There Are No Rules

Every workplace and country has laws or rules to help maintain organization and create clear paths that dictate how the societies or companies run. This produces efficiency. With a novel however, there are no such laws. I’ve done some research. And I’m proud to break some molds for you, if there were any.

As you construct your novel, I suggest you write what you wish to write and adhere to the three simple rules listed by W. Somerset Maugham below:

 There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are -W. Somerset Maugham

What do I mean by this? Certainly I am not saying to merely write as you please? Yes I am. And does this mean I am suggesting you disobey all grammatical rules? No, I am not.

Novels have always been about voice. What do I mean by that? Simply think of your favorite books or writers. Are they your favorite because of the topic they write about or what the novel entails? Sure. Are they also your favorite because of the style they employ? Most certainly. Charles Dickens still appeals to millions for that reason.

So what are some of the rules you may destroy? Let me list my three rules to dispose or employ at your will, but not without some reflection.

Exclamation points – Have at them! Some writers or experts might shun them and say they are childish and don’t belong in a professional manuscript. A work containing such nonsense could not possibly be considered literature. Really? Again, think about Dickens and in particular Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield. She exclaimed all of the time. Albeit if all of the characters needed exclamation points it would be horrible. So, yes you can use them. Why? because Tolkien, Lewis, Rowling, Dickens, Bradbury, etc, do. Just be careful you don’t overuse them. Be sure they are there because they must be. Meaning, they fit the character, the scene, the point of the story.  In the end it is the publisher’s formatting you have to adhere to, not some pretend writer with a blog or hack literary novelist.

Adverbs – WHAT! Yes. Calm down, calm down. I didn’t insult the literary masters of the past. Did you read the quote above? Seriously (pun intended). There are times when I am supremely annoyed when reading a book where every piece of dialogue ends with sardonically, seriously, intentionally, hurriedly. There are ways to omit adverbs. But think about it. How many novels have you read where the character said something charismatically? I believe (and don’t take my word for it, pull some books off of the shelf and see for yourself, they’re in there) that as wordsmiths, they are okay to use. Sort of like the note above regarding exclamation points – moderation is best. You are welcome to use them. Is there an uncanny way of utilizing this rudimentary tool of vocabulary? No, there is not.

Qualifiers – These little devils are often overused. Here are the most common qualifiers in English (though some of these words have other functions as well): very, quite, rather, somewhat, more, most, less, least, too, so, just, enough, indeed, still, almost, fairly, really, pretty, even, a bit, a little, a (whole) lot, a good deal, a great deal, kind of, sort of. Most of these need to be removed in your manuscript, however there are times when they can provide clarity when multiple characters are involved in conversation. Again, these are everywhere in literature, so if used please be sure to do so in moderation.

Obviously I am a novice writer so I am sure there might be cries and objections in the comment section below. However, I would recommend that before you take a rule to heart from a so called authority or critic, go to the text. Review your favorite novels and novelists and see if and how they employ these devices. Survey works in the particular genre you are writing and see how they are used in today’s novels. Does the rule still apply?

Write well and write free my friends.



4 thoughts on “There Are No Rules

  1. Julie Catherine

    Awesome post, Bob! Thank you for sharing this wisdom with us – and may I add that in novel writing, as in poetry writing – you need to know what the rules are; then learn how, when and where you can break them to make your writing more effective! (Hehehe, I used an exclamation point!) 🙂

    1. Julie,
      I agree. More often than not I heed to the rules and edit out the three things listed above. But sometimes you have to go with what the character gives you and where the story leads!

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