Writing Advice

Three Rules You Can Break When Writing Fiction

Yup. You read the title right. Today is a day of rebellion. We will smash the plaques Umbridge hangs on the walls of Hogwarts, so to speak. For those of you who didn’t get that reference, we are mentally removing rules that don’t need to be there.

Now, this doesn’t mean all rules are okay to break. Just like the Weasley Twins helped to shatter Umbridge’s decrees she hung around Hogwarts in Harry Potter, we are breaking rules that are not necessary. Also, some of these rules can only be broken in certain situations. Ones that, if you break them, will help improve your writing. And hopefully, move you an inch closer to being published.

Rule: Perfect Grammar At All Times.

HA. Here is a rule that I break often, and here’s why; unless your character is a British Scholar or something of the same caliber, they will not have perfect grammar.

Now, this doesn’t always work. If you are writing in third person, grammar is important. If you, however, write in first person, the level of grammar you use will depend on the character. A thirteen year old rebel with neon green hair, pitch black make-up, and a dozen piercings will not have perfect grammar… unless that is a character trait you decide for her. So, it is up to you.

Rule: Complete Sentences. “Always.”

Double HA. I don’t remember the last time I wrote a chapter without a handful of these minimum. Always writing in complete sentences is fine… but you can add a bit of spark to your writing if you don’t always. Here’s an example:

Nothing around me moves. Nothing. Not a bird, not a petal falls of the cherry blossoms overhead… nothing. Nothing moves. It’s almost like nothing exists. I stand in the almost nothingness, enjoying the quiet that comes with it. I am alone.

Did you see how using incomplete sentences added a little spice? Just that extra little bit of subtle wordplay that makes the piece more interesting. Actually, varying sentence length helps the flow of your piece. Some of the best lines in fictional history are incomplete sentences. Here’s a few, just from the Harry Potter series (sticking to a theme here, just so many good examples, with the incomplete sentences in italics:

  • Always.” (Severus Snape, from Harry Potter)
  • Mischef managed” (multiple people).
  • I am with you.” (Dumbledore)
  • “No note? Car gone?” (Molly Weasley)

These are some of the most iconic incomplete sentences in Harry Potter history. Click here for more examples from Harry Potter. Of course, since her writing is always in third person, the only place incomplete sentences can usually be found is via dialogue. I suggest reading the works of Holly Black or Rick Riordian to find them otherwise; I’ve seen both authors use them, especially Riordian, for a dramatic (or sometimes humorous) effect.

Rule: No Dialects

Seriously? Do they expect our books to only have unaccented, totally fluent English speakers? Will there be no Irish (by that I mean the MANY different types of Irish accents), no British (see previous parentheses), no Southern American accents?

A lot of writers fall to this trap. They decide to eliminate dialects… because it is so easy to over-do them. Here’s an example of proper dialect, of a Posh British accent (there are many different types and if your character is British, it would be wise to study them):

“Well, if it isn’ the Doctor?” I mused, fiddling with the hole in my jeans. “Why don’t ya come over and visit us again? For ol’ times sake?”

Yes, that was my pitiful fan-fiction. Moving on.

Posh accents, as well as many other types of British accent, are known for dropping the letter ‘T’ in a lot of words. Turn on your favorite British television show *cough* Sherlock *cough* Doctor Who *cough*, and listen. It isn’t “Can’t” and “Can‘”. Or even sometimes “Cahn’t“, depending on how it’s pronounced, although spelling isn’t a rule you can break in writing.

And there you have it.

I have you three rules to break. Now go. Break them. Smash the glass of Umbridge’s decrees and get writing. You’ll thank me later.

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