Deborah Anderson

In 2000, Deborah Anderson left the medical field to care for her elderly mother. Soon after, she began writing. She has written for Focus on the Family, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and numerous other publications. She is a member of TWV, ACFW, CWG, and FCW. Married 29 years, Deborah and her husband enjoy country living in the Midwest. She also spends her time rescuing cats, reading novels, and taking nature walks. Deborah recently completed her first novel. You can contact Deborah at:

Rules, Rules, and More Rules

Do the rules of writing ever drive you crazy?

Lately this topic seems to be of great interest to some folks. Many worry about breaking the rules when working on their manuscripts. In fact, I recently talked with some of my friends about a few of the rule breakers.

• Do not open your novel with dialogue
• Never open your novel with backstory
• Do not use foul language (including words like geez, golly, gosh, etc. Can you believe that?)
• Use prologues
• Don’t use prologues

Anyway, you get the idea. Honestly, the many rules can stifle a person’s creativity—namely mine.


But because I want to write with excellence (hey, I try), I decided to follow the rule makers, even though I’ve yet to meet them. (Though I haven’t ruled out using prologues—there seems to be a fifty-fifty split decision on their usage—and what I call the Leave It to Beaver terminology isn’t foul, in my opinion.)

And I was happy with my decision—until a few weeks ago.

I made my biweekly trip to the library. Since I like to keep up on new releases, I loaded my book bag, slung it over my shoulder, and headed home. Excitement washed over me. There’s just something about reading a good book, don’t you think?

Later in the evening, I sat in my trusty old rocker, rifled through my bag, and pulled out several books. I scanned the first few pages of each, trying to decide which one I wanted to read first. And do you know what I discovered?

The first one opened with dialogue. I narrowed my beady, brown eyes. Hey, why did she break the rules? Then I thought, Wait, she’s probably well-known so she could get away with this.

Flipping the book over, I read her bio and discovered the book to be her first novel. Hey, that’s not fair.

I slammed the book shut and scratched my head. “Hmm.”

My husband, who knows the difference between my good “hmm” and my bad “hmm,” said, “What’s the matter with you?”

“Well, I just don’t get it.”

“Get what?”

“There are so many rules to writing. I—”

“You know what I told you about those.”

And he has told me about those, bless his heart. What he told me was to write what God gave me—no matter what. In my humble opinion, though, he doesn’t understand.

I sighed. “Easy for you to say. I’d like to publish a novel.”

“And I keep telling you—you will. Don’t you ever listen to me?”


I set the book aside and grabbed the second one. After reading through the first five pages, all of them written in backstory, my eyes shifted. What’s up with this? Another blasted rule breaker.

I picked up the third book. I didn’t notice anything out of order at first, but when I later read the novel, I stumbled upon a few curse words.

And people were talking about my Leave It to Beaver language?

You know, just when I think I have everything all figured out, someone goes and changes the program on me—again. And let me tell you, this kind of behavior is enough to drive a person crazy, which is a short trip for me anyway.

What I don’t understand is why there are so many barriers. I get the cursing part and not using sexually explicit scenes, but whatever happened to good old-fashioned writing?

Now that I think about it, I didn’t notice any of these rules before I became a writer. As a reader, all I cared about was reading a good story that held my attention all the way to the end. Yes, curse words put me off (the real four-letter kind), and I don’t do smut scenes, but I didn’t notice all of these other nasty rule breakers.

And now I do. And because of this, I no longer see stories the way I once did. I see all the broken “rules,” and to be honest, this is taking away from my escapism and enjoyment, which is beginning to hack me off. I mean, shouldn’t a book be about a good storyline to begin with?

Speaking of which, just last night I opened another new release, a secular one, and I thought I’d faint. Seriously. Do you know what I found?

The entire book is written, dialogue and all, with no quotation marks, no changing of paragraphs when there’s a new speaker, no order at all—at least not according to what I’ve been taught. My eyes nearly crossed at the sight.

I hate to admit this, but, as usual, my husband is right. I’m not telling him this, mind you, because for those of you who know me, well, you know I’m tired of his being right all the time.

All I know is that I want to write with excellence, but I also want to be me. I find myself in a tug-of-war, though, because I know there has to be some semblance of order. I don’t want to break so many rules that I commit author suicide (metaphorically speaking). Although, by the time others read this article, they may want to hang me.

I guess for now I’m going to write to the best of my ability whatever God gives me, and I’ll let Him take care of the rest.

Besides, by the time I’ve finished polishing my novel, the rules will probably have changed—again.


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