How to Use Rules

There is only one ironclad rule in writing: You can do anything you want as long as it works.

However, there are a ton of rules that serve to guide your writing journey. In this post, I listed why I think you’re better off following them than not. I also wrote that a strategy for implementing them is probably a good idea.

That strategy is today’s topic.

Step 1 – Just follow the darn rules.

Show, don’t tell. Avoid adverbs. Be active.

Find a bromide and use it.

You’ll question the effectiveness. You’ll shout, “Why?” and “My way is better!” The truth is that learning to apply the rules will make your writing better, and make it better fast. It’s amazing the difference just a little cleanup of technique will make for you.

Seeing those instant results, and getting much better feedback when you post, provides a lot of motivation to continue your journey.

Step 2 – Seek to understand the rules.

If you want to master the craft, it’s not enough to simply show instead of tell. The fact is that there are times when your best bet is to tell. You have to know when that is.

There’s no help for it but to learn. Understand what showing accomplishes and what telling accomplishes. Understand what the goal for your writing is. If you put all that understanding together, you should be able to discern when to use which technique.

Step 3 – Experiment.

First, deliberately break the rules trying to achieve a certain effect. Second, massage the writing until you think it works. Finally, get feedback from your beta-readers.

You’re trying to develop your ear and your discernment. If you get wide-spread agreement, fantastic. Move one to the next step. If not, go back and try again.

Step 4 – Mastery.

Once you can break a rule and achieve the result you wanted to the satisfaction of your beta readers and your editor, you’ve mastered the rule. Congratulations!

Just a couple of points to remember:

1. It’s almost always a really bad thing if you’re breaking a rule unintentionally. Rule breaking is something that should be done with malice aforethought.
2. Until you’ve mastered the rule, you are absolutely the worst person on the planet who can determine if what you have written works.


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