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All right, so you’re driving down the interstate and one guy’s going 40 mph, another’s pushing 90. You and the other legal beagles are doing 65, just like you’re supposed to. My question is this: do you pay any attention to those who are doing the right thing?

The answer is no.

You only notice the ones who are breaking the rules!

It’s the same with your writing.

You want to be technically perfect? Great. Maybe they’ll study you in high school English class someday. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lofty goal. But it’s the difference between educating your readers and entertaining them. You need to choose which works for you.

You might say, “There’s a reason you shouldn’t drive 40 or 90 on the interstate, John,” and I’ll say, “Of course there is. People could get hurt, even die from such recklessness.” And that’s why I’m not advocating dangerous driving. But let me ask you this: who’s gonna get hurt if you break a flippin’ writing rule once in awhile?

I get a lot of criticism from purists for my writing, but I can live with it, because English teachers aren’t my target audience. Not all English teachers. Just the cool ones. My newest novel, A Girl Like You, breaks a lot of rules. Especially in the last six pages. But my target audience will love that final chapter because they’ve come to expect certain rules to be broken in my writing, and they wouldn’t have it any other way. I have two people at a table in that final scene. But in my mind there are two extra chairs you don’t know about. And I’m doing all I can to put my guy readers in one of those chairs and the ladies in the other.

Does it work? You Decide.

Kindle Books – A Girl Like You – John Locke, author – 99 cents.

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Michelle Muto
Michelle Muto says:
Thanks again, John. As a newbie, I'm stressing over every detail it seems.
Rhiannon Ellis
I love breaking rules, although I do strive to write as well as I can. I think, rather than grammatical perfection, a more reasonable goal is to write with clarity. At least with clear writing, editors get the idea and can tweak accordingly. Or, if you're self-pubbed, readers still "get it." Beautiful, clear language and a fabulous story with dynamic me :)
Kendall Swan
Kendall Swan says:
I agree with Rhiannon. Clarity trumps rules every time. And, hey, this is art, not science. It's like "parley" in Pirates of the Caribbean-- the 'rules' are really more like guidelines. Followed for the most part, but broken with necessary. But I have come to realize that regarding rules in general, a person either is comforted by them or pretty much rebels against them at every turn. I'm the latter and so therefore my comments must be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. Okay, I guess I can start 'A Girl Like You' tonight instead of 'Wish List'. ; ) Happy rule breaking everyone! Kendall Swan NAKED Parent Teacher Conference PS- not sure how to make my links turn out right here on wordpress (vs blogger). Apologies.
Jonathan Gunson
John ... I don't bother too much with correct syntax, and get sent hell for it by uptight anal retentives. But picture correcting "To boldly go where no man has gone before." Startrek just wouldn't be the same. Jonathan Gunson PS. Re your casual mention of 27,000 downloads a day. That's extraordinary. Are those downloads of your books?
Maurice X. Alvarez
I had some really cool English teachers who always said, "You need to learn all these rules just so you can break them all later." They'd probably have enjoyed the last six pages.
Gary Ponzo
Gary Ponzo says:
John, my only thought would be, first you need to know the rules--then you can break them. That's a hard distinction to explain, but when you've mastered the craft of writing like, say, you have, then you can afford to stretch the envelope a bit. I think knowledgable readers will be able to distinguish the difference between somone who's unaware of the rules and someone who's winking at you while they break them right in front of your face.
Maryruth Barksdale
Maryruth Barksdale says:
"By Jove, I think you got it!"
Jo Massino
Jo Massino says:
Yes, it works!
Litl Bits
Litl Bits says:
If you are breaking the rules you are doing so with pi-nache! keep on keepin' on! New to your books and I'm hooked!
What Value, the Editor! | The Write Stuff
[...] selling author John Locke recently said, “I get a lot of criticism from purists for my writing, but I can live with it, because English [...]
Jaime says:
This is why I didn't major in English in college like many writers tend to do. I'm an aspiring writer in my late twenties, and when I was a junior in high school I took a creative writing class. We had to do all sorts of boring things that didn't interest me. I ended up getting a B in that class but I've never taken another creative writing class again. I did have to take 2 English Composition classes in college as they were part of the general education classes but that's it. I ended up majoring in art and actually enjoyed those art classes and then wrote whatever I wanted after class without fear of breaking rules, lol. Even though I'm a writer I've never liked any English class mostly because it was always about doing it the teacher's way. I always hated that but I didn't let those teachers stop me from loving writing and creating stories. So yeah I definitely agree with you, in the end you have to do what you like and what you enjoy because if you don't then your readers won't either.
Jack O'Brien
Jack O'Brien says:
Jonathan: Am I missing something hidden in your last sentence? Mr. Thicke did once sell insurance door to door, so those downloads could be insurance papers...or he used to collect comic books, so the downloads could be his selling them on E-Bay...but chances are those 27,000 downloads a day PROBABLY would be his new endeavor...selling books that he writes! Did I mention that I like your smile on your pic? I do, really! Ohhh...and 27,000 times thirty five cents is $9,450.00 PER DAY! Better than insurance and a lot better than selling comic books...wouldn't you say? But I have to admit, it is a wonderment!!
Barbara L Millon
Barbara L Millon says:
I disagree with one thing you said: But it’s the difference between educating your readers and entertaining them. You need to choose which works for you. You do both and do them very well! Okay--so you aren't educating in the sense of "how to write a story" but I'd never heard of Pappy Van Winkle's 20 Year Old Family Reserve. And I loved the vinaigrette recipe! I've learned something in every Donovan Creed book you've written to date! All 7 of them! I'm just starting Follow the Stone (and have bought Don't Poke the Bear so it will be ready when I've finished the Stone). You'll just have to start writing faster!! :-)
Leslea says:
Love it. I totally agree. Hope to meet you around town eventually.
Deb Hanrahan
Deb Hanrahan says:
I love the driving analogy. I, too, have broken a few rules in my first novel. This fact was pointed out to me several times. But I liked the results so ignored my critics. Of course, I hope my boldness pays off. If it doesn't at least I failed on my own terms. Lately, I don't read a lot of popular fiction because everything sounds the same and is so predictable. Cheers to mixing things up a little. Deb
Jake Scholl
Jake Scholl says:
Great point! Writing is art, you can break as many rules as it seems fit. It just has to be a great thoughtfully put together story. Be a Pablo Picaso, not a Thomas Kincade.
Dana Michelle Burnett
First hello from across the river! Second it is fun to break the rules, but you do have to be careful with which ones. I broke the romance rules but did not research Target audience enough. Sales have been poor but not because I broke romance rules but because I broke your rule about knowing your Target audience.
Julia Hughes
Julia Hughes says:
Great advice, well delivered as always! Wonder what language we'd be speaking if Chaucer hadn't broken a cardinal rule. No-one would be able to eyeball each other if Shakespeare had stuck to the rules. With ebooks the rules are changing all the time in any case. As a previous commentor observed, so long as you can create pictures in your readers' minds you're winning. 'Rules are for the obedience of fools, guidance of wisemen.'
Mikey says:
I like the way you think John. We need more mis-spellt writers not afraid to shoot from the hip with a little compassion. Riting, Reading, Rithmatic. I flunked 'em all. As a 10th grade dropout I never got to the rules learning part. Well, I actully quit the first time in 8th grade but that's anudder story. Can't follow, gotta dig my own ditch. Speaking of rebellion, my years spent on the streets of Houston hustlin' my business taught me this; tell it straight-up and if they don't get it, slap some heads a few times. They will wake up fast. Now I go rite. "Mikey's Motorvations"
Kelly DeWitt
Kelly DeWitt says:
It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from WORKING GIRL: "You can bend the rules plenty once you get to the top, but not while you're trying to get there. And if you're someone like me, you can't get there without bending the rules." I find that I'm in a unique position in that I'm not the writer, but now wear the hats of editor, publisher, marketer, webmistress and more for my childhood best friend who is now writing again after losing everything in a fire 3 years ago. (We just found each other on Facebook after 35 years and it's like we were never apart...) Never having done any of those jobs before, trying to learn all the rules and tips/tricks has been quite daunting. However, with the help of Mr. Locke's example and his book on how he did it, I'm finally starting to think I see a light at the end of the tunnel. (Just hoping it ain't a train! ;) Thanks for your guidance. Here's to your continued success.
Dave Lewis
Dave Lewis says:
Hi all / John As a poet and photographer I break the rules more often than I follow them. BUT, I do know a fair few of them, otherwise how could I break them? On the other hand I've just published my first novel - ebook on kindle etc. and sales good in first week so well pleased, but I have a confession to make, I tried very hard to write properly ;) as I'm sure that is how I'll sell lots (i.e. it being a good book). Are you admitting your books are not that great but you don't care as long as they sell? I guess I could cope with one bad book to my name (get the cash) and then the rest would have to be for arts sake (and mine). Cheers though and great to know that anyone can sell a million. Right, just another 999,999 to sell ;) Dave
Edward Tudor
Edward Tudor says:
John I have 30 novels started and published just one. I originally only wrote the novels for myself, but when I joined ecademy, a social networking site, Mindy Gibbens-Klein persuaded my that the one I sent to her was worth publishing but that it was too short at 42,000 words. I revisited the book and it is now 70,000 words in it’s published form. I self published using Author house who have been of no help in publicising or selling the book. I have just finished reading your book on how you sold a million ebooks and you have been an inspiration. I am now going to put my book into Kindle format. The other thing that I found very interesting was how your look at your audience. I wrote my book for me. The feedback I have had has been good but I have sold less than 200. I have 10,000 words of a sequel but have stopped working on it. I need to spend some time working out who my audience really are and break a few rules. Thank you for the inspiration Edward.