A Cautionary Tale: 3 Writing Rules That Can Derail Your Story

Lisa Cron wrote a fantastic blog post on Writer Unboxed, outlining three oft-preached and just as oft-misapplied ‘rules’ that can derail an otherwise brilliantly executed story.

Last year I had occasion to read a batch of ten page manuscript submissions in a hurry, one right after the other. What I noticed was startling in its consistency.

All of the writers had clearly spent time learning their craft. All of them had something to say. And all of them, by meticulously following what they’d been taught, had rendered their stories mute in the exact same way.

It was heartbreaking, given the talent in the room.

So, using this as a cautionary tale, let’s take a look at the three seemingly common sense rules they diligently followed, and explore why the result was the definition of irony: rather than hooking the reader, they locked the reader out.

The rules are:

  1. Start with a bang, leap into action.
  2. Give us specific details, especially sensory details, to bring the story to life. 
  3. Hint at crucial information, but don’t reveal it right away, the better to lure the reader in. 

Sounds familiar, yeah? I have heard all three of those ‘rules’ (anyone familiar with my attitude toward writing rules understands why I keep putting quotes around the word) expounded on endlessly as major Do’s, not Do Nots, and I’ve struggled quite a bit to incorporate them into my own writing. What gives?

Lisa goes on to explain why each of these rules, misinterpreted and misused, can effectively do the opposite of their intent: to hook the reader and compel them to continue reading. It’s one of the best writing blog posts I’ve read all month; go here to read it yourself.

~ RM

4 thoughts on “A Cautionary Tale: 3 Writing Rules That Can Derail Your Story

  1. Great info, Rebekah! Thanks for sharing the link.

    I agree, misinterpreting or taking so-called ‘rules’ too literally is a pitfall that’s all too easy to fall into, especially for a new writer trying to learn the craft from all the advice that’s out there.

  2. Ace, that’s great advice. So very spot on about de-contextualised action!

    And I fear that withholding details an easy mistake to make – even when I think I’m not doing it 🙂

  3. Start with a bang. Yes, that’s my problem. I can’t seem to find the right way to start a story.

  4. I say screw the rules. If your own style works for you and your story, then use it.

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