One of the things I have told aspiring novelists over the years is that they need to learn the rules of good writing, especially the rules of writing fiction. Not just learn the rules but understand the whys behind them. Once the rules are understood, then a novelist can know when to bend them and even when to break them (on occasion).
If a writer breaks the rules because she doesn’t know them or why they exist, it will = sloppy writing.
If a writer bends/breaks a rule intentionally for a creative purpose, it can = strong writing.
The trouble with “the rules” is that some young (in years and/or in experience) writers often get tied up in knots over them. They work so hard not to mess up any of the rules that they strip the inspiration and life right out their writing. They start counting the number of times another writer uses “had” or an “ly” adverb or a passive verb and lose the joy of reading. They lose sight of the power of storytelling.
English is an interesting language with lots of nuances. It is a fluid language. New words are added to the dictionaries every year. The meanings of words change dramatically. And the rules change all the times, too.
For instance, when I started writing, proper names ending with an “s” required an apostrophe-s to show possession, with the exception of Jesus (Jesus’ sandals) and Moses (Moses’ staff). According to the Chicago Manual of Style, those exceptions are no longer true. Now it is Jesus’s sandals and Moses’s staff. “In spite of” was grammatically incorrect in the 1980’s. The proper word to use was “despite.” One word instead of three. Now “in spite of” is grammatically correct as well.
I want my writing to be strong and crisp and clean. I want to make sure my writing doesn’t get in the way of my story. I’m not always confident that I succeed but I always try my best. Which is why these reviews of The Heart’s Pursuit (releasing next week) mean a lot to me: “The clear, crisp prose shines through with the author’s beautiful description and poignant narrative.” (RT Book Reviews) “You can taste the desert dust and smell the smoke and stench of a crowded gambling hall.” (Publishers Weekly)
Know, bend, break. Whatever a writer does, it should be done for the sake of the story.