Too Many Rules Spoil the Writing

Once upon a time, I was a happy little writer, happily writing away what I thought were fun stories and cool stuff. Action! Drama! Humor! Pathos! I’d been writing for… most of my life, and I was really happy with my word-smithing skills.

Then one day I read somewhere that women use more pronouns than men in their writing. Zonk! I got paranoid. Was I using too many or too few pronouns? If I used too many pronouns, would men get lost reading my writing? (It doesn’t help that I have a friend who almost NEVER uses proper nouns, and she manages to confuse the dip out of me.)

So I made an effort to scatter around a few more names and character labels in with the pronouns. To mix it up, and to keep everyone straight on which he was who.

Then I read advice that said not to use character labels too much.

Then I was reading about some sort of special 3rd person super-close-focus POV, and the philosophy of that was, “people never think of themselves by name. Therefore, the only time you should use the main character’s name is if someone is saying it.”

Right. So now I can’t use pronouns, I can’t use labels/tags, and I can’t use the character’s name(s). WHAT!?


I once read that adverbs were weak and evil and should be expunged. Action verbs should be used instead. This makes for stronger writing.

Then I read that in dialogue tags, one should only ever use the words “said,” “asked,” and “whispered.” So… if I shouldn’t use an adverb with those… how do I convey tone of voice?

Then I also heard the advice that saying ‘said’ over and over again was monotonous. So instead of saying “said,” use a bit of action. Like: “I like pie.” She flipped her blonde hair back. (Indicating that “she” is speaking that line.)

Then I heard people say that people twitching and blinking and flipping their hair makes them seem spastic.

Okay, so I can’t say “said quietly,” I can’t say “said,” and I can’t say… anything else, really. WHAT!?


Then I read debates — oh, endless debates — about describing a character’s race. I read that if you mention a character’s race, that’s racist. But then, if you DON’T mention a character’s race, everyone (including those of differing ethnic backgrounds) will automatically assume plain white guy.

Okay, so you can describe a character’s racial/ethnic look, without using words for race. Skin tone, hair colour, that sort of thing.

But wait! There’s another faction that says using food-based descriptions are offensive. So you can’t have skin that is cafe au lait, mocha, caramel, butterscotch, chocolate, peaches and cream, milk, olive, etc etc. I suppose bronze, mahogany, ebony, and dirt are okay, because they are not food-based.

Then this spills over into every other racial/ethnic feature. Why ARE you describing a black/latin/mediterranean/european/eurasian/native american/asian character? Does their race matter? No? Then leave it out.

So now… I can’t even give my characters varied descriptions. WHAT!?!?


I have become SO paranoid about all these ‘pitfalls,’ that I can barely write any more. I can’t take it. I’m going to kick the whole applecart right over a cliff. I’m going to ignore rules, advice, conventions, and people’s offendable sensibilities! I’m going to have a huge variety of characters, they’re going to have names and descriptions and labels, they’re going to laugh and shout and stutter, and they’re going to do it vigorously and with feeling! I’m just going to WRITE, DAMMIT!!


3 Responses to “Too Many Rules Spoil the Writing”

  1. J. Dominique Says:

    There are really too many contrasting rules out there. My advice (take it or not if you will) is to simply do what you want.

    • bloodsong Says:

      you gotta write the way you like. avoid what you find monotonous or offensive, and put in gobs of what you love to read.

  2. Shannon Thompson Says:

    I think this makes a great point! I try to write for myself, edit for my reader, and I think that helps with all of the pressure rules can cause. I like how you talked about the “paranoia” writers can get when they come across another rule. That’s a good subject not talked about directly often.

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