Saturday, February 23, 2013

Rules, Rules, and... More Rules?

Photo courtesy of wallyir of
I’ve been keeping track of the “rules” of writing as shared in various places online where I lurk or participate. Interestingly, more often than not (much to my dismay), these “rules” are applied in sweeping, legalistic, and extreme fashion. Guidelines intended to strengthen writing by LIMITING certain words and phrases are shoved down people’s throats as something entirely different. And just to make it all the more fun, the rules seem to change, without warning.

Until I learned to put these "rules" in their proper place and perspective, they felt like an ever-tightening chain that became heavier every day, threatening to snuff the life right out of my writing.

Here are some of the ones I’ve seen pushed using the extreme application I so often see:

  1. No adverbs. (This appears to be many people’s favorite witch-hunt. Adverbs are apparently truly evil, doncha know? - And, yes, I did that double-adverb on purpose. *G*)
  2. No -ing words. (Regardless of the fact that some NOUNS and ADJECTIVES are very valuable -ing words.)
  3. No -ed words. (Yep, I’ve run into that one, too, believe it or not! Just try to write in past tense without them. I dare you.)
  4. No dialogue tags (he said, she said, and any variations on "said" that you can think of). (Use beats only.)
  5. Don’t use a name to start a paragraph. (You don’t want to start every paragraph with a name, but come on!)
  6. No weasel words - just, as, seem, was, that, were, to be, really, often, usually, like, well, might, very, rather, began, started, some, suddenly, immediately, decided, wondered, thought, once, some, most, many, a lot, a few, more, a little, a bit, nearly, almost, quite, rather, anyway, even, knew, felt, would/could/should, up/down/back, is, are, had, have been - to name but a few (he he). There are more and the list is ever-growing as people decide one word or another is evil - depends on the source you check.
  7. Don’t start a sentence with or, and, or but. And to go along with THAT rule...
  8. Use only complete, grammatically correct sentences, no fragments.
  9. No italics.
  10. Show, don't tell. (Regardless of which works best for a given spot? Please. Sometimes, telling is a good thing. Sometimes, it's not.)
  11. Never begin two or more sentences in a row with the same word or phrase.

Amazingly enough, I’ve also seen “no adjectives” pop up a time or two. What’s to be deemed evil next? Nouns? Pronouns? *sigh*

The only place any of these rules can (usually) be broken is in dialogue. (I say “usually” because I’ve even run up against the occasional individual who insists breaking some of these rules makes for “weak” dialogue, too.) The only exception being the use of “alright” in lieu of “all right”. The former is NEVER acceptable, even in dialogue, and just might get you shot. Well, maybe not anything that extreme (at least not that I’ve heard about so far), but it may get you declared a hack amateur by those who fret over such things. Apparently, it doesn’t matter how widely accepted it is, even by some publishers or dictionaries, there are some who just hold a disdain for this word. Some authors avoid criticism simply by never using either "alright" or "all right", period. People fret over the oddest things sometimes.

Anyway, here’s a writing exercise for those of you who are off-center like me. Take a scene you’ve written (copy to a new document, of course - do NOT use your original) and apply all of these rules as strictly as they are often pushed. See what you end up with.

If you are REALLY whacked and LOVE a challenge, try it with an entire chapter.  he he 

Am I saying we should blow off the “rules”? No. You DO need to know the “rules” of writing. They can help you write stronger and better. BUT keep them in proper perspective and apply them with common sense, reason, and balance. Recognize that they are guidelines, not absolute rules never to be broken lest you be burned at the stake, or at least blackballed by the entire publishing industry.

Don't let the "rules" snuff the life out of your writing, or your JOY in writing. Throw off the chains of writing-rules-legalism and write to your heart's content!

Photo courtesy of matthew_hull @

So, what about YOU? Have you ever found yourself stifled by any of the above rules being shoved down your throat in their extreme forms? Have you been confronted with "rules" that aren't listed above? If so, please share!

BTW - to see the winner of the free autographed copy of my latest book, PROMISES, check out the comments on the Home blog post.

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Photo courtesy of
taliesin of
For me, "home" isn't necessarily about a location, though it's nice to have roots. Home is the people. Maybe this is a result of the fact we moved so much when I was a kid. My family was the only stable thing in my life during those years. No matter where I was or for how long or short a time, my family was there.

For my novel Promises, releasing this month, the main character is seeking a place to which she can belong, though she doesn't really know what that's supposed to look like. Having lost her parents at a young age, then spending years bounced around in foster care, adopted by a wonderful man then losing him too soon, Terry has had a lot of upheaval in her life. No roots. No peace. No security for more than a moment in time. Not allowing herself to get too close to people.

And when she did have a place to belong with people who loved her, she didn't recognize it as home and left it behind. At the deepest root of her discontent is the lack of a relationship with the Lord who created her. She walked away from Him in her teens, believing He had abandoned her just when she needed Him most. That affects the relationships she has with others.

In so many ways, Terry's search for "home" is rather reminiscent of how we all are. How often do we seek something, only to not recognize it when it comes our way because it doesn't necessarily look or feel the way we expect it to? So we abandon or reject it and move on, continuing on lost and discontent. How often is that thing we truly need the God who loves us and can make us whole? Thankfully, we're often brought full-circle back to what we overlooked. We can only hope we recognize it the second time around.

For a chance to win a copy of my new novel, Promises , leave a comment sharing what the word "home" means to you. Be sure to include a current e-mail address in case you win! The winner will have the choice of either an e-book (of whatever format you'd like from Smashwords) or an autographed paperback copy (either standard or large print). Entries will be accepted until my next blog post at 8:00 am Arizona time, Saturday, February 23, 2013. Entries will be numbered and the winner chosen by

If you'd like a chance to win other great prizes from some of my fellow writers, check out the links below for the Candle Light Reads "Home Is Where The Heart Is Hop"! This contest runs from the 15th-18th.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Large Print, Anyone?

I've noticed something that struck me as odd. Many, if not most, authors don't put out books in large print for those who are visually impaired. I realize many people are using e-readers, which allow control over text size. But I also realize I'm not the only reader who prefers a "real" book in my hands, and I have to wonder how many authors are missing out on readership because their books aren't available in large print format as well as standard fonts.

I recognize that traditionally published authors don't necessarily have a say in what formats their books are produced, but we indies DO. Advice I received recently during a seminar on self-publishing stated it simplest - get your books out there in as many formats and to as many venues as you can. Better to sell more copies.

I'm making my books available in both standard and large print paperback. I use Times New Roman-12 pt for my standard format paperback books (also makes it easier to format for e-books), using 6x9 size trade paperbacks. For large print, I use Times New Roman-16 pt. My novella was fine in the same size paperback with Times New Roman-16, but novels get monstrously thick, so I use 7x10 size paperbacks for large print books.

If you use a print-on-demand venue such as Create Space, it doesn't cost you anything but the time needed to change format/font to make your book available in both standard and large print. So why not do it and make your book available to even more people?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Should I or Shouldn't I?

Photo courtesy of kconnors @
I often get asked the question "Should I self-publish? Or should I go the traditional route?" Usually it's accompanied by a great deal of confusion.

Unfortunately, neither I nor anyone else can answer that question for a fellow author. Those of us who have done either can answer questions about those areas of publishing and help navigate those waters, but we can't tell someone which way THEY should go.

My advice to those who aren't sure which direction to go? PRAY. The Lord knows exactly which route He desires you to take with each novel, novella, short story, or non-fiction He leads you to produce. If you take these decisions to Him in prayer, He WILL show you how He wants you to handle things.

God has certainly proven Himself faithful that way in my life, but we must be willing to submit our work to His will.

This means more than just what publisher or agent to approach. It can also mean:
  1. Finding the right critique partners and/or editors to help polish your work prior to sending out proposals.
  2. Finding the right cover designer if you're self-publishing (unless you're doing it yourself).
  3. Getting connected with the right influencers.
  4. Figuring out the best marketing strategies for yourself and your work (something you'll be doing no matter what route you take).
God knows where to go, and He knows what He desires for you to learn along the way. And He may desire you to go one way with one piece of work and the other with another. Lean on His wisdom and direction.

Just be aware! Sometimes the Lord will lead you in a direction you don't expect, and quite possibly outside your comfort zone. It can be a wild and scary ride, but enjoy it!

Have you already taken a step in one direction or the other? If so, what advice do you have to someone who is confused about the options? If not, what is stopping you from moving forward?