Urgh. If there is one thing a language teacher or creative writing coach loves to throw about, more than a reference to their own book, it is writing rules. They bang on and on about them and because writer’s want to be the best they can they cling onto them like they have one hand on the Holy Grail.
It’s hard to say exactly why we cling onto these rules, but it probably has something to do with the fact creative writing is chaotic. It just is. It’s creative and that means it is almost anarchic by nature or, at the very least, slippery. So the chance to follow rules makes us believe that there are some guidelines to help us reach the heights we so desperately want to reach. Almost as if there is a walkthrough guide that will help us know we’re heading in the right direction.
But some rules are more important than others. Actually, to be more specific, some rules are important than these rules:
Rule #1: Always Show, Never Tell
This rule is fed to writers like popcorn that is about to go out of date. Writers just get told over and over and over again that they should always show a reader what happens and not just tell them, but when you boil this down to its true meaning, it is a totally useless rule that is subjective. Some of the best books we have ever read are books that have told us about events, and these aren’t just books that are the exceptions to the rule. It is all about balance. Too much showing runs the risk of overloading a book with prose and adjectives and that runs the risk of convoluting the story. Sometimes it is just better off dealing with a scene, or an event, or a twist of fate in nothing more than a few chapters. It is all about what feels right to you, which requires you to read what you write back and decide on the flow.
Rule #2: Never Use A Passive Voice
You may have a small echo at the back of your head right about now as you try and remember back to your high school days and you teacher reinforcing the passive rule at every chance, along with the use of however in a sentence and all of that. Yes, using a passive voice can cause problems in some situations, but it can be a great thing to use in others. For example, an author may well want to use a passive voice to obscure who it is that is doing the actions, and why. It is a great way to add a little bit of mystery, some intrigue, and suspense. So, yeah, using a passive voice doesn’t automatically make it synonymous with problems, it is just about using it wisely.
Rule #3: Only Write What You Know
For most people writing is an escape. It is a chance to use the incredible imagination we were gifted at birth and nurtured as a young adult. Sure, there are some people who have climbed Everest with just a parrot for a sherpa and people who have discovered Atlantis while looking for the lost treasure of HMS Whatever, and for these people it is fine. They get to write what they know. But for everyone else, well, we need another approach, and that is to write about what interests us. That’s the key to success. To be interested in our own work. That’s what most authors and writers do. Put it this way, L. Frank Baum didn’t take a quick vacation to Oz and study all those flying monkeys before writing The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz.