writers tips / writing

Writer’s Tip #75: Break the Rules

When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

This tip is from Robert Masello, award-winning journalist, television writer, and bestselling author of many novels and nonfiction books  like the Medusa Amulet and Vigil. It’s #102 in his Kindle ebook,  Robert’s Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Should Know (Writers Digest Books 2011). That’s right. He’s showing not telling. We writers understand that approach.

Here’s what he says:

Rule 102. Break the Rules. The cover of the book says 101 Rules—and that’s why I’m writing 102. Just to prove that rules are made for breaking. For example, for every writer who writes in the morning, there’s one who writes only at night. For every writer who plows ahead, never looking back, there’s one who agonizes over every word and cannot go forward without polishing every syllable that has come before. For every writer who works from an elaborate outline, there’s one who flies by the seat of his pants.

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Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. In her free time, she is  editor of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. 

32 thoughts on “Writer’s Tip #75: Break the Rules

  1. When I taught art I wanted the kids to understand the “rules,” actually the “standards” of art. As long as they understood what standards they were breaking, I was OK with it. I think the same thing is true of writing – rules cover common ground but great writing is uncommon. Probably all great inventions and discoveries come from broken rules, from thinking outside the box. But as an adversary, there are times when the rules hold up. I think they are mostly majority agreements and they sometimes work. It’s all about knowing when to fold, right?


  2. So funny I read this today. Less than five minutes ago I retweeted Cynthis Rowley saying the same thing. Break the Rules. Of course, in order to break them, we first might want to KNOW them so we know why we did it. I guess that’s my pragmatic-creative side talking.


    • You’re right–and that seems to be what a lot of the ‘experts’ say–you can break the rules if you understand them first.

      How are you? I can’t make our meeting Monday, but I’ll see you in October!


    • That really resonated with me too, Cynthia. I believe I became a better writer when I started following the rules. POV, setting as emotion, show not tell–these are all important to being a good storyteller. Only by knowing them did I understand when I could break them. That made me an even better writer.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Needed this tip today. Sometimes I think I must be doing something wrong, thinking there must be an easier or better method for writing. We can read advice but we have to do what ultimately works for ourselves. Hmmm maybe the word is trust?


    • Absolutely. I had a workshop once where we had to think of ten ways to solve a plot piece or work a scene. By the tenth, I had to go way out of the box, and that was usually the best approach. Takes a lot of time!


  4. It is 100% true that most of writing is simply philosophy. For every rule I can think up, I can also think of an exception. As Captain Barbossa said, “They’re more like….guidlelines than actual rules.” 😛


    • That’s what makes people keep reading. There are characters–Jack Reacher comes to mind as I just finished his latest book–who I love traveling with, seeing how they problem-solve, how they react to ordinary circumstances in their unique way. So fun.


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