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  • Writer's pictureRachel Paige

Rule #1

Now that I've been writing this blog for a while, I feel like it's time to talk about the number one rule of writing.

Sure, it's important to spell things correctly, know how to use a comma, and format dialogue. It's important to have a strong POV, a good balance of description, and strong characters. Basically, every writing tip and rule is important, but there's one that is more important than the rest.

Here it is.

Writing Rule #1: Any Rule Can be Broken

I mean it. Any rule. Spelling, grammar, punctuation, setting, POV, characters, dialogue. All of it can be done "wrong" and still create a successful novel.

Read The Road by Cormac Mccarthy for a good example. He uses no quotation marks, there's no chapters, and the character's don't have names. And yet, the story works. Experimental writing is a fascinating genre. I've heard of a book in which the entire story is told through the description of scents. Or one with self-aware footnotes that eventually take over the main text. Or ones with chapters that can be read in any order.

But here's the important part about this rule: not everyone can do it. A new writer should not sit down and decide to write a book that only consists of dialogue. Or one that doesn't have any dialogue. Or one that can be read forward or backward.

You need to know the rules before you can break them. You can't go in blind and break every writing rule simply because you don't know they exist. It'll be clear that you did so. But if you know the rules and choose to disregard them for a good reason, go ahead. The key is knowing the rule and having a reason to break it.

For example, it's generally a bad idea to change narrators for only one chapter two-thirds of the way through the novel. The reader is already attached to the narrator. The change will be jarring. And since that "guest narrator" never narrates again, it can seem odd that they were there in the first place.

But in my novel, Chaos in G Major, that's exactly what I do. My narrator wasn't in a place mentally where she was able to narrate and I decided readers needed to see that moment in live time. So I let her brother take over for about ten pages. He never narrates again. It's jarring, but I wanted it to be. It's a little chaotic, but that reflects the events of that part of the story.

It works because I knew the rule and consciously chose to break it.

I've also had times when I've intentionally spelled words incorrectly. But I did so because the incorrect spelling called back to another part of the story and revealed more about the character narrating. I didn't have a typo, I knew it was wrong and did it anyway.

Here's the important thing to remember: readers will notice when you break the rules. If you don't name a character, have a POV slip, misspell words, use bad grammar, put your chapters out of order, or break any other of the hundreds of writing rules, they will notice.

It will draw their attention to that part of the story and, depending on what you did, make them pause and consider it.

The question you need to ask is if you want them to.


Have you broken a writing rule? Which one and why?

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