Breaking the Rules


Welcome back to another blog hop, with #OpenBook. Here’s this week’s prompt.


What generic ‘rules’ did you abide by when you started writing that have gone out the window?


Being self-taught, I never really had any rules to follow. Grammar was always a mystery to me. In many ways, it still is. As for the conventions of writing fiction, whatever they might be, I have no idea.

I’ve probably broken all the rules that I never knew existed. I’ve always written down what I see in my head. I leave it up to my long-suffering editor to sort it all out and make sense of the technicalities.

The fact that I go into my writing space with no preconceptions means that I’m free to express myself however I want. I can just listen to the voices in my head and concentrate on getting it all down, without worrying that I might be breaking some hallowed rule. I don’t have to keep one ear open for the screech of brakes and the pounding on my door from the grammar police, or the plot patrol. Or even the Association for the Abolition of the Aberrant Apostrophe (thank you to the wonderful Keith Waterhouse for that one).


I simply try to write what I think people would like to read, a story with interest and one that’s relatable to their lives, experiences and aspirations. Even though it might be set in the future or an alternative now.  My style is based on the sort of books that I enjoy reading. From Sci-fi by the masters to modern action adventures and most other genres in between.

I don’t have to worry about offending anyone with my content. There’s minimal explicit sex and gory violence in my work, largely because I don’t think you need it to get your point across. Which is not to say that there isn’t emotion, passion, action and violent death. I prefer to suggest what’s going on and leave it up to you to make it as graphic as you want in your imagination. A bit like the movies of Alfred Hitchcock. I think that doing it that way means that no part of the potential audience is ruled out.


Returning to the subject.

So what if I don’t conform to the rules? For a start, as far as I’m concerned, anything enclosed in quotation marks is exempt from any rules of grammar or form. The rest is open to debate. English might be the language of Shakespeare but a person from those times would struggle to understand my ramblings in what is nominally the same tongue. Because it changes, the language, the usage and even the wordage.

Every day.


Do the self-proclaimed guardians of literary purity allow for this evolution, or is their guidance set in stone? After all, Americans, Canadians and Australians (other English speaking countries are available) all speak different versions of the same language, with unfamiliar words and constructions to each other.


When I write the words of a man from the fifty-second century (or whenever), I write them in today’s language, for your benefit. Should my work survive to meet his ilk, they will need an army of historians to work out what I was on about.




Let me know what you think about this week’s subject.

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17 Responses

  1. Stevie Turner

    Like you I didn’t know what the rules were, so I just wrote. Agents are very quick to tell you what they are though! I’ve learned more about writing in the last 7 years than I ever did at school.

    • Richard Dee

      I’ve never had the pleasure of a reply from an agent. That hasn’t stopped me, I listen to my editor and beta readers, taking note of what they suggest.

  2. Gilbert M. Stack

    The greatest benefit to self-publishing is that the gate keepers (your rule dictators) who have been telling everyone for centuries what people want to read have lost their strangle hold on the industry. And guess what? It turns out that they were wrong and that millions of books that would have never seen the light of day under the old system are attracting thousands of readers and doing just fine. Many of those self-published books are finding larger audiences than many of those published by the old gate keepers. So keep writing and sharing, Richard, because people want to read what you’re composing.

    • Richard Dee

      Thank you for commenting Gil. You’re quite right. I’d much rather give my readers a chance to decide for themselves what they like.

  3. Lela Markham

    I started writing fiction when I was 12 and I don’t consciously remember knowing any rules, although I certainly learned a bunch of rules over the next decade. I don’t really think about rules when I write the draft. I’m just trying to write down the story my character is telling and to do it in an entertaining way. When I self-edit, I do consider rules. My editing budget is tight, so I need to give her as clean a document as I can manage. She charges by the markup. She’s learned not to mess with my dialogue and we have a system of flagging for when I do something “wrong” deliberately.

    • Richard Dee

      My editor is wonderful, I try to help as much as I can. She understands my style and will always ask me before changing anything, while offering an alternative way of saying what I’ve mangled.

  4. Debra Purdy Kong

    I’ve taken workshops, courses, and attended numerous conferences over the years, and I’ve found that the rules often conflict with one another. A classic example is to only use ‘said’ in dialogues tags, while others suggest we use anything but said. The rule I broke is to write what you know. I don’t have to kill someone to describe pain, shock, or horror. I’ve also have books on my shelf describing what a body might look like after strangulation, or a certain type of poisoning. For me, research is key.

    • Richard Dee

      I agree, even researching the future. I try to make sure that everything sounds possible in my Sci-fi worlds. That means a lot of work to base it all in proven fact. I think it’s so important that I wrote a book about it.

  5. P.J. MacLayne

    The rules change all the time. Mostly when you aren’t watching. Especially in dialogue. I like your rule about dialogue being exempt from the rules!

    • Richard Dee

      It’s like “everything you say before but doesn’t count” for writers. 🙂

  6. Marsha

    I thought I knew the rules because I taught writing in elementary grades, then later to teachers. The rules for writing are many and take time to learn. You can break them, but at your own peril, I think.

  7. Roberta Eaton Cheadle

    Language definitely evolves, Richard, and Shakespeare is a testament to that as he added over 1 500 words and 900 phrases to English. Interestingly enough, I don’t focus much on punctuation and that sort of thing while reading. I doubt I would even notice the odd error. Bad grammar, on the other hand, I don’t like in general writing. As you have said, dialogue is different and is written in keeping with the characters.

  8. phil huston

    All is exempt at any given moment. Consider playing the “wrong” chord, followed by everyone else playing through it because you can’t stop for a clam in a performance. And was it really a clam? Slop is another issue and resides outside the rules of construct. Slop is the inexcusable failure to get from point a to point b. I think, Robbie said the same under the radar. Who knows if Shakespeare or Hemingway made a mistake? The stories WORKED. Had they been told in slop? We wouldn’t know their names. Play with form all you want, as outside as you want, so long as it’s proficient. If nobody knew Picasso could paint by the rules they’d have dismissed him as incompetent. I try to avoid saying on people I went an took me a class so as to speak an write more gooder. I basically shown it off an wrote funner than betterer.

    • Richard Dee

      When I saw a great band live, were there any bum notes? And what if there were? It’s a live show and that means there are no Mulligans. The same with characters, when they’re being chased, shot at and generally being part of the action, are their words in BBC English? If they have time to enunciate, you’re not throwing enough s**t at them. If a mistake is repeated enough, it might become your heroes catchphrase, it will be in Merriam-Webster in due course.

      • phil huston

        There’s an old musician saying about if you feel like you really reached for and hit a “wrong ‘un” then do it again so people’ll think you knew what you were doing.

  9. Amy Miller

    I’m not for stressing about the rules, and a good story will mean more to me than rules any old day. I like that you’ve taught yourself. It’s part of your story and makes you who you are as an author.

    • Richard Dee

      I’d hate to lose my style because it didn’t suit my editor. Fortunately, we have a deal. And in this case, ignorance is truly bliss.

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