Rules, what rules?

Let me start by saying I am not a rule breaker, usually. I follow the laws of the land and the commandments of God. These things make sense to me and bring order to life. But since becoming a full-time writer I’ve discovered a whole cadre of “rules” about my profession. It’s somewhat unsettling to step into a parlor you think you will enjoy only to discover that someone has posted rules of conduct you must follow or risk … what, I don’t know. Suddenly, you are ill at ease, fearful of breaking some sacred trust.

Apparently, back in 1928 “Twenty rules for writing detective stories” was published in American Magazine. (You can find the list at: Writers took these seriously, except for maybe one of the most famous detective story writers of all-time, Agatha Christie. I have read that she broke every one of them. Although I can’t personally vouch for that, I can easily recognize many that she violated. For instance, if you have read her books you will recognize that sometimes the murderer was actually a group of murderers (violates rule #12), or that the investigator might actually be involved in the crime (rule #4). More recent authors break rule #3 on a regular basis which states that there should be no love interest in a detective story.

You may have figured out my motive by now. By explaining away Agatha Christie’s flagrant disregard for rules, I have justified my own neglect of such things. Take a moment to read my short story, “Grandpa.” (

Now, let me tell you the rules I have broken in the writing of said story. Supposedly, one is never to start a short story with the weather. Hmmm … even after learning this rule, I refused to change my story. I like the feeling it gives you of heat and exhaustion; I like the metaphor of wanting or needing respite from current conditions. Kurt Vonnegut gave 8 tips for writing a good short story. One of them is “Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.” ( If you read my story, clearly I violated this – and blatantly at that. I do not apologize for this. It was my intention from the start to mislead.

There, I said it. I intended to mislead. I willfully rebelled against the “rules.” However, may I borrow Robert Frost’s words and say:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

About Mary Ellen Bramwell

I am an author, wife and mother.
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1 Response to Rules, what rules?

  1. Tracy A. Ball says:

    Hi Mary Ellen,

    Wonderful blog. I have all the respect in the world for writing rules. But if life followed rules, everything would been neat and clean with a pretty little bow. If everyone followed every rule every time, we’d all be writing the same story and nothing new would ever be achieved. I think if a story wants to tell itself, the best thing to do is get out of the way and let it speak.

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