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WRITE Like a Pirate Day

In honor of Talk Like a Pirate Day I’m instituting a new tradition on my blog:

Write Like a Pirate Day

We all know pirates have their faults, what with the looting and mayhem, but they do one thing really well by distinguishing a rule/code from a simple guideline.  And even when something is an ironclad law, they break it when needed.

Writers should do this too. Especially these days, when there are zillions of so-called rules floating around the internet on the subject of writing.  Most of these rules are really guidelines, and a few don’t even rise to that level.

I have a love/hate relationship with this phenomenon. When I started writing, the internet wasn’t in full swing, and it was maddeningly difficult to discover these keys to the kingdom.  On the plus side, I usually discovered them from reliable sources. For example, our local writers club had some great speakers, including editors who were amazing, and successful writers who shared their wisdom.  I might add that those editors and writers always qualified their remarks with “there are always exceptions” or some such caveat. Amen.

I also learned a lot from readers who took the time to attend a book signing or write to me, sharing what they loved and occasionally, what didn’t work for them (and once again, I’m sorry about that dog in TIMELESS, I will never do that again!)

Unfortunately, there are well-intentioned advisors on the internet who treat certain guidelines as though they were carved in stone tablets and given to us on a mountain top.  If I had run into some of this advice early in my career, I would have been truly stymied, not just because I needed to break certain of those “rules” occasionally (dialogue tags, adverbs, dream sequences, passive voice, prologues, some judicious infotainment during a chapter transition, etc), but also because it would have made me wonder how many rules there really are, and whether I had found them all, because according to some internet advisors, a prospective editor will reject your manuscript on the spot if she or he spies even one of these infractions.

The fact is, I’ve benefited enormously by learning these guidelines.  I still use adverbs, but I interrogate myself for each one to ascertain if it’s truly necessary (at least in my eyes).  I scour my first draft for dialogue tags and remove at least 50% of them if not more. 

Even certain grammar rules – which actually are Rules, not guidelines – can be broken on two conditions: (1) you have to know the rule before you can break it, and (2) it must be done with great respect and only for great effect.  So for example, I occasionally use sentence fragments in my stories because they work with my style, especially when I’m trying to convey some urgency or flippancy. But I do so with great care.  Also, as my copyeditors will tell you, I am an over-hyphenator.  I’m unapologetic on that score. When a word like apelike appears in my story, and we haven’t been talking about apes at all, I go for ape-like even though it’s wrong. Why? Because if I ran into that word without context in someone else’s writing, I would stumble over it.  (Do I win this battle? Sometimes, especially because I give in very cheerfully on 99% of the hyphen-ectomies in my copyedits.)

Oddly enough, I’m a strict constructionist when it comes to one guideline: POV (which stands for point-of-view, and I’m referring to which character’s head you’re in, not whether it’s first or third person) and I personally would never, ever deviate from strict compliance. Why? Because there is power in writing a scene (or most of it) from the one, perfect POV. I’m a believer because I didn’t really know these “whose head?” POV rules when I first started out, and when at long last I stumbled on an article about it, it was like the heavens parted, and I understood why some of the scenes in my works-in-progress felt scattered or weak to me, but darned if I could figure out why. I was honestly so grateful for this insight, I became a zealot. If you ever saw the writing anecdotes I had on my website way back when, you already know this about me.

I learned quickly not to head-hop, so that wasn’t a huge problem (especially because I didn’t do it that much in the first place, but ugh, the places where I did do it, the scene paid a hefty price). But there are other amazing nuances to POV, so much so that, to this day, if a scene isn’t working for me, the first thing I ask myself is if it might go smoother from another character’s POV. At least 10% of the time that simple switch does the trick!

But I would never advise an aspiring author that head-hopping is completely verboten.  At most, I’d argue its advantages, and warn against misuse. And the poor writer would have to sit through my many, many glowing examples, so in that way, it would be torture. But still, I’d grudgingly declare it a guideline.

If you’re a writer who has been overwhelmed by strict advice, I have a few resources to recommend since they came on my radar this year. Coincidentally, both are from the Carina Press blog, which tells me they have a great attitude over that about such things. These two posts don’t cover all the “rules” but they do illustrate the “guideline” approach to writing tips.


(I like this one by editor Jeff Seymour because he gives great advice about passive voice, and that’s rare these days; also, note how he says a tiny mistake in a query letter won’t doom you. Whew, right?)


This is a post by Executive Editor Angela James. I read it months ago, but it stuck with me as you can tell, and it probably inspired Write Like a Pirate Day in the sense that it made me feel I wasn’t alone (or in denial) on this issue. The best stuff is in Ms. James’s responses to comments; oh, and you’ll notice she has a different POV on point-of-view than I have, but isn’t that really the point of WLAPD?  Ms. James holds a workshop from time to time, and while I haven’t personally experienced it, I’ve heard testimonials and can only assume it’s dynamite so I feel comfortable recommending it:


Okay, so if you’re in the mood to write, go write like a pirate! Or if you’d rather do something else, this advice applies to a lot of activities – clean like a pirate, diet like a pirate, but just don’t plunder like a pirate, because that’s just wrong.

And sometime during the day, be sure to talk like a pirate. Arrrrrrr!



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