The Guardian has an interesting article listing ten rules for writing fiction from Elmore Leonard and various other important authors. Richard Ford's terse but funny list (scroll down) is my favorite, but I noted a couple authors couldn't come up with ten rules; one lady only offered three (invoking that quotation about there being three rules for writing books, but no one knows what they are.)
I don't agree or disagree with any of the rules listed; I question the point of listing rules for writing at all. The authors I enjoy most are the ones who generally ignore or smash the rules. This may be because I personally loathe them and do whatever I can to stomp on their pointy little heads (the rules, not the important authors who issue them. Who may have pointy little heads, too, but I digress.)
The work demands certain things from us: good grammar, strong voice, coherent narrative, effortless pacing and engaging characters. We all have our own tricks and tools we use to bring that to the page. Do any of us do it exactly the same way, or abide by the same set of rules? No. I've known writers who use such a complicated process that they have to do ten times the work I do in order to produce a story; I've known others who seem to pull it out of thin air on a whim and nail perfection in a single draft that they rattle out in an hour.
Over the course of a career I think we all put together rules for ourselves and take them apart and recombine them and throw in or take out whatever experience teaches us works or doesn't work. I used to be obsessed with writing all my chapters the same length and with the same number of scenes. They were all exactly the same; I actually counted scenes and pages. Part of it was my love of symmetry; some of it came from worry that if I didn't have that uniformity I wasn't controlling the prose or the pacing. Then I read a book by another author who obviously didn't give a damn about chapter length, having written several that were very long and others that were equally short. A couple were just a single page -- and the book was wonderful.
Seeing that book work so well despite the lack of chapter symmetry was so powerful and effective an example that it made me rethink my own rule. I started relaxing more and focusing on the story instead of counting pages. My chapters are still fairly symmetrical (old habits die hard) but now if the scene or page counts don't match perfectly I don't have a cow.
I'd like to see all these writing rules go far, far away, and more discussion and advice take their place. Why can't we agree that no rule fits all writers? Maybe some of you out there know an excellent way to get around the rule of using only "said" as a dialogue tag, or that dark and stormy night no-no of never opening a story with a weather report just doesn't apply to you. In fact, maybe you do it so well that the applicable rule crumples like a wet tissue in the face of what you do with story.
One thing I did take away from this article is an intense desire never to utter another writing rule again without making sure I clarify it with a "For me" or "When I write." For me, reading a book that opens with a weather report seems dull, so I don't write them. When I write, I try not to use any dialogue tag but "said" because I was brainwashed into doing the exact opposite by my ninny of an English teacher in school. And I still reserve the right to break either rule whenever it serves the story.
What writing rule(s) do you like to break? Let us know in comments.