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Monday, April 04, 2011

Untangling The Rules

Ronie Kendig grew up an Army brat, married a veteran, and they now have four children, a Golden Retriever, and a Maltese Menace. She has a BS in Psychology, speaks to various groups, volunteers with the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and mentors new writers. Her novels include Dead Reckoning, a spy thriller and her Discarded Heroes series, which include available titles: Nightshade and Digitalis. Ronie has received recognition for her books in the 9 months since her debut on the market. Dead Reckoning was shortlisted for the INSPY Awards, and Nightshade received a Lime Award from the Christian Manifesto for 2010 Best Fiction.

You can find Ronie at or

“You can’t do that because. . .”

“Wait, you just used that word. . .”

“If you do that, you’ll lose your readers.”
Rules. The nefarious dissenter and objector to many a writer’s journey strikes yet again.

You’ve heard about the Rules. You’ve probably even spewed them yourself. And sometimes, we let the Rules so tangle us up in our writing that we are choked. Our creativity is smothered amid lists like “Ten Mistakes New Writers Make” and “A Newbie’s Guide to Writing Good Fiction.” (Totally made those up on the fly, so if there really is a list--um, use it but don't think I'm defaming it!)

Don’t get me wrong. The rules are good and necessary. They’re actually our friend—-pushing us to be better, stronger writers. But there are times we get end up stranded on the Sea of Single-mindedness in Rules.
So, let’s look at some things that might help cut the bondage and get you freed up a bit to be the writer you want to be.

First—-it’s absolutely vital you know the Rules. Know about POV. Master it. Teach yourself about character development, the elements of a great story (Hero’s Journey, etc.). Strive always to be a better writer. Always. Better. So that when you come to a scene, and you want to deviate—-a little-—from the Rules, give yourself the freedom to do so.

Second—-trust the experienced writers and editors. They really do know what they’re talking about, and while it may be subjective, overall their advice is accurate. Most of them have years of experience, working day-in and day-out with manuscripts, improving them, guiding them, bringing them to life. If they suggest something for your manuscript, at least be open to trying it.

Third—-realize that it’s YOUR story. Now, take it easy. That doesn’t mean you can indiscriminately discard the advice of the experts. If you find yourself saying, “they just don’t get my writing,” then take a step back. Examine yourself. I say this with all compassion because I can look back and remember a time when I felt this way. And in all honesty, there was heavy dose of pride/arrogance in that statement.

If you step back, examine yourself, and can honestly say it’s not pride, then go with your gut instinct. Seriously. Editors, while experienced, aren’t perfect. But make sure you take the time to talk through your reasons for deviation from the Rules (make sure you do have reasons, not just that it’s “my story”) and find a way to make it work.

My last thought regarding Rules is that when you are first writing, turn off your dastardly internal editor and just write what you see happening. Later, go back and work out the kinks, massage the emotion, and layer in the elements that might need fattening up (like the inner journey, the setting, etc.). Don't get smothered like a heavy cream sauce and ruin the taste of the story.

Rules are meant to guide us, to make us strive harder to become better writers. If we want to skip all the steps, dismiss the rules, then are we really putting our best foot forward?

Will your story really be the best it can be?


  1. Good approach, Ronie. The rules are guidelines. They're not supposed to quench unique voice or approach to writing stories. Sometimes editors get inside the prescribed boxes and fail to notice the familiar walls around them, forgetting that fresh voice often accompanies "new" or classic "old" approaches to storytelling. Certainly not all readers are alike.

  2. For this sort of thing, watch the videos at Kal Bashir's 510+ stage Hero's Journey site over at

  3. Thanks, Nicole. Rules are meant to guide us, not strangle. But the editors are also there to guide us, and I would never want to go it alone. I love my editors!!

  4. Great reminder, Ronie. First drafts have a wild freedom but we're not helping the reader if we don't play by the rules later. Thank you.


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