Breaking the rules …


Crabby cartoon

A good lesson from Lucy … don’t annoy strangers on elevators, never bump into old ladies with your shopping cart and seek professional help if you see bats in your bell free.

No more television …

I made this announcement at the pool the other day and one of my swim friends looked at me like I had become a one-eyed Cyclops.


I left the darn thing on the front lawn waiting for the trash man to come. It remained out there for one entire night and day and no one “took” it. Usually when you leave stuff on the lawn next to your mail box, someone comes along and takes it. A chair, a cabinet, an old vacuum to name three that have been left by my mailbox.

But that old clunky thing had no takers. Then the man hoisted it into the back of the truck and BAM … CRUNCH … it was no longer.

That was three weeks ago.

So I have been reading more.

I mean does anyone remember what they did before TV?

Okay, no jokes about the dark ages.

Speaking of reading …

If you are an incurable rebel or you have delusions of being a rebel with or without a cause … you might be fond of breaking the rules.

According to all the writing advice in the known universe, there are set rules.

break the rules

Breaking the rules

Don’t open a book or a chapter with dialogue or with weather.

Don’t use prepositions at the end of a sentence.

Watch for those passive words … don’t say “that” too much … or “have had” a great deal.

Find the most hated and overused words and destroy them.

writing humor.04



Eliminate the bleeping, weeping ings of the gerund.

Don’t do too much back story at one time.

Don’t lead with back story

Don’t use too much descriptive prose

Don’t describe yourself in first person

Don’t go head hopping … remember to stay in your POV.

There are at least two dozen or more don’t and never-dos you must avoid.

Oh and yes, make each end of a chapter spell-binding and emotionally grueling and leave your reader hanging.

writing humor.05



You might think if you read the classics or any book that is more than 20 years old that you would see how truly terrible writing was before we followed all these rules.

Why it would be unthinkable to do what so many of those old fools did.

Pity those like Agatha Christi or Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens or Thomas Wolfe.

It is for darn sure they would never get published today.

Readers have changed.

They want fast and snappy.

Of course, you would never expect to find someone who writes in this market to break any of those rules … their agents and/or publishers would blow a gasket.

Unless of course you are James Patterson, Robert B. Parker, Nora Roberts, Michael Connelly, Jennifer Weiner, Sophie Kinselaa, Barbara Kingsolver or EARLY Janet Evanovich. Sorry that I had to emphasis “early” for Janet as she has fallen into the music industry’s worst example of a hack.

Every …  and I do mean … every one of those rules are broken all the time and with some authors, several of them in one book … and somehow those misguided wordsmen managed to become best-selling authors and have collectively made about a billion dollars. I mean Nora alone pulls in about a quarter of a mil a year.

And let me tell you something about Nora … she head hops, starts books and chapters with dialogue, and does all kinds of things she shouldn’t and guess what? Those same agents and publishers let her get away with it.

Dick Francis wrote more than forty stories and the man’s work is over-run with the hated “ly” and “that” and tons of “had/haves.”

I counted …

In one sentence Dick used six gerunds and five “ly” words … and that was only one long, run-on sentence. He did all that whilst Sid Halley thought of the past and described everything from his childhood to his last lover to how he lost his right hand.

I found something of Nora in Friends of the Library that she wrote three years ago and her head hopping and long back story was amazing.

In the three weeks since I gave up TV I have read more than two dozen books in hard cover, paperback, and on my kindle.

They are the strangest mix of stuff from a free-be someone put on my kindle for winning the draw … leave a comment and be eligible for a free copy … to the last book of Jennifer Weiner I ordered last month from Amazon.

Yesterday I started an oldie from Victoria Holt, Mistress of Mellyn

Not only that … there are at least five or six best-selling authors who have written the same plot and used the same type of character at least a dozen times with some variation in names and time and place. And I do mean best-selling as in millions of copies.

There is a good reason James Patterson has turned his books into a franchise and collaborates with three or four people … the reason is that Alex Cross got tired … and I do mean … he got sick and tired.

Alex lost a dozen significant others, including a wife and three fiancés and four other lovers. His granny must be 125 by now.

He’s been shot, slashed, beaten, and had his kids and lovers kidnapped and maimed and lost at least four partners as a detective. He became and quit being a cop and then became a profiler for the FBI and then burned out and became a teacher at Quantico and then got caught up in another mind-bending plot to capture a raving maniac.

I mean poor Alex Cross has lived three lifetimes on paper and is more indestructible than Superman.

A member of my local group told me a mystery I set in the 60’s with Vietnam as a backdrop was too old. Use Iraq or Desert Storm instead.

And don’t talk about the sixties or Vietnam … that is unless you are Michael Connelly and write about Harry Bosch and you won the top three awards any mystery writer can win for your debut novel.

And don’t do poetic prose in a mystery. Who wants poetic in a mystery? Well obviously, anyone who has ever read Connelly or Robert B. Parker.

writing humor.07

Types if writers

Never say never …

Don’t worry about rules. They truly were meant to be broken. Write with your heart not with a guidebook.

I am not suggesting that we forego editing out the obvious junk or the annoying repetitive language that makes us sound bad. Yes, it is bad writing to do all of those or not care about how we sound …

However … it is a shame that we allow our true love of the word be subject to too much crafting.

In the aftermath of television I am having one hell of a great time reading some new writers, revisiting some of the old, and rediscovering the joy of what we do.

Be daring and care enough to make a difference with what you say.

Tell me true …

Have you broken any rules lately?

fOIS In The City


Filed under Ramblings

26 responses to “Breaking the rules …

  1. Great roundup of writers breaking rules, Florence! Have to agree about Janet Evanovich and James Patterson. I used to really enjoy their books but had to stop reading. I want to be a weird recluse writer, or that old woman who wears purple and eat sausages, or both. Rules, schmules.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Debra … what a great image “wears purple and eats sausages …”

      And who would not want to be her? Yes, it is a shame when authors are dried up and don’t know it or live off their names. As for us … we’ll keep breaking the rules until we break through … thanks 🙂


  2. I never owned a TV, before Alpha Dog! I’m with you – who needs it, when we have all these amazing books to get through before we die!

    I’m with you on the rules – as long as someone sucks me into their storyworld, they can break all the rules they want – ultimately, as readers, that’s what we’re looking for, right?

    On the other hand, if an author doesn’t suck me in, ALL I see are the errors (hello Mr. Gray).

    Great post. Read on!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Laura … television was invented by men who wanted to see the sports games they were “hearing” on radio and the rest of us came along for the ride. I do not believe we will ever come to the bottom of that TBR pile of wonderful stories waiting patiently to be cracked open.

      And it is so true … when the book sucks … the mistakes are glaringly obvious … hey … I just said glaringly and loved it. I am having the time of my life with the old and the new. Thanks 🙂


  3. That stupid rule about adverbs came from Stephen King (I think). What can you say? It works for Stephen King. But adverbs are just a part of speech; they can be used well or badly. An author who used them well: Shirley Jackson. One of her favorites was “obscurely,” as in “I’ll try,” Jannie said obscurely.
    Hollywood-type plots where you can see the scaffolding as you zip from chapter to chapter are fashionable now. They will go out of favor because fashions always do.
    Still have my TV.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. vicki

    hi, Florence! Well you know how I feel about that. lol. But I do use ly words. And almost all of my stories start with dialogue and I’ve sold them all. I don’t head hop because I write in first pov. I once had an editor want me to add the hero’s pov to my first pov book. I went no. That wasn’t me. The voice is most important of all.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. OMG, Florence, you have written about everything I absolutely hate about the writing world, i.e. all the rules and the “should not do’s” and “you have to do’s” and on and on. It makes me mad. Like you, I’m an avid reader and I see those “rules” broken in every single damn novel I read. But when “I” query an agent, oh NO, I am doing too many things “wrong”, I guess, since all I see are “I’m sorry, but…” until I want to scream. Words were meant to be just that, how we talk and how we see the world and how we express ourselves. To say we shouldn’t use gerunds or start a book with dialogue – it all NEVER made sense to me and still doesn’t. I thought writing a book was a CREATIVE process, not something you did with a rule book next to the computer so you didn’t do anything WRONG. Sucky, sucky. Can’t stand it.


    • Patti, you certainly hit the nail on its head !!! So, so true. If best selling authors do it, it’s good writing … if newbies do it … it’s a turn off.

      Never, never alter your voice to please anyone because your work will make it on its merit … not with a rule book 🙂


  6. christicorbett

    I LOVE the Katherine Hepburn quote!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. annerallen

    I sooo much admire you for killing your TV. I gave up cable once (we don’t get any broadcast TV here without cable) but I ended up getting Direct TV instead six months later. I’m such a wimp.

    And as for the rules–you are absolutely right: once you’re established, you can break them all. I decided to open my new Camilla mystery with weather, just for the fun of breaking the rules. And I’m not exactly famous. But I figure my regular readers won’t mind a bit. In fact, the ones who are writers will probably cheer.

    Liked by 2 people

    • This has nothing to do with Florence’s post but it does have to do with writing. You, Anne, and your blog have been my “go-to” place for answers to writing questions and marketing. Before my book came out the other day I followed all your suggestions for marketing with regard to online promotion. I want to thank you for that. And any other writers out there (most of you probably) should know that Anne has some great experience (duh) with marketing that could help many of us.
      Thank you, Anne.


    • Anne, dare I say it? “It was a dark and stormy night.” And they said she wouldn’t sell 🙂 There is no right or wrong way … just our way and when we are true to our voice … the work is amazing, startling … loverly and absolutely fantastical 🙂


  8. sfreydont

    I happily and haphazardly broke rules today and I ly ly ly ly’ed all the way home.Some rule are legit—can you imagine people putting words together in any random fashion and expecting to be understood—which means they’re made to be broken after you know them an can abide by them if you had to, like painting , then you don’t have to. then there are other rules that somebody somewhere said was a rule and everyone starting believing it. and we like sheep. . ..
    I don’ watch much TV but I must have my so I can watch Dodger games from New Jersey when I can’t sleep.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Shelley … some of lots of things are legit but that’s no reason to spoil all the fun !!! The ly with Dick Francis worked and besides I love that character and followed him through four of Francis’ books.

      As for the TV … I probably watched three network shows and the rest was reruns or PBS. Everything … even those … were recorded on my DVR … so now I can watch reruns on the internet or netflix.

      I can probably think of two dozen things I’d do before watching baseball… that is unless I needed a tranq to sleep 🙂


  9. sfreydont

    Baseball is the great soother, for me anyway. Yes the blessed DVR. I”m definitely a PBS rerun kind of girl. Love Acorn so I can binge watch
    (for me binge watching is 3 hours max, I never have time for more.) some of the old series and Canadian and Australian shows.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Shelley, my dad was a huge baseball fan and I understand the passion. I however, do not possess such passion … well at least not for the sport.

      Yep, PBS is so far ahead of network TV … it’s a shame that most folks don’t love it the same way 🙂


  10. You should’ve seen me counting the rules broken when I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo! And yay for no TV . . . looks like a partial Summer Unplugged for you, too 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • You bet, Jamie … you can count the rules broken and even typos in a lot of best sellers. Kind’a gives me that warm fuzzy feeling 🙂

      Yay for me and no TV and I’ll be unplugged for longer than a summer !!


  11. Florence – Great post. I believe ‘the rules’ have caused more writers to throw in the towel on writing than any other one thing. I once belonged to a writing group that preached you couldn’t possibly be a serious writer if you didn’t own the current Chicago Manual of Style. Like a crazy woman, I bought it and promptly put it on the shelf with my other writing books. I shudder at the rules that have been red lined in my writing by critique groups through the years. Yes, we all have our pet peeves and we’re all relatively well versed in one genre or another, but nothing is carved in stone. I’ve learned, there’s no such thing as a writing rule that will break a deal! P.S. That Chicago Manual of Style along with many other writing books are going on Amazon for sale. All books I was told I HAD to have I’ll never read and they are gathering dust. I do have books I refer to on a regular basis that I wouldn’t part with for any price.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Sheri … that’s the best you can do with some books … sell or donate them 🙂

    It’s a shame the way some budding authors are discouraged with critiques that have nothing to do with their voice. I agree with you that no one can tell you what is the “write” way to write. Thanks … been missing you. Hope all is well 🙂


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