Two Writing Rules I Don’t Like

You’re on a road trip, and it’s 2am.  You’ve still got an hour of driving to reach the hotel you’ve booked.  It’s the middle of nowhere, west Texas.  In the distance, a green glow emanates from a traffic light.  As you near, it goes to yellow.  Crap, you think, and slow to a stop as it turns red.

As far as you know from your last hour, you might just be the last person left in existence.  You can see for literally miles in each direction.  There is no sign of life.

Do you:

A)    Wait for the light to turn green?

B)     Carefully look both ways and drive on through?

I’d pick B.

In general, as you may have noticed from this blog, I like writing rules.  They have helped my work, and I think they provide fantastic guidelines. 

I refuse, however, to follow them blindly.  When I encounter a rule, I do my best to gain an understanding of it – not just the what, but the why.  Here are two that I examined and found wanting:

Single space after a period

There exists a vehement group of professionals who have decided that the rest of us must single space after a period in lieu of the traditional double space.  To do otherwise, in their opinion, is wrong and the hallmark of an amateur.

I disagree.

Look at the following:

at 2 A.M. Brian drove

Without context, you have no way of knowing if “Brian” starts a new sentence.  This could be:

Leaving at 2 A.M. Brian drove home.  (Of course, I’d typically use a comma there, but some wouldn’t)

Or it could be:

He arrived at the store at 2 A.M. Brian drove home from there.

I think that a punctuation mark that requires contextual clues is somewhat lacking.  Consistent double spacing eliminates the problem. 

Obviously, having a proper noun follow an abbreviation isn’t a common occurrence, but I have another reason for disliking the rule.  The period is, perhaps, our most important punctuation mark.  Its signifying a full stop certainly outweighs the comma’s yield.  Yet, it’s also the smallest of our marks.  To me, the extra space helps draw that tiny bit of extra attention to it.

Now, am I so vehemently against the single space that I would advocate the double space as the only valid method?  No.  It’s purely a personal stylistic choice.  I think that saying otherwise is absurd.

Within a scene, always thwart the protagonist’s goals until the book’s climax

As a guideline saying that this is usually a good idea, I have no problem with it.  I think more nuance is needed, though.

As the reader follows your character, they grow to experience the events of your work with him.  Having your character achieve happiness is an opportunity to let your reader experience a powerful positive emotion. 

I just got finished with a couple of scenes in Power of the Mages where I do something similar but for a very different reason.  By giving Xan what he wants for a short time, I feel it’s going to be that much more impactful when I yank the rug out from under him.  How can he truly experience sadness if he didn’t know what happiness was?

Bottom Line:

If someone you respect is telling you a writing rule, you need to consider it.  Do not, however, follow blindly.  Seek understanding of the rule and make your own decision.


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