Happy Friday, Casey Wyatt here!
Stop me if you’ve heard these before…
- Write every day (variation, butt in chair, hands on keyboard).
- Adverbs are evil and should be nuked on sight.
- Show, don’t tell.
- Indie published writers have given up because they couldn’t sell their work to a “real” publisher.
And there are plenty more. If you’re a writer who’s serious about the craft, then of course you’ve heard all these maxims.
By definition a maxim is “a rule of conduct or a statement of general truth” (Webster’s New World Dictionary). The implication – this is the only correct way to do it. These laws are universal truth and must never be broken or challenged. Ever.
Well, I’m here to tell you a little secret. Lean in closer so I can whisper it in your ear. The rules can be broken – judiciously. See, there’s an adverb and I didn’t burst into flames as I typed it.
There are good, solid reasons for these rules. Three out of the four are true – to a point. And one of these maxims is flat out wrong. I’m sure you know which one I mean. Let’s address them, shall we?
1. Write every day. We tell ourselves this so we don’t get lazy. And because if you don’t write, you won’t have a manuscript to sell. In real life, this is an admirable goal and we should strive toward it. I know I do. This is also a mental trap that goes something like this – I didn’t write today, so I failed as a writer. Um…no. We all have times in our life where other priorities come into play. To beat yourself up is counterproductive. And to write engaging stories, you need to leave your house and live life once in a while. Plus, it’s okay to give the gray matter an occasional break. If you must accomplish something every day, then draft ideas for your next story or learn more about writing.
2. Adverbs are evil. Yes. Do not use empty adverbs. What’s an empty adverb? Words like actually, totally, finally, hopefully and all their ilk. Avoid tacking on needless adverbs to the end of every dialouge tag or using them to prop up weak verbs. When you complete your draft, scan it using word search and nix the vast majority of them. Adverbs, when paired correctly with the right verb are okay. So, if you’re going to use an adverb make it count.
3. Show, don’t tell. Again, true most of the time. Telling results in lifeless, flat scenes that no one wants to read. On the other hand, each action should not read like a how-to manual. For the sake of pacing, telling can be more appropriate. It’s okay to tell us your character answered the phone. Or walked to the car. You do not need to list the precise body movements involved in these actions, unless there is some plot related reason to do so. Think like a reader and consider all the “boring stuff” you pass over to get to the “good parts”.
4. Indie published writers, blah, blah. I can’t even finish repeating this one. This maxim is complete balderdash. It ranks up there with the Flat Earth Theory. Publishing is evolving and the old rules don’t apply anymore. All writers, published and unpublished, should consider both options. We have more choices available to us than ever before. We can reach readers in new and exciting ways. Do not believe or listen to this one.
Here is one maxim that is true – if you build it, they will come. Write the best story you can, professionally present it, and your readers will appreciate it.
What other rules have you heard and how do you like to challenge them?