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Anne R. Allen's Blog

...WITH RUTH HARRIS

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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."


Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Rules of Writing...and Why Not To Follow Them


Somerset Maugham famously said, "There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are."

But pretty much everybody you meet in the publishing business will give you a list of them. (One is "never start a sentence with 'there are'" —so watch yourself, Mr. Maugham.)

Last year I read a great post by editor Jamie Chavez about what she calls the "Secret Fiction Rule Book." I wrote about it on the blog last year at holiday time. I got so many grateful comments, I decided to talk about breaking rules again this year, and offer a new version of my little verse, "The Beginning Writers' Rule Book."

The "secret writing rules" are the ones you hear at conferences, critique groups, and forums: the ones people say you MUST follow to be a successful novelist—although as an avid reader, you somehow never ran into them before you started writing.

Jamie pointed out that nobody knows where these rules come from, or why so many great books have become classics without following a single one.

Don't get me wrong: most of these rules involve solid advice, but if you follow them rigidly, you'll end up with wooden, formulaic prose that nobody is going to want to read.

Do learn them. It's much more fun to break rules when you know what they are. But then go ahead and smash them with happy abandon.

Here are some more of my unfavorites.

1. Show, don't tell  


Authors who follow this rule closely can write such murky stuff you never know what's going on.

Is this really the best way to present a character? "He wore a helmet with a wide brim, longer in the back to protect the neck, big black boots, a protective coat, and overalls held up with red suspenders. He smelled of ashes and soot."

Why not just tell us he's a fire fighter? After three pages of these guessing games, the building has burned down and WE DO NOT CARE.

2. Eliminate all adverbs 


Seriously? Even when you're writing in the voice of someone who is, um, rather vague?

3. No prologues 


Yeah, I admit I've preached the no-prologue gospel in many posts. That's because so many beginning authors use a prologue for info-dumping. But our readers keep pointing out that George R. R. Martin seems to do OK, and he loves him some prologues.

I think it depends on your genre and what your readers expect. Personally, I usually skip the prologue, but I'll go back to it later if the book grabs me.

4. You must write every day


Nothing should be done every day. Moderation in all things. Including moderation.

5. You must blog to have a successful writing career


Now even agents are seeing the silliness of this dictum. There are many paths to writing success. For me, blogging is the easiest way to build an online presence, but not everybody likes to blog. If you hate it, readers can tell.

You can get a lot of exposure with well-placed guest blog posts and a strong presence in other social media. Some writers are best at spreading a wide net on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and Google Plus, and others only use a single blog, or develop a following in one community like RedRoom or Wattpad.

Every publishing path is different. You should plan one that fits with your personality and writing style.

6. Eliminate all cliches


Unless your characters are wildly inventive poets, strange visitors from another planet, or children fostered by wolves, their dialogue and thoughts will include familiar expressions. Don’t rob your Scarlett O’Hara of her "fiddle dee-dees" or deprive your Bogart of "doesn’t amount to a hill of beans."

7. Write from only one point of view


Multiple points of view in one sentence—or even one chapter—can be clumsy and confusing, (and they drive me crazy), but novels with several points of view separated by chapters can be richer and have more depth.


8. Eliminate the words "was", "that" and "just" 


This is one that just makes my blood boil. I wrote a whole blogpost about the "was" police.

9. Happy endings are required and kids can't die


Jamie Chavez addressed the dying kid thing in her post. This is why Little Women has been such an obscure failure, right? Beth should not have died! And Rhett Butler should not have walked out on Scarlet with that rude line at the end of Gone with the Wind. Books like those could never become commercially successful, right?

10. Never repeat a word in the same paragraph 


Would A Tale of Two Cities have been improved if its first line read: "It was the best of times; it was the worst of historical eras." (And Mr. Dickens, the "was" police will be all over sentence!)

Or Anna Karenina with this: "Happy families are all alike; every morose clan is despondent in its own way."

Thesaurisitis can be a worse problem than breaking the secret rules.


Here is a little verse I stole from Dorothy Parker wrote about those rules, based on Dorothy Parker's hilarious poem, "The Lady's Reward".


Rules for the Beginning Novelist
…with apologies to Dorothy Parker

Newbie author, never pen
Background story till page ten.
Use no flashbacks—no, nor prologue.
Never start your book with di’logue.
Set the hero’s hair on fire.
Keep the situation dire.
Write in genres tried and true
From a single point of view.
Tell your tale in linear time.
Avoid a plot that strains the mind.
No dead kids, bad priests, abuse
Or politics in your debuts.
Copy last year's biggest hit.
No one wants to read new @#%*
Make it light but never funny.
(Humor’s too subjective, honey.)

And if that gets you published kid,
You’ll be the first it ever did.

Have a very Merry Solstice Season, everybody!

At the 2013 Grammy Awards, Neil Patrick Harris introduced the band Fun this way: "As legendary gangster-rap icon Katharine Hepburn once said,
'if you follow all the rules, you miss all the fun'.
So listen to Katherine Hepburn and have fun this season, everybody!

What about you, scriveners?  Have you run into the "Secret Writing Rules" book? What are your unfavorite writing rules?

We Have TWO Books of the Week!!


The Lady of the Lakewood Diner is finally here! 
$2.99 at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA

Anne's new comic novel about the Boomer generation and the myth of the Golden Age.


Many thanks to Keri Knutson of Alchemy Book Covers for the hilarious cover

NOSTALGIA AIN'T WHAT IT USED TO BE...

Who shot Morgan le Fay? The Lady of the Lakewood Diner is a comedy about a six-decade friendship between an aging rock star and her childhood best friend—the owner of a seedy diner in Central Maine, who might be the only person who can figure out who's been trying to kill the rock diva. It's Beaches meets Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.


On SALE for the Holidays!
CHANEL and GATSBY: A Comic two-fer. 
Now only $2.99!
Hollywood and Manhattan: it's Bi-Coastal Comedy!

Available at NOOKKobo, and Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon CA

The Chanel Caper

JAMES BOND MEETS NORA EPHRON. OR IS IT THE OTHER WAY AROUND?

Blake Weston is a smart, savvy, no BS, 56-year-old Nora Ephron-like New Yorker. Her DH, Ralph Marino, is a très James Bond ex-cop and head of security for a large international corporation. At a tense time in their relationship, Blake and Ralph are forced to work together to solve a murder in Shanghai and break up an international piracy ring.

The Gatsby Game

A POSSIBLE SOLUTION TO A 40-YEAR OLD UNSOLVED HOLLYWOOD MYSTERY

When Nicky Conway meets Fitzgerald-quoting Alistair at a Princeton mixer, she falls for his retro, Jazz-Age charm. But she discovers he’s a con man obsessed with his own “Daisy”—British actress Delia Kent. After Alistair manipulates Nicky into nannying for Delia’s daughter on the set of a Hollywood film, Delia finds Alistair dead in her motel room. Local police can’t decide if it’s accident, suicide—or murder, in which case, Nicky is the prime suspect.

Opportunity Alerts

Screenwriters!! 16th Annual Scriptapalooza Screenplay Competition. Over $50,000 in cash and software prizes. Every script entered is read by either a producer, manager or agent. Scriptapalooza will promote, pitch and push the semifinalists and higher for an entire year. They have relationships with producers, managers and agents that are actively looking for material. Only $45 to enter if you get it in by the early bird deadline January 6th.

Dog Lovers! Here's one for you: AMERICAN KENNEL CLUB FICTION WRITING CONTEST  NO ENTRY FEE. Submit one short story, maximum 2,000 words. Entries can be on any subject, but must feature a dog. (But it can't talk) Prizes $500, $240, $100. Deadline January 31, 2014. 

CRAZYHORSE PRIZES IN FICTION, NONFICTION, POETRY $20 fee (includes subscription). This is a biggie, well worth the fee. This venerable literary magazine has published the likes of John Updike, Raymond Carver and Billy Collins. Winners in each category receive $2,000 and publication. Submit up to 25 pages of prose or three poems. All entries considered for publication. Submissions accepted in the month of January 2014 only.

2014 BETHLEHEM WRITERS ROUNDTABLE SHORT STORY AWARD
 $10 ENTRY FEE. Submit 2,000 words or fewer on the theme of "Food Stories". In addition to a $200 prize, the first place winner's story will be considered for print publication in the Bethlehem Writers Group's next anthology or as a featured story in Bethlehem Writers Roundtable. Their last anthology won Indie Book Awards for Best Anthology and Best Short Fiction. Second place will receive $100 + publication in the BWG Writers Roundtable. Deadline January 15th, 2014

GINOSKO LITERARY JOURNAL FLASH FICTION CONTEST: $250 Award, $5 entry fee, Submit up to 2 pieces, 800 words maximum each piece. Deadline March 1, 2014.

AARP/HuffPo Memoir contest for Boomers! You must have been born before 1964 to enter. The winner will get a $5,000 prize will be excerpted in AARP The Magazine and featured on The Huffington Post’s website. In addition, Simon & Schuster will consider publishing the work.  Finalists from this round are invited to submit their complete memoir by June 15th. The books should run between 20,000 to 50,000 words. The first 5,000 words of the memoir is due February 15, 2014.

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50 Comments:

Blogger Ruth Harris said...

I blame the internet! lol

Writers have been writing for years (centuries) without ever hearing any of these "rules."

Bottom line: apply them judiciously. Break them judiciously. IME each story creates its own rules. You will discover them as you write; you just have to trust yourself.

Have a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

December 22, 2013 at 10:27 AM  
Blogger Chihuahua Zero said...

I would say that most of time, when people discuss writing rules, they're fixating on the little things.

"Rules" like "don't use these words" usually relate to prose. "No prologues" is more macro, but it's still a small part of the whole.

People often forget the big picture.

For example, in a writing forum yesterday, someone asked for advice since they had trouble connecting to their story. While it could've been a motivation problem, I decided to ask a couple of questions to see.

The short version of my questions were: "What is the big problem that your protagonist is trying to solve, and why?"

The writer went to answer the question, and realized that their protagonist had little reason to be in the story. That what made the story hard to write.

The "writing rules" you rebuke all avoid what matters. If your protagonist has no reason to be in the story, and you aren't a literary genius, it doesn't matter that you repeated a word in the same paragraph "twice".

I would go further and say that you can get away with breaking "writing rules" if you rock the fundamentals. The DaVinci Code isn't the best research- and prose-wise, but it's sure a page-turner with addicting ideas.

December 22, 2013 at 10:32 AM  
Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Congratulations, Anne!
Broke the no prologue with my first book and that was at my publisher's request.
While my current manuscript only has one point of view, writing my other books would've been challenging to do that way. I'm sure they also prefer first person as that one point of view. (Just one I don't feel comfortable in writing.)
Know the rules and then have fun breaking them.
And big score! I managed to use was, that, and just all in my comment.

December 22, 2013 at 10:45 AM  
Blogger CS Perryess said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

December 22, 2013 at 10:54 AM  
Blogger CS Perryess said...

HA!
I love the Dorothy Parker tribute, & so true, so true. Thanks for another fine post. And hey, any of you who follow Anne's blog but haven't tried out her novels, run don't walk to your e-reader & start in on Lady of the Lakewood Diner. It's fantabuloso.

December 22, 2013 at 10:56 AM  
Blogger Jamie said...

I love this! Thank you for the mention, Anne! And merry Christmas!

December 22, 2013 at 11:01 AM  
Blogger Linda Adams said...

I'm a veteran rule breaker. The story just has to work. The rest doesn't matter as much as everyone wants it to.

But what I don't get is when someone wants to experiment and everyone says, "No, you can't. It's against the rules. You have to know the rules to break the rules."

"So when do you know the rules?"

"You have to know the rules to break the rules."

"But Big Writer and Other Big Writer do it."

"But they're published. They can get away with breaking the rules."

It's like everyone lives in fear that if they use an adverb, and agent will stamp "Rejected" on their manuscripts. It's so silly.

December 22, 2013 at 11:15 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Ruth--I think you're right. The Internet allows people who don't know what they're talking about to hold forth with the same authority as people who actually do. Bad memes spread rapidly, and before we know it, we're all following "rules" that have no basis in fact.

Chihuahua--You've hit on the major flaw of critique groups and writing forums--they concentrate on one chapter or the minutia of a chapter, and it's very hard to get an overview of the whole piece. Editors and beta readers who read a novel at a few sittings are usually the only ones who can spot the big story arc and structure problems. No matter how carefully you polish, if you don't have a compelling story, the rest is time-wasting.

Alex--Thanks. It's kind of a Christmas miracle that the book got out in time. I think most readers prefer third person limited, so you're doing everything right. First person works in YA and chick lit, but is harder to pull off in adventure stories, whether mysteries, thrillers or sci-fi.

CS--Thanks so much for the shout-out for Lady of the Lakewood Diner. I hope people like it.

Jamie--Thanks so much for a fabulous post. Those "Secret Writing Rules" plague editors, too!

December 22, 2013 at 11:15 AM  
Blogger BECKY said...

I always love your posts, Anne. One of the "rules" of writing that I hate...yes, hate...is "You must write every day." I never have, and I'm rather stubborn about doing anything I don't "want" to do, especially if I'm told I "must" do it! :)
And thank you for the Opportunity Alerts!!
Wishing you all things wonderful now and in 2014!

December 22, 2013 at 12:04 PM  
Blogger Donna OShaughnessy said...

Anne, I have been writing all my life. Only in the last 3 years have I decided to write well. But the information about this craft is overwhelming. Which rules are right? Which are wrong? Which will get me published? And which will just keep me from doing the deed? Your posts help tremendously and I appreciate the time you donate to them...deeply.

December 22, 2013 at 12:34 PM  
Blogger Emma Adams said...

I stubbornly believe that if a prologue works, there's nothing wrong with using one. As for 'was', I completely butchered a previous MS trying to eliminate the use of the word - most of which weren't even in the passive voice! Trying to avoid it altogether results in confused sentences and makes the prose harder to read. I've read a lot of published novels in which the author liberally uses the verb 'to be' (not in the passive mode) and they seem to get away with it - so I figured I can, too. :)

Thank you for this post!

December 22, 2013 at 12:46 PM  
Blogger Vera Soroka said...

There is one thing I don't like and that is author intrusion where the author takes you out of the story to tell you something that he or she thinks you need to know. The last YA book I read was full of this but the readers love her so that's all that matters.
Rules are made to be broken and I've done my share of that.
Veronica Roth and Susanne Collins were not afraid to kill their young darlings and they were successful I would say. So yeah, write what you want I say.

December 22, 2013 at 12:50 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Becky--I think that rule helps when people try to distract you from writing or say "it's not like you're working". Then you can say "I HAVE to write every day. That's the rule." Sometimes rules are helpful.

Donna--I'm so glad this blog helps. Yes, there are a whole lot of rules out there and they can be overwhelming.

Emma--You've hit on the problem with the "was police." They don't understand the difference between the progressive past tense and the passive voice. They both use "was" but there's nothing "passive" about the progressive tense. "I was getting ready to punch the guy out," is not a passive sentence.

Vera--Author intrusion can be used to comic effect, or it can be done like in a Victorian novel, addressing the reader as Kipling did, calling the reader "Oh Best Beloved." That definitely seems old fashioned and you have to use it carefully and in the right context.

December 22, 2013 at 1:24 PM  
Blogger Melanie Ting said...

Hooray for rule-breaking! I hate critiques where these "rules" get quoted as if they are written in stone. I wonder, why do adverbs even exist then? Thanks to you, I will now rule-break with less guilt!
As in all aspects of life, moderation and balance are the best.

December 22, 2013 at 1:42 PM  
Blogger Martha Reynolds said...

Best blog always. Thank you, Anne, for a year of great tips, dry wit, and thoughtful insights.

December 22, 2013 at 2:52 PM  
Blogger Judith Mercado said...

Anne, you are always the clear voice of reason and wisdom. I always know I’m going to get straight talk from you … and that I can trust what you say. Thanks! Have a Merry Season, whatever you celebrate.

December 22, 2013 at 3:07 PM  
Blogger Meg Wolfe said...

I really needed to read this today, it's so funny and so true. Thank you thank you thank you.

December 22, 2013 at 3:58 PM  
OpenID paulfahey said...

Knowing the rules is fun; breaking them twice the fun. Don't know where I read that but it's so true. Great post, Anne, and I'm sharing. All the best your way. Paul

December 22, 2013 at 4:28 PM  
Blogger Patricia said...

The "never use 'was', 'just', or 'that'" absolutely drives me bananas. Who the hell makes this stuff up?

December 22, 2013 at 4:30 PM  
Blogger Mikki said...

The one rule I hate is one I've heard from other writers, published authors, critique groups, editors and agents, and it bugs the heck out of me. It is: WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW.ALWAYS.

What about all the things you want to write about, but don't really know well? My favorite instructor at the Institute of Children's Literature told me this: Don't confine yourself to "writing what you know." That and only that can become boring in a very short time. Read what you don't know but want to; learn what you don't know but want to; research what you don't know but want to; take classes in what you don't know but want to, and then WRITE about what you "didn't" know.

Best "rule breaking" advice I ever got.

December 22, 2013 at 4:49 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Melanie--I think that's what gets to me--the dogmatic way some people quote these things. I guess some people feel safer with absolutes.

Martha--And thank YOU for being such a loyal reader and commenter!

Judith--Thanks. I'll be going to the local church for a carol-sing on Christmas Eve. I like to keep politics and religion out of the blog, but I love the concept of "Merry" Christmas. "Merry" suggests lots of feasting and imbibing. A good thing to do in the darkest time of year, no matter what your beliefs.

Meg--I'm so glad it helped. If I can keep one poor writer from eviscerating her ms. by removing all the "wases" I've done my job!

Paul--I think we can probably attribute it to Oscar Wilde. Whether or not he said it :-) Or maybe Quentin Crisp. Thanks!

Patricia--I never heard those until I went to my first writers conference, where I was totally shredded for my "thats". I called my mom, who had a PhD in English and was a professor of creative writing--and she'd never heard of those rules either.

Mikki--YES!! I should add that one to the list. C.S. Lewis really went through a wardrobe to a place called Narnia? Right.

I write about a fashionista who was born to billionaires. I'm an old hippie who considers myself dressed up when I put on my new Crocs. You don't have to live this stuff to write about it: you need to know how to observe.

December 22, 2013 at 5:21 PM  
Blogger Nina Badzin said...

Fantastic advice, Anne! The show don't tell one made me laugh the most. Yup-- two paragraph to get around just saying, "He's a firefighter." I hate reading stuff like that. Such a funny example!

December 22, 2013 at 6:56 PM  
Blogger Christine Ahern said...

Wonderful post, great advice, and fun as usual. I once lost first place in a short story contest because one of the judges said my entire story was "telling, not showing". It was first person narrative so, yea. Happy Holidays to you and can't wait to read your new release!

December 22, 2013 at 7:44 PM  
Blogger Rosi said...

I loved this pithy post. Lots of great advice and reminders, but I especially loved the poem. Merry Christmas to you.

December 22, 2013 at 9:05 PM  
Blogger Claude Nougat said...

Wow, I loved your poem! Very funny and sooooo right.

Just one little thing where perhaps we (slightly) disagree: prologues that give a "taste" of what's to come are a delight (that's what Stieg Larsson does); if they're info dumps, forget them!

And Merry Christmas to you, your blog (like your books) is always a pleasure to read!

December 23, 2013 at 1:51 AM  
Blogger Trekelny said...

Brava, Anne! I wouldn't mind your views on writing rules every holiday season, like my light-drive ritual. Hey, THERE's another area where rules exist to be joyously, riotously broken. Oops, adverbs.
We can have a lot of fun making fun of the rules, there's a righteous exultation in breaking them. But of course, noticing how poorly you ignored them, on the polish, can be humbling. I re-read my trunk novel last spring and pulled out over 700 words (of 200k), mostly some version of "seemed". Ouch. And one of my most dedicated, supportive readers admits, in my epic novel he skipped the Prologue at first- yikes!
My focus this year has come around completely towards writing well, the bloody blazes with marketing, sales or fame- even my blog entries are just attempts to write good stuff. These rules all start out being about the first goal, and as such are great- I think they become so rigid (always, never) when they try to unlock the magic formula to the second, which right now I am hardly interested in.
Once again, terrific job- required reading for any editor or agent at the big houses. Now THAT should be a rule!

December 23, 2013 at 3:42 AM  
Blogger Creaky door writer said...

I was particularly baffled by the 'no adverbs' rule when I first came upon rules for writers, and realised I would need to unlearn half of what my English teachers taught me at school. You are right, creativity is about breaking rules, even though it is probably good to know what they are and why they're there.

December 23, 2013 at 5:55 AM  
Blogger Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I think the real point is that a writer should know "the rules" before he/she breaks them. I've read a lot of new writers books that were dreadful and broke all the rules you mentioned. And they wonder why they didn't sell many books.

December 23, 2013 at 8:13 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Nina--That's the kind of writing that drives me batty, because it's the author showing off instead of telling a story.

Christine--How sad to lose a contest because the judges misunderstood a basic concept. I got awful feedback in one contest for a first person story because one judge said "this was supposed to be fiction, not your life story." It was entirely fictional. I lost because I was too believable.

Rosi--Thanks, and Merry Christmas!

Claude--Some people love prologues, but writers need to be aware that a lot of readers will skip them. And agents hate them, so if you have a prologue, don't send it in with your sample pages. Or call it "chapter one."

Trekelny--It's true that these rules can help us when we need to cut word count. A lot of "justs" and "thats" aren't necessary. And oh, we do love "seem", don't we? Sometimes it's absolutely the right word, but like just and that, we can overdo or use it as a crutch. And yes, there are a lot of us prologue-skippers out here. I think the really good agents aren't so rigid about rules, but newbies and interns who do the gatekeeping tend to rely on a dogmatic interpretation of the rules.

Creaky--You've hit on a good point. When we first learn creative writing in school, we get praised for descriptive writing. Then when we try to write professionally, we hear everything we were taught was wrong.

Marilyn--It's true that we need to know the "norm" before we can deviate from it. Picasso learned to paint very realistic pictures before he invented ways to abstract them. Learn basic writing skills first, then start playing with them.

December 23, 2013 at 9:32 AM  
Blogger John Wiswell said...

As much flack as Lynn Truss has gotten, I love her advice on growing to know grammar and writing conventions well enough to recognize when it's best to break them. That's the spirit we need to follow.

The anti-prologues dogma is a particular bugbear of mine. In 2012, I collected all the nominees for several major awards to test how abhorrent prologues really were. The results were fun: http://johnwiswell.blogspot.com/2012/06/problem-with-prologues.html

December 23, 2013 at 12:06 PM  
Blogger Tam Francis said...

Wonderful fun. I think about these things often and mostly try to follow the rules, but I can understand why and mostly when to break them. Love Dorothy Parker and LOVE the parody. Thank you for the reminder and the good laugh.

December 23, 2013 at 12:38 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

John--Your post on prologues is a must-read! Amazing that ALL the Hugo, Nebula and Locus winners that made #1 on the NYT bestseller list had prologues! I think prologues are a long-time convention for SciFi and Fantasy. In thrillers and mysteries, they aren't as common, and those are the genres where we need to ask ourselves if we really need them.

Tam--Happy to add to the holiday merriment with a few laughs. We try hard to perfect our prose, but sometimes it's okay to lighten up.

December 23, 2013 at 1:32 PM  
Blogger Anne Gallagher said...

Thanks for this, Anne. I haven't followed most of these rules in a long time. I'm a rebel that way.

Having spoken to some of my readers, they don't know the "rules" or know when I've broken them.

Happy Happy Holidays Anne!

And Happy Happy Holidays to you too Ruth!

December 23, 2013 at 4:47 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Anne--When you write historical fiction like your Regencies, it's impossible to follow all these rules, or you'd have way to modern a voice. It's great to have readers who don't care about rules. (I suspect most of them don't.) Have a great holiday season, too!

December 23, 2013 at 6:58 PM  
Blogger Lexa Cain said...

That was a fabulous post, Anne! I especially liked the example you used for "Show Don't Tell." I loved the poem. No offense to D. Parker, but yours was even better and funnier than hers!

Merry Christmas & Happy 2014!!

I look forward to reading many more posts from you in the coming year. :-)

December 23, 2013 at 8:31 PM  
Blogger Sussan Tuttle said...

I have to admit, I'll happily break rules to make my story better and my writing stronger. Isn't that the main goal? For me, it is. I will admit to being the "adverb and 'to be' police" - not that I won't use adverbs or the verb 'to be,' I just think most of the time the writing stronger if I don't use them. But I will not allow structure or flow to suffer just to follow an arbitrary rule made up by someone who probably doesn't write fiction in the first place!

As for prologues - well, heck, I love them. And in my genres they work well (sic-fi/fantasy and mystery/suspense). But often I use this little "cheat" simply to obviate the naysayers: I call it Chapter One. No one's ever questioned it to date!

Loved the poem, Anne. Great post!

December 24, 2013 at 12:33 AM  
Blogger Julie Musil said...

This is awesome! I appreciate that I've learned the rules. I used to fret about them, but not anymore. I write what works for me, even if it breaks a rule.

Happy holidays, ladies!

December 24, 2013 at 9:15 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Lexa--Thanks so much! (It was such fun to write) and best wishes for a great 2014 to you too.

Susan--I agree that rules made up by people who don't even write fiction are the most annoying of all.

And calling the prologue "Chapter One"--brilliant!

Julie--I agree we need to know the rules and why they exist. Then we can make our own decisions about whether they apply to our own writing.

December 24, 2013 at 10:13 AM  
Blogger Denise Covey said...

I love prologues and epilogues and page turners. The style and conflict is the importance thing to me...and flawless prose of course. I'm a Merry Christmas kind of person, so Merry Christmas Anne! Thanks for your excellent posts which I always read.

December 24, 2013 at 2:45 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Denise--I LOVE epilogues! When I get to the end of a book and not all the storylines have been resolved, I feel so let down. (Especially if there's no sequel.) An epilogue can tie everything into a neat bow, and I love that.

Merry Christmas to you, too! Do you say Merry Christmas in Oz, or Happy Christmas like the Brits?

December 24, 2013 at 3:04 PM  
Blogger SEO Moz said...

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December 26, 2013 at 2:37 AM  
Blogger ryan field said...

Love this post!! I managed to get through almost twenty years of writing and never once wrote a prologue for a book. Then one day the publisher asked for a revise and wanted my first chapter to become my prologue. I sat there and freaked out alone for hours. But of course I did it. I eventually wrote the prologue and it helped the book more than I ever thought it would.

December 26, 2013 at 12:29 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Ryan--What a great story! LOL. Totally proves my point. And the fact it came from your publisher is even more amazing, since we're always told that if we put in a prologue we can't ever get an agent or publisher to look at the ms. I love it that it improved the book so much.

My latest book, the Lady of the Lakewood Diner originally had a prologue. Nobody wanted it. But my current publisher liked it so much, he asked me to expand it. Ultimately it became the first 1/4 of the novel. So, no prologue, but the writing in it wasn't lost.

December 26, 2013 at 12:35 PM  
Blogger DMS said...

What a great post! Some rules are meant to be followed and others are meant to be broken. :) I think it is important to stay true to your writing voice and make changes as necessary.

Thanks for sharing!
~Jess

December 27, 2013 at 9:06 PM  
Blogger Roderick Gladwish said...

Nice blog.
I've had all those rules thrown at me at one time or another. Not actually being a successful writer, they sting like hornets. When I have had something published often the work breaks at least one of those rules.

December 29, 2013 at 6:39 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Jess--Exactly. It's all about putting reason above blind adherence to rules. Rules can be just plain stupid when applied at the wrong time in the wrong place.

Roderick--Those don't sting any less when they come from reviewers :-) but it always helps to consider the source. Funny how the "breakthrough" pieces are often the ones that break rules. Editors get tired of the same old/same old, so if you find a way to do things differently (and well) that's what's most likely to get noticed. Best of luck in your writing journey.

December 29, 2013 at 11:22 AM  
Blogger Jami Gold said...

Great post! I think I'm rather proud that I break all those rules. ;)

You're absolutely right that rules often have a kernel of good sense but don't apply to every situation. We want to learn the rules so we know WHEN (not "if") to break them. :)

December 30, 2013 at 9:28 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Jami--Thanks for stopping by! Yes! Be proud to be a rule-breaker. But you're so right that we need to learn the rules FIRST. If we don't know we're breaking anything, where's the fun in that?

December 30, 2013 at 6:45 PM  
Blogger Liz said...

I have literally stumbled on this blog thanks to twitter and now subscribe via email. I have 20 books indie-pubbed and am trying to figure out what direction to take next. Number 9 is totally my favorite and why I have both staunch fans AND vocal haters. keep up the great work…I'll be reading along!

February 7, 2014 at 11:14 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Liz--Welcome! The HEA debate will go on forever. I'm fine with a sad ending or a kid dying (Little Women was one of my favorite books as a kid), but I'm totally turned off by gratuitous violence. But a lot of people think "gritty" is the mark of good fiction. It's all about taste. Congrats on writing 20 books! And having haters. They're a mark of success in this business. Look at any bestseller and check out the one-stars. I look forward to your comments.

February 7, 2014 at 11:23 AM  

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