Wednesday, July 27, 2016

4 Write. Tell your story. Break the “Rules”

Who doesn't love a good excuse to break the rules? We are happy to welcome Kathleen Palm, currently working on her YA debut DOORS, here today as she speaks out on why breaking the rules can be good for your writing. 

"Because these ways of writing haven’t worked doesn’t mean that they can’t...Maybe your story works perfectly because you broke the rules."

Twelve years ago, when I began this journey of words, I wrote in a bubble. Just me and the story I wanted to tell. No outside I-know-better voices. No learned phrases of wisdom. No should’s and shouldn’ts or do’s and don’ts. 

Stress free creativity, no rules pinning me down. 

Because I the thought of being a writer never occurred to me, I never took a single writing course. So when I decided to be an author, I just did it. Why not? 

Writing was fun. Then…The thought of setting my words free in the wild crept into my mind. To be published! What a thought! A scary, fabulous thought.

But to be published, I would need help. So, with my dreams clutched in my sweaty hands, I ventured deeper into the world of writing, taking classes on getting published and on telling a story, and subscribing to Writer’s Digest magazine. Ready for feedback on my manuscripts, I joined a writers’ group. Finally, I discovered the fabulous writing community of Twitter, who are my very favorite people, where I found critique partners and encouragement.

In gathering all this shiny new information, I learned that there are rules to writing and, more importantly, to getting published, should’s and shouldn’ts…do’s and don’ts. 

And holy moly, fellow wordians, I was doing the writing thing all wrong! As a new, unpublished writer, I listened to everything because I wanted my stories to be a real-live book. I wanted to do this wording thing right.

"So I tried to follow the rules, and, well…My stress-free creativity was crushed. Carefully navigating all the should’s and shouldn’ts steals a bit of the writing joy. It can be paralyzing." 

In the midst of trying to follow all the rules, and kinda losing my mind, I took a step back to breathe. I missed my bubble of ignorance-is-bliss-happiness where all I had to do was write. So I unwound the jumbled knot of rules, knocked down the walls of the box they had confined me in and stared at the remains.

To discover that they are opinions in disguise.

Don’t start your story with a dream. Show don’t tell. Never use passive voice. Never use prologues. Write middle grade in third person. Watch overuse of description and narrative. Start your story with action. Vampire and werewolf books aren’t selling. Sound familiar? 

All opinions. Somehow they became guidelines, then transformed into rules. Too many times have I seen authors write the words “but I was told I had to…”, “I was told I need to…”, “I should…”, “the idea I have won’t sell”. Doubt runs amok in the streets! Too many authors lose faith in their ideas, letting plot bunnies get away and allowing their stories to be affected by others.

Nopity. Nope. Nope. 

There is no “have to” or “should”, only your story and your words. 

"Now don’t get me wrong, these opinions exist for a reason, because they haven’t worked in the past."

Passive voice can slow the pace of the story, and BLAMM-O, reader is bored. Beginning with a dream can confuse or frustrate the reader. Not enough action in the opening scene and the reader will lose interest. Accept that many writers have tried these writing devices with little success. Know that because these attempts haven’t worked doesn’t mean they can’t work. 

Let me repeat. 

Because these ways of writing haven’t worked doesn’t mean that they can’t. 

When someone tells you you should or shouldn’t write one way or the other, stop and think. Maybe your story works perfectly because you broke the rules.

"Roam through the world of writing, check out the the opinions bombarding us from all angles, recognize what has and hasn’t worked, then shut yourself away. Go back to your bubble full of happiness and chuck the rules out the window."

Write your story the way it wants to be written. Listen to opinions, then let your heart guide you. Love your words. 

Write. Tell your story. Break the “Rules” and do it your way, a different way, a way that might change the writing world forever. Never limit yourself to writing based on all the opinions, all the “rules”. Take a step out of your bubble to learn what you can, but always go back into the bubble and forget everything. 

Now go forth and rock the writing world!


Kathleen Palm loves the weird, the scary, and the fantastical, believing that magic makes the world a fabulously strange place. Her kids, husband, cats, and dog add laughter and general chaos to her life, which includes writing, reading, and watching creepy television shows, featuring demons or time travel. 

An author with REUTS Publications, she is working on her debut YA fantasy DOORS. Her short stories DARK WOLF and TOGETHER can be found in the anthology FAIRLY TWISTED TALES FOR A HORRIBLY EVER AFTER. Her horror short story WHAT LURKS IN THE DARKNESS can be found in the anthology HALLOWEEN NIGHT: TRICK OR TREAT. 


  1. I've always been a fan of knowing the rules before you break them. Because sometimes that's what works best.

    1. *high five* I wish I had known this when I started writing.

  2. Love this post! Sometimes rules guide us, sometimes they just cage our creativity.

    1. Exactly! Those rules can be mean. Use them wisely.


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