions for Scent (coming out in Fall 2011), I almost refused to write the questions and tags the appropriate way. But, my desire to be published overruled my need to rebel. As my group leader says "just write it their way and get it out there."

    I'd given the editor enough grief about some of the more important aspects of the story. I let her win that one :)