Open Book Blog Hop – Writing rules and me

What generic ‘rules’ did you abide by when you started writing that have gone out the window?

This week’s prompt couldn’t have been better timed for me as I received my developmental editing comments last week Monday. I was thrilled that there were far fewer writing style comments that for my previous book and I now feel it has been confirmed that I have improved a great deal at showing instead of telling, fleshing out ideas properly and writing dialogue that flows well.

My editor had a few great suggestions that I am busy writing into my story and also picked up one idea in the book that I hadn’t rounded out as well as I could have. As I read through my book again, after a three week break from it, I have also found a few areas that I felt could be improved on for better flow and understanding by a reader. There is definitely something to be said for leaving your book for a few weeks before you start editing [again for me]. I am now on round 5 of my editing and expect one more round of final grammar, spelling and punctuation checks before I send it to my publisher who will also find some things that need addressing. I’m still on track to publish in October so it’s all good.

I’ll tell you a secret, I was so stoked by some of my editor’s brilliant suggestions that I spent nearly the entire weekend working on my book. I didn’t bake or do fondant art or listen to audio books. I just edited and edited. It takes a long time, even if the changes are not huge, as I re-read the whole book slowly.

There are a few things that I know I do when I write and which I am finding very hard habits to break . When I was at school at the convent, we were taught to write very formally. We were not allowed to use contractions in our writing and starting a sentence with a conjunction was a serious error. One of the things my editor commented on was that I don’t use contractions in my dialogue and that this makes the conversation a bit stilted. She is right, people don’t say I am or I will or you have, they use the contraction I’m, I’ll or You’ve. This does not come naturally to me because of my twelve years of being taught to NEVER, EVER use contractions. I have to sit and literally read though the entire book, consciously changing all of these words. It took a long time so I hope I can remember and do this better going forward.

Another issue for me is starting a sentence with a conjunction like but or because. People do this when they speak, especially when they are children or when they are emotional. I have had to “get over myself” about this point to make my dialogue more natural.

I am sure there are other writing rules I’ve had to unlearn but these are the ones that have cost me the most time, other than having to remove words like very, was and had from my writing in many places. Happily, I seem to have managed to stop overusing these words quite easily.

Do you have any writing rules you regularly break in your novels?

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58 thoughts on “Open Book Blog Hop – Writing rules and me

  1. Contractions the other “sloppy” sentence elements do make dialog sound more natural. I was always seeing red ink when I was consulting over contractions, and we were never allowed to use “it” – ever.

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  2. Imagine a world where you had to speak in accordance with the rules you are supposed to follow when writing dialogue. What would everyday life sound like? In a way, I’m glad that I fooled around in English lessons, it gave me the freedom to express myself without a guilty conscience.

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  3. Great post, Roberta, It’s good to hear that you had to go through five rounds of editing. I got discouraged after about two. My edits at this point are still large developmental ones. So good for you. 🙂

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  4. Dialogue is music. Listen to your phrasing. Like BB King said, “If you can’t sing it, don’t play it.” All that busy, flashy stuff is nothing but noise. Music and dialogue happen in the spaces. Remember that.

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  5. This is definitely a “learn as we go” craft, Robbie. I am in the middle of copyedits as well and one thing I’ve found that I wasn’t aware of is the misuse of the words, set, and sat. To me, sat was the past tense of set, but I was WRONG! 🙂 But I have learned a valuable tidbit! Thanks for sharing and one other point you made that is SO true is the concept of letting your manuscript rest for a few weeks before tackling editing. That makes all the difference in the world.

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    1. HI Jan, thanks for adding your thoughts. I had read about letting a manuscript rest but hadn’t really understood how useful it is until I did it with this book. I set it completely aside and just left it.

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  6. One writing rule I’m tempted to break all the time (and do unless I catach myself), is using frequent names in dialogue. In real life, we don’t tend to use each other’s names in common dialogue, but for some reason, they creep into written dialogue. Eg:
    “We don’t have time to defuse the bomb, Michael!”
    “We have to, Alice! Our lives depend on it!”
    “I know, Michael, but you’re not an expert on bombs.”

    Sounds SO much more realistic if it was:
    “We don’t have time to defuse the bomb!”
    “We have to. Our lives depend on it!”
    “I know, but you’re not an expert on bombs.”

    Okay, this is an exaggerated case, but still, I have to watch out for names in my dialogue as they have an insidious way of creeping in!

    Great conversation topic, Robbie 🙂

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    1. You are right about this, Jessica. I think in writing, we need to make sure our readers know who is speaking which is part of the reason this creeps in. I try to do it now by following the dialogue with an action rather.

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  7. Hi Robbie, even for my children’s story, my editor put in many contractions because there are a lot of dialogue in the story. I have to double check if “contraction rules” also apply to children’s book. I have to check before the illustration is complete.

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    1. The same rule would apply to children’s books. Dialogue should sound nature. I don’t like it when people use dialects or strong accents in books for children. It makes it very difficult for them to read the book. You didn’t do that.

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      1. No, I didn’t, Robbie. I learned British English in Hong Kong. I came to the US as a student. So I learned proper English. I’m not exposed in dialects enough to use it to write.

        I read some with strong dialects and had trouble understanding. It’s not a good way to reach a wider audience.

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  8. My first thought washer I saw the headline for this post is that I no longer worry about starting sentences with “and” or “but”. I then noticed that is one of the items you also included. I also use way too many ellipses…
    But one thing I am still a stickler for is spelling out a number if it is less than 10, and to never start a sentence with a number, like 99…
    Sounds like you have a good editor!

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  9. Dialogue is definitely different than narrative and contractions are called for. It’s hard to break the rules we learned in grammar school but also necessary. Glad you had such a productive weekend with your edits, Robbie!

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  10. Robbie, this post is precious for me, to learn you editing process, and your experiences. I am quite clueless about writing in all aspects. I wonder if I can write books? But I am going to give it ago, regardless of my state clueless-,ness. 🙃🤔😬🙄🥴😵

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  11. It is hard to unlearn some of our habits, Robbie. I have to force myself to use those contractions too. I’m always watching for when I tell over show, but I have notice how my writing improves each book. I think its a craft where we will always be learning something new. Congrats on your accomplishments;)

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      1. We both started with kids books and moved into adults. Its a huge learning curve that took me a bit to settle in. I feel like I hit my stride in my last release. Thank you, I have so much more to learn, but I figure if the story is there the rest can be learned, and the knowledge seems limitless. A good editor and beta readers are priceless too.

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  12. Hi Robbie, I just recently got the first round edits back from book 2 curse of time. Lots to do! Writing is continual learning, progression. It is always a challenge, at times you want to scream and then you get back to it and carry on because you love it so. Old habits are hard, keep up the good work Robbie. 🙂

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  13. This is a lovely post, Robbie. Interesting about the contractions. That seems to have resonated with many of your readers. It really is amazing how English changes over time and geographic region. The different “standards of English” correctness from one country to another are interesting, but extremely difficult to work with too.
    The teaching of English, and what is or is not correct is so very subjective. That part is frustrating and downright maddening. What I do enjoy though, is how the language alters over time. That’s partially why I like to use words in unexpected ways when I write. Hugs on the wing!

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    1. I never knew that English was different in other places until I started reading American fiction, Teagan. There are a lot of differences between US and UK English and that drives me mad. I agree that teaching English is subjective, but my school certainly had its own inflexible ideas. I love the way you use English and words. It’s brilliant.

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