Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Writing Rulebook

post by Betsy Schow

I've decide to publish The Writing Rulebook (according to Betsy).

Problem: It's only one page. Hard to get a publisher interested in one measly page, even if it's gold plated wisdom.

Correction: It's actually only one rule.

Are you ready? Take notes ...(not really)


That is the sole purpose of a book. To entertain or otherwise fulfill the reader.

Genius, I know right?

Some writers (whistles and looks away) at times get caught up in the rules. How long a chapter should be. How many pages in a book. Show not tell, except when you show too much and the reader gets bored. Dialogue tags. Whether or not you can actually speak to the reader. Changing tenses. I could go on...

However, we all know of a great book that captured our hearts and broke at least one of these engraved rules. How come that author can get away with it? Easy, the book still entertained.

Think about it. If a book is poorly thought out, sloppy in grammar, and a million other things -- what is the end result? The reader is not entertained.

Similarly, a book can be nearly flawless from a textbook approach to writing: poetic imagery, action verbs, showing the world... but if the reader still gets bored -- wah wah -- the book's purpose is not met.

Recently, my fingers refused to type another sentence from fear of doing it wrong. My laptop very nearly got chucked into the blender to make alphabet soup. I trapped myself, having to get every rule just right, or my book would suck. So I researched, and googled, and asked experts. I worked so hard on following the rules, that I lost what made the book mine to begin with. The voice.

Admittedly, I got rather obsessed and tried to find and replace every "to be" verb (was, were, are, is). I pushed to make each chapter 9-10 pages long, even if the scene lagged because of it.
Finally, I decided to look at the "rules".

Nearly every one of them had some sort of exception attached (vague of course). When to use or break the rules all depended on (say it with me) what made the book more entertaining.

In the boldest fashion of rule breaking, I'm writing the introduction to my Writing Rulebook here at the end.

Learn your craft. Soak up every bit that you can from books and authors that entertain you. Figure out what works and what doesn't. Then throw out any preconceived notion of what your book NEEDS to look or sound like. Use the tools you've collected in your Writer's shed in whatever way works for you and follow the only important rule.


Feel free to discuss a rule you break with panache (great word) or a book that gets it right by being wrong.


  1. Betsy, you are my hero. This is genius. Thank you.

  2. so true! There is so much to learn in writing that is good and correct, but in the end, you want people to read your stuff. And they won't if they don't like it - if it doesn't hold their interest. A mentor once told me years ago - your are the author of your work, so therefore you are the "author"ity of your work. You have to be genuine. Off sides, the "Fifty Shades" books....SO popular, although not particularly well-written. Apparently, that's how society wants to be entertained. A bit sad, in my view,



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