Friday, December 2, 2011

Breaking the Rules

The Writing Life – Breaking the Rules

This is sort of a confession: I don’t always follow the rules.

I’m not talking about speed limits or red lights late at night. It’s not that kind of confession.

I’m talking about those rules of writing that “everyone” knows and says you must follow.

Don’t let them kid you. You don’t have to follow them all slavishly. But—big “BUT”—you do need to know what they are and how to follow them before you’re allowed to break them.

First rules up for discussion are the rules of English grammar. In truth, I’m pretty fanatical about them. There are right ways and wrong ways to break these rules. Yes, there is fidget room within the rules, and places where it’s okay to ignore them, but ONLY after you’ve mastered them. Every craftsperson needs to know how to use the tools of their trade. Our tools are words, sentences, and paragraphs. A good writer knows how to use them properly.

And how to break them, of course. Like most writers I use the occasional sentence fragment. When you’re deep inside a character’s point of view, for instance, you can use fragments to reflect their thought process, which rarely happens in any neatly grammatical way. Dialogue is full of sentence fragments and other bits of odd grammar. Eavesdrop on conversations and you’ll hear that people don’t always speak in neat full sentences. Even strange punctuation can serve a purpose in your prose.

But know this. Editors and readers can tell the difference between grammatical mistakes that serve a purpose and errors of ignorance.

Then there’s the rule that says you must write every day, if you want to be considered a serious writer. I admit that it’s good in theory. I’d love to be able to write every single day. But I have a demanding job, a husband, family, and friends. They’re all important to me, and they all demand major chunks of time. I have to do promo for my books that are out, which can also take large bites out of the day.

There are days that writing just isn’t possible. There are just too many other things going on in my life. Sadly, I’m not the kind of writer who can grab any open few minutes to add to the opus. I need to get into my world and really soak in it for a bit before I’m ready to start reporting on it again.

The result is that I’m more of a spurt writer than a steady one.  I tend to write on free nights and weekends, any time I can get a decent chunk of time without too many distractions.  Most experts frown on that, saying you should have the discipline to write some every single day. But it’s not discipline I lack. It’s time.

Does that mean I’m not a serious writer? You tell me. I’ve published eleven novels, several novellas, and quite a few short stories.  I’ve got probably that many more unpublished stories sitting on my hard drive.

But now, just to round it out, here’s one of those “rules” that I never break: I never send out the first draft of a novel. In fact, my manuscripts go through several rounds of revision and editing before I turn them loose in the cold, cruel world of publishing. And then they’ll likely see several more rounds of editing before they’re released to the public.

A novel is too big a project to think it can possibly come out perfect on the first try.

So… What writing rules do you break?

Bio for Karen McCullough

Karen McCullough is the author of ten published novels in the mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy genres and has won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy. She’s also been a four-time Eppie finalist, and a finalist in the Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards contests. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications in the fantasy, science fiction, and romance genres. Her most recent releases are MAGIC, MURDER AND MICROCIRCUITS, a paranormal romantic suspense now available in most electronic formats, A GIFT FOR MURDER, published in hardcover by Five Star/Gale Group Mysteries, and the re-releasedebook of A QUESTION OF FIRE. She invites visitors to check out her home on the web at and her site for the Market Center Mysteries series,


A powerful wizard with a physics degree and a checkered past invents a shield to ensure he'll never again be tortured almost to death…

The wizarding powers-that-be fear the repercussions of such a device and send his former girlfriend, an accomplished wizard herself, to retrieve the device or destroy it…

When the shield is stolen by the magical mafia, Ilene McConnell and Michael Morgan have to set aside their differences and work together to recover it. Michael claims he needs the device as insurance against the kind of injury and injustice he suffered once before. Ilene maintains its potential to upset the delicate balance of power makes it too dangerous and that it needs to be destroyed. But none of that will matter if they can’t retrieve it before a ruthless, powerful wizard learns how to use it for his own ends.


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