Breaking the Rules Can Cost You

All you rule-breakers out there, listen up. You’ve probably heard it’s okay to break the rules of writing as long as you understand you’re breaking them. That can be true. However, too many writers who are attempting to do this haven’t convinced me they actually know what they’re doing. For one thing, this exception to the rule is to be used sparingly. It doesn’t mean you can continue to break the same rule over and over again in your book. Break it only when necessary. Otherwise, how is the reader supposed to know you’re consciously making this mistake?

Ask yourself a few questions. Why do you feel it’s necessary to ignore the rule? Are you acting like a rebel? Do you not quite understand the rule and because of that are deciding to break it? Is your story stronger when you ignore the rule or when you follow it, and why?

“What difference does it make? I’m the writer. I should be able to create my story the way I want to write it.” That’s fine if you’re okay with possibly not selling that story. If you want to publish through a traditional publisher, you should consider editors’ expectations because breaking the rules can cost you. How you handle rules in this industry will affect your credibility as a writer. If not done correctly or for the right reasons, rule breaking will diminish the reader’s trust in your ability to tell a story. And the last thing you want is to have an agent or editor believe you’re an amateur.

“But bestselling authors break rules all the time and they’re making beaucoup bucks.” This is true. You can ignore all the rules you want when you’re a bestselling author. However, in order to get to that position, you need to prove yourself and your ability. You have to create a readership based on your skills, not your name. After that, what you do is between you and your publisher (unless you’re self-publishing.)

What kind of rules have you broken? Did you do this purposely? What rules have published authors ignored? Does it bother you to read a book where the author has broken rules you try so hard to follow?

Lynnette Labelle

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3 Responses to Breaking the Rules Can Cost You

  1. I’ve only been writing for a little over a year, and self-published my earlier unedited works. I’m slowly (very slowly) going through and rewriting all of them. Don’t worry – this ties into your post. After I joined a crit group, I learned where I needed to improve in my writing. Since I have no plans (yet) to publish traditionally, I’m a little confused by your post. What rules are in this industry? Not to sound obtuse or anything, but I didn’t realize there were rules to how a writer writes. If it’s not too tedious or time consuming or irritating for you, would be able to explain a little more? Thank you.

  2. Lynnette Labelle says:


    There are too many rules for me to go through, but I’ll give you a few examples. It’s very possible your critique group has talked about some of them without stating they’re rules. Show, don’t tell; cut the melodrama; hook the reader; have conflict on every page; GMCs (goals, motivations, conflicts) should be obvious within the first few pages; start at the inciting incident, etc… It’s very important for you to learn the craft of writing and its rules if you’re looking at having your book traditionally published. Take some writing classes or read some “how to write” books. Good luck!

    Lynnette Labelle

  3. I see! Yes, some rules have been addressed by my crit group. I do struggle with a lot of them but am learning through experience, sites like yours and books. Makes sense though. Thank you!

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