Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.
QUESTION: There are so many rules about writing, some more useful than others, some more universal than others. What’s your least favorite writing rule – the one that you think should be broken?
Jamie Wallace: As a lover of all kinds of speculative fiction, I am not a fan of the oft-quoted writing rule to “write what you know.” I love reading stories that create previously unknown worlds filled with unique characters, landscapes, cultures, and possibilities. And, as a writer, I love the creative challenges of coming up with entire new worlds or realities.
I recently read a post (I wish I could remember where, but the details have slipped away from me) in which the author pointed out that even when we are writing about fantastical characters, settings, and plots, we are still – in a way – writing what we know by incorporating universal themes and emotions. So, basically, even when we’re writing about a story that takes place in a galaxy far, far away or a land from long ago filled with dragons and faeries, we are still writing about the experiences we know – the longings, heartbreaks, challenges, triumphs, joys, fears, and everything else that’s part of being human. Bringing in those elements that we “know” is what makes the really great speculative fiction seem as real and alive and true as our own lives.
Diane MacKinnon: “You have to know the rules before you can break the rules;” that’s the one that’s stopped me in my tracks many times over the years. I didn’t major in English in college, I don’t write for a living, so I must not know the rules of writing well enough yet. I need to read about writing more before I can write, I need to take a class, or listen to a podcast, or something else that’s not actually writing. In the last few years I’ve ignored this rule more and I’ve gotten more writing done. I don’t need to study writing–I need to write! So I do. Later, as needed, I can look things up, show my work to my critique group, and/or hire an editor. For now, getting it down is what’s most important to me.
I live by what W. Somerset Maugham observed: There are only three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. I’ve found that these three rules are different for each novel.
Lisa J. Jackson: I like Deborah’s response. I’ve seen that saying in memes on Facebook quite often. Two writing rules jump to mind when I read this question – the first is to avoid starting a sentence with a conjunction. But I find it to be the rule I break the most. The other is to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition. Sometimes it’s fun to break the rules we speak of.