Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Rules of Writing Part 3: Personal Preferences

In Part 1 of this series I talked about three categories that the rules of writing fall under. In Part 2 I talked about best practices. In this next installment I would like to talk about personal preference.

We all read different things. We all like different kinds of books and different writing styles. And often we as writers carry that over into our writing. So here is my list of 'writing rules' that I think really are just personal preference.

Personal Preferences

  • Only use 'said' for a dialog tag.
  • Avoid using Prologues
  • Do not use contractions (ie don't) outside of dialog.
  • Open with action.
  • Do not use fancy spelling in dialog to show dialect.
  • The first line has to hook the reader.

I would like to touch briefly on my feelings about each of these.

Personally, I like it when a writer mixes up using 'said' and puts in other things. It makes the writing more interesting and it can convey a lot about tone of voice and attitude in a single word.

I am a big fantasy buff. And in my opinion - in order to be a great fantasy book - you must have a prologue and a map. To be a good fantasy book you must have at least one of the two. Everything else is just so so. I know a lot of people say that people don't read prologues and you should avoid them like the plague. But I think 80 percent of the fantasy books I read have one. And I always read them. So I will continue to use prologues - and epilogues in my writing.

I do not use contractions in my narrative - I only use them in dialog. This is just a personal preference of mine. I think it makes the narrative stand out from the dialog and gives it a more polished feel.

Some really great books don't have any action in them at all. And I find that when a book opens with action and then back tracks to explain it - I get lost and confused. Opening with action can work - as long as the action is the start of the story and no back tracking is required. (In my humble opinion).

With using fancy spelling to show the way a person talks - I like that. Because it helps me understand how the character sounds - gives them a unique voice, and it can also convey a lot without having to slow down the pace to explain.

I remember very few first lines of books. And I give a book until 1/3rd of the way through before I decide to put it down. (Sometimes longer). So I don't feel that the first line has to be a spectacular hook. I just think the first chapter needs to be interesting and well written enough so that I don't want to put it down right away.

Anyway, those are my thoughts. What do you think? What are some of your personal preferences?


  1. I ran from the room screaming with the contractions rule. My heart is still racing.

    That is like saying, right shoes are better, so I'm going to throw away my left shoes and always buy two pairs, so I can wear two right shoes all the time. I mean...the right shoe IS better.

    The contractions rule makes as much sense.

    Your FICTION writing shouldn't sound like an encyclopedia. It should always sound the way people sound...and with as few words necessary to get the point across.

    Why do you think poets use all those funny, shortened words?

    1. Hence the reason why it is listed as personal preference :)

  2. Thanks for sharing! I learned a thing or two for my own writing.

  3. I agree on most of these, especially the prologue one! I think the level of dialogue use is also a personal preference. I've seen really well done novels that are nearly all dialogue, and those that are nearly all prose. For myself, I try to maintain a balance.

    1. That's a good point! When I read I prefer a balance too.