Throw Out all Your Writing Books


Okay maybe not actually throw them out but a lot of people seem to miss the point of creative writing. They turn it into a competition, with charts and graphs as if it’s Mathematical all of which is (at least for me) bad for creativity.

Creative writing is about creativity, imagination and storytelling. It’s about imagining what’s possible and telling tales through characters.

Here’s some rules that I don’t actually always agree with. Most of them I would say I think that they are blanket statements and don’t consider exceptions:

1. Show don’t tell.

It’s a very confusing rule because most stories have showing and telling. Too much telling can be overkill but sometimes it has a place.

2. Never use modifiers.

Could you kindly rephrase that? In the UK we actually tend to call them more specifically adjectives and adverbs rather than modifiers.

3. Write as clearly and plainly as possible. 

I see a lot of writing tools, including online writing help/spell checkers that concludes that some phrases are ‘too complex’. Maybe. Maybe not. Some of the phrases listed as complicated or complex are actually simple, everyday phrases. Should we oversimplify everything and never use any beautiful description with longer words. Should we just try not to use complex metaphors? I like quite stark writing on the whole but what’s wrong with a little complexity?

4. No double negatives.

Why not? Who says? Ought I not to never use a double negative?

5. Don’t split infinitives.

Again. Why not? To go boldly sounds far worse than to boldy go.

6. Never use the passive voice.

As a British person and someone who is generally pretty polite you may notice than I’m very fond of the passive voice. There’s a reason for that. It’s reflects my own natural way of expressing myself. I don’t write completely how I talk but I write how I think and I think in greys and uncertainty and multiple possibilities. Nothing is certain or fixed in my mind and so I rarely tend to write with a high degree of certainty or confidence. That’s just me so I’m not going to change that.

7. Always use ‘proper English’.

This is a real political perspective that is one side of a debate known often as ‘descriptivism’ vs prescriptivism’ in Linguistics. One side perceives ‘proper English’ as superior to other forms of English while the other argues that language is diverse, varied and that there is a class biased on the notion of ‘proper English’. I see this kind of bias with my Northern English accent that has also been influenced by my Scottish family members. My accent, grammar, speech patterns are not like the ‘Queen’s English’ because I am in a different geographical area and different class background. Does that mean that it’s wrong? Why does RP get superiority over my natural linguistic heritage.

I think that you can guess where I stand on the debate and why I feel that way.

The other problem with this statement is that it limits your creativity. What if Roald Dahl hadn’t used those neologisms? What about all the beautiful variations in the English language.

8. Write what you know?

To some extent but you can write about dragons without having seen a dragon (just ask George R.R. Martin and Tolkein). You can argue that you are always writing what you know because everything comes from your schema of knowledge and your experiences of the world but don’t worry too much about this rule.

All of these rules can be helpful but they are not so much rules as they are advice and as with all advice it might not work for you so don’t focus too much on writing rules and focus on creating your stories.

What writing rules do you disagree? How do you feel about the use of rules or writing tools?

Related Links

https://stancarey.wordpress.com/2010/02/16/descriptivism-vs-prescriptivism-war-is-over-if-you-want-it/

http://www.getspokal.com/10-grammar-rules-you-can-break-when-writing-for-the-web/

http://www.betternovelproject.com/blog/break-writing-rules/

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2 thoughts on “Throw Out all Your Writing Books

  1. Pingback: Stuck in a rut, maybe you have let those rules tie down your creativity | The wonderful world of Primal

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