I think it was in ninth grade that I remember a teacher saying the following line in regards to Algebra: “To this rule there is NEVER an exception. You must always follow this rule.” But lo and behold five minutes would pass and all of a sudden there was an exception. While Algebra is a bit more rule oriented than writing I hear this said over and over when in reference to writing stories.
I read books on writing which most of the time are extremely helpful. In these books you find such advice such as: Show don’t tell. Stay away from such and such word, avoid cliches, etc., and yet I read books by New York Times Best Sellers where I see many of these ‘rules’ clearly broken. My conclusion is that, yes the advice should be taken under consideration but with discretion.
For example, if I was to submit a story like those of Dean Koontz I would probably get rejected. Why? A few reasons. One of them is that as a new author I don’t have the freedom to do whatever I want with my writing. More than half of his writing is description and not actual dialogue and that is something that most publishing houses won’t look at. What I mean is, if they see more paragraphs and less dialogue or visa versa the manuscript gets tossed without even being read. But that is a shame. Why? Well, while I can understand that more of one than the other CAN take away from the story, it is NOT always the case. In Dean Koontz’s books it doesn’t take away from the stories (as I’ve mentioned before), it actually adds to it.
There are however things you should keep an eye out for, like using certain words too many times (we all do it, we all have a word we are fond of that we over-use without even realizing it). Or having too many characters that don’t add to the story…though even this if done well can still be done. Or too much non-action scenes where characters are just sitting around having coffee discussing the end of the world. Or characters being too perfect…or too evil. There should be a balance in everything. Make us care about your villain, make us understand why he/she is a villain…show glimpses of good (not just by showing it through dreams or back flashes). Writing fiction is essentially about one thing: CREATIVITY. Although not a single one of us is fully original (we take from what we know, from what we’ve read, seen, heard, etc), still try to put a spin on things that isn’t a replica of another author’s work.
When you write a certain line, ask yourself: is this me mimicking someone else, can I make this more original?
I would also recommend to keep reading books, blogs, articles on writing, but I would also say again: read them with discretion. The rules (other than the grammar) are not concrete. What works for one author might be a total fail for you. Pay attention to those who critique your work, but ultimately, you know the message you want your story to convey.