Jump to content

Questionable rules for writing


Recommended Posts

I came across this list of ten rules for writers that a publishing company posted on Facebook and I don't agree with all of them. I wondered if anyone else here had an opinion about them. I especially take exception to numbers 3 and 4.  Any thoughts?

1.      Never open a book with weather.

2.      Avoid prologues.

3.      Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

4.      Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”… he admonished gravely.

5.      Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

6.      Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

7.      Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

8.      Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

9.      Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

10.   Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Parker, are you sure this was a legitimate publishing company's posting? It is absolutely ridiculous !!! (did I just use my daily allotment of exclamation points???)(how about the question marks?).Believe me all hell would break loose if I even attempted to follow these "guide lines". It would be a dark and stormy night should I find myself trying to follow these ten "rules". I suppose that I could go on and on, but that might be just too descriptive. Imagine reading something so droll. By the way, as part of my covid isolation therapy I have been reading certain authors collections of stories and have enjoyed them all, and had just finished Jack Schaeffer's now removed stories. I had enjoyed them immensely. Art West

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Talo, I looked at the source again and ironically it's called the Breaking Rules publishing company. They are an online publisher that puts out a quarterly collection of stories. I like to make my own rules when writing. To me it is more interesting to say "Aha," he laughed, than "Aha," he said (rule 3), but then I didn't major in English in college so I'm no expert. Thanks for confirming my suspicions that these are not necessarily legit.

I too have been reading the Castle Roland library. It's a good time to catch up on those stories that I missed before. My favorite current story is Living With Johnny, by Nigel Gordon, but I have been going to the stories by genre category and exploring. It helps pass the day.

Thanks for your valuable input.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

13 hours ago, Parker said:

it is more interesting to say "Aha," he laughed, than "Aha," he said

There is a good (in my opinion) examination and explication of using speech tags here:


It is more difficult to get right than one might imagine, and difficult to take on board all the different points made and exemplified. Overall, the idea is to keep it simple so as not to jump the reader out of their immersion in the story, whilst at the same time making it clear who is speaking, and interspersing the action.

To take your example, it would be: "Aha." He laughed... The dialogue and the action, two seperate things, because you don't laugh words (if that makes sense). It could be better written if the - He laughed, had more description... "Aha." He laughed at the absurdity. In which case it probably also deserves an exclamation, "Aha!" He laughed at the absurdity.

Does this really matter?

That is a good question and absolutely depends on writer and reader, what you're aiming to achieve and how far you are willing to go as a writer. Is it the story which is most important or the presentation as well? From the reader point of view, do you appreciate those finer brush strokes which would almost go unnoticed? Almost, except the reader might come away, having finished the story, feeling, that was a great story... really well written.

Whatever you decide, you have prompted me to re-read my latest effort at writing a story and check how I handled the dialogue, to see if it can't be improved. Discussing writing is always valuable.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 2/5/2021 at 2:25 AM, Parker said:

Never open a book with weather.

Reading some new stories over this weekend, the never open a book with weather whilst not holding true, raises another consideration: the opening line is very important. 

Take a look at these opening lines from those recent reads. Which grab you?

It was a bright sunny day in Innsbruck. 

It had been a long drive to Shirebrook Farm in steadily worsening weather. 

Blue eyes stared into green, full of passion and lust.

They are all pretty good, don't you think? Even the two with weather!


Now, simply out of interest, let's look at current Castle Roland story opening lines:

Being a supervisor for a major roofing concern in a minor city, Statesville, was not a major success.

Phil Keller was a light sleeper, so the vibration of his iPhone brought him to consciousness quickly in the wee hours of Saturday morning, 1:37 AM to be exact.

Sirens no longer woke him although they were often woven into his dreams. 

Since Vinnie returned home, he and Kevin spent most of their time making up.

My name is Eild, and I am a Dog Soldier.

“There is gold in the south and folk are picking it up like pebbles from a beach.”

If I was unlucky, I might hear from my ex-wife about twice a year.

At the time of this story I’d pretty much decided our culture didn’t include me.

When Mr. Ken returned home that Friday, all the Cover boys were in great spirits.


Supposing there was no synopsis, you don't know who the author is, or anything else about the story. With only the fist line of those nine stories, which one grabs you the most? Which one are you going to pick up and start reading?


Thinking about opening lines made me consider some of my own:

The ladder creaked and little clouds of dust followed behind the boy as he climbed down through the trap.

The office was filled with filing cabinets, but obviously not enough, bundles of documents tied together inside binders were piled on the floor and covered the desk.

The sun pierced through the bedroom window, a long streak of light that traversed the room touching the corner of the old desk and travelling across the foot of his bed, finally halting at the far wall.

The trees cast dappled shadows in long streaks, striping the ground and breaking up the sunshine, a stark contrast to the clear, pale blue sky.

Without realising, until I looked, I opened two stories with the weather!


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Talo, those are wonderfully artistic opening lines. The first line of a story is always important and it's hard sometimes to know when to enter a story. I imagine the story is like a stream that has been flowing and I have to find the right spot to jump in. 

I thought about rule 7 and I didn't want it to be true, because I sometimes like to reflect the speech of my community and that is Appalachian patois. They say tater and termater, an Irish potato is an arsh tater, they warsh their clothes and arn (iron) them. And people always say 'I seen it' rather than 'I saw it'. 

I think I will ignore those rules and just do it my way. Thanks.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 2/7/2021 at 10:40 PM, Parker said:

my community and that is Appalachian patois. They say tater

Well that arrived in America from England (Google it) the dictionary says informal form of potato.

On 2/7/2021 at 10:40 PM, Parker said:

And people always say 'I seen it' rather than 'I saw it'.

That originates from London, "I seen it," regional English, from London/Thames Estuary (and perhaps elsewhere). If you wanted to emphasise that you saw it, "I seen it, di'nt I!" (I saw it, didn't I).

Now how this arrived in the Appalachians, I guess with the settlers? Perhaps it is simply poor pronunciation or lazy speech, but that's how French became English, which became American. 

Still if you put too much regional patois (patois that's French too!) it could be difficult to read, but it adds a bit of colour/color! 


Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

I read one shouldn't open a story describing geography.  🙃    Was probably a similar source as above.


 When we arrived at the harbor, a large raft was tied at the mooring. A sentinel remained on board. Two others stood watch atop the lookout terrace built in the ancient times, before the Citadel existed. 



Link to comment
Share on other sites

I really don't get here often enough, nowadays.

As an avid reader, it has been my experience that while the opening sentence is important, it is the opening paragraph that either grabs me or it doesn't. Not too short nor too long... Three or four good sentences to "hook" the reader into wanting to read more. My own writing suffers!

From Chief of Staff (opening sentence/paragraph):

  • Alexander Lovell adjusted his tie and reflected a moment before opening the door…

From It was Just a Dream:

  • It wasn’t a bad house. Fact is, the house was only a few years old, in a nice middle-class neighborhood. Three bedrooms on the main floor and two bedrooms in the basement, along with a playroom. All in all, not bad for Mom, three sisters, two baby brothers and myself.

From Scireians (prologue):

  • Tucked away in a little known part of Europe, was a small country that bordered on Switzerland to the west and with Austria to the east. Not a part of the constant power struggles of most of Europe, this small country offered a peace that endured until the Napoleonic wars overtook it in 1806.

From We're Not Gonna Take It (opening sentence/paragraph):

  • It’s getting stranger by the day thought Lee, as he took his eye from his spotting scope.

My thoughts in offering the above, is that it is pointless to show other's writings, if we cannot critique our own! ...and Parker? Those rules would make for very boring stories. Just my opinion...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...