A few years ago I sat down and got serious about writing. I’d given stories halfhearted tries before, spent chunks of time in hobbyist mode, but that time I was serious about honing my craft and making that leap from writer to published author.
I sat down and combed the internet for information on style and the what-not-to-dos that would mark me as the dreaded ‘rank amateur’ unworthy of a contract. Most importantly, I took notes on the ‘never-ever’ lists. The ones that told me to never use an – ly adverb and that the word ‘was’ is passive. One POV per scene. Don’t use dialog tags beyond s/he said. Never use a semicolon. Never use an exclamation point.
The list of things to never do seemed endless, but being a determined writer, I sat down with a short story and edited it, working my way down the list one forbidden bit at a time. I cut, reworded, polished… did everything required of me according to the collected advice of people I believed knew the ropes. Then I read the finished product.
The story was ruined. Totally and completely.
It took me all of ten seconds to throw out that list. For writing, it was useless, but it did teach me something important.
Those rules that “everybody” chants as their writing mantra are a bunch of crap.
You heard me. There are a lot of things being tossed around the writing world as gospel truth that are flat-out wrong. You can use adverbs. Was isn’t passive. Dialog tags are perfectly acceptable, as are semicolons and exclamation points.
So, if all of these no-nos aren’t really no-nos, why does “everybody” tell you not to do them?
Simple answer: People don’t know how to use them and it’s easier to just say don’t do it than to learn the right way to use them.
My best writing advice on this subject is simple. If someone tells you that any word, any part of speech, any punctuation, or any technique is completely off-limits, make sure you are using it the right way instead of eliminating it. Then ignore the advice.
Nothing is forbidden in writing, You just have to know how to do it right.