June Theme: I GIVE YOU PERMISSION TO… by John Claude Bemis

I give you permission to break the following writing-related rules…

I give you permission to use adverbs.  While most novice writers overuse adjectives and adverbs, these words do have their place.  Good writer knows how to use them sparingly for maximum effect.

I give you permission to create a character that doesn’t change.  I’m all for character arcs.  Most of the time, readers want to see how a character evolves from the beginning of the story to the end.  Sometimes however a character is enjoyable because they never change or transform.  Think series-oriented heroes like Indiana Jones or James Bond. 

I give you permission to break grammatical rules.  If something doesn’t sound right, even if it follows the rules of grammar, then trust your ear.  Whether it is split infinitives or ending with prepositional phrases, don’t let good grammar lead you to write bad sentences.  You know what I’m talking about.

I give you permission to have two characters whose names start with the same letter.  Most of the time if you’ve got a James and a Josh in your story, it’s better to change one of their names so readers don’t mix them up.  But if it’s helpful for readers to think of them as a pair (maybe they’re brothers or both bullies who work together to beat up your protagonist or a character’s ex-boyfriends), then consider using names that start with the same letter.

I give you permission to find your own creative process.  Some writers disdain plotting a story in advance.  Some writers swear by using color-coded note cards to intricately plan out their stories.  Some like to use writing software like Scrivener.  Others are perfectly content typing in Word.  I know writers who do first-drafts long-hand and even a few who have written entire novels on iPhones.  Whatever works for you.

I give you permission to tell and not show.  Every writer knows the rule: show don’t tell.  It’s a rule for a reason, and generally a very good one.  Sometimes however telling can be the most effective storytelling approach.  An opening line like the one in Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones – “Cat Chant admired his elder sister Gwendolen.  She was a witch.” – just wouldn’t be as interesting if Jones felt the need to show Cat’s admiration for Gwendolen.  In fact, the opening pages of Charmed Life are full of perfectly executed examples of great telling.

I give you permission to copy other writers.  We learn a lot through mimicry.  How many cartoonists spent their childhoods meticulously copying how other artists drew characters?  How many musicians learn to play others’ songs note for note?  Writers can learn a lot by intentionally trying to write in the style of a writer they admire.  You absorb some tricks.  You learn what gives that writer their particular voice.  Just don’t do it forever.  All good writers eventually develop their own unique style.

I give you permission to write the book that you really want to read.  The world is full of critics.  Everyone has an opinion.  I’m sure somebody read an early draft of Jeanne Birdsall’s The Penderwicks and told her the book was “too quiet.”   I’m sure somebody told Philip Pullman that all that business with dust in His Dark Materials was too complicated for young readers.  Aren’t you glad Birdsall and Pullman trusted their own instincts?  Make your book as geeky or as low-brow or as philosophical or as eccentric as you want.  It might not be for every reader, but if you tell your story in a compelling way, you’ll win fans.  Follow your own quirky wishes for your story.  Make it a story you adore. 

Go ahead.  I give you permission.


  1. I agree! There's an enormous amount of writing advice floating around, and much of it is sound--I mean, you don't want to use an -ly adverb in every other sentence. But rigidly following every scrap of advice is not the way to create masterful writing. The novels we remember--the ones with captivating plot and astonishing voice--are the ones whose authors aren't afraid to break rules.

  2. Write the book you want to read. Love it! Thanks for the post.

  3. What an empowering post. Thank you!

  4. I especially like the permission to write the book you want to read...


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