Writing norms or writing rules refer to the generally accepted standards and guidelines for written communication within a particular language, culture, or context.
Writing norms help ensure clarity, consistency, and effective communication in various forms of writing, such as essays, reports, letters, emails, academic papers, and more.
If there is one thing a language teacher or creative writing coach loves to throw about, more than a reference to their own book, it is writing norms or rules.
They bang on and on about them and because writer’s want to be the best they can they cling onto them like they have one hand on the Holy Grail.
Writing Norms and Rules
Some examples of writing norms include:
Grammar and Syntax – This includes the rules governing the structure of sentences, proper word usage, verb tense, subject-verb agreement, and punctuation.
Spelling and Vocabulary – Correct spelling and appropriate word choice are essential for clear and effective communication.
Organization and Structure – Writing should follow a logical structure, with a clear introduction, body, and conclusion. This may vary depending on the type of document, e.g., a research paper, a business proposal, or a creative story.
Formatting and Style – Different writing types may require specific formatting and style guidelines. For example, academic papers often follow a particular citation style (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago), while business communications adhere to a specific format.
Tone and Voice – Writing norms dictate the appropriate tone for a given context. For example, formal documents require a more professional tone, while creative writing may allow for a more personal or expressive voice.
Audience Awareness – Effective writers consider their audience’s expectations, knowledge, and needs, adjusting their writing style and content accordingly.
Clarity and Conciseness – Readers value clear and concise writing. Avoiding jargon and unnecessary complexity helps ensure your readers understand the message.
Editing and Proofreading – Proofreading and editing for errors in grammar, spelling, and clarity are essential to produce high-quality writing.
Cultural and Contextual Sensitivity – Depending on the audience and context, writing norms may include being sensitive to cultural differences, avoiding offensive language, or adhering to specific communication conventions.
Writing norms can vary significantly depending on the specific audience, purpose, and context of the writing.
A writing that is acceptable in one context or culture may not be appropriate in another. While writing norms can help writers to effectively convey their message to their audience, it can inhibit creativity.
It’s hard to say exactly why we cling onto these writing rules, but it probably has something to do with the fact creative writing is chaotic. It just is. It’s creative, and that means it is almost anarchic by nature or, at the very least, slippery.
So the chance to follow rules makes us believe that there are some creative writing rules and freelance writing guidelines to help us reach the heights we so desperately want to reach. Almost as if there is a walk-through guide that will help us know we’re heading in the right direction.
But some rules are more important than others. Actually, to be more specific, some rules are important than these rules:
Rule #1: Always Show, Never Tell
The always show, never tell rule is fed to writers like popcorn that is about to go out of date. Writers just get told over and over and over again that they should always show a reader what happens and not just tell them, but when you boil this down to its true meaning, it is a totally useless rule that is subjective.
Some of the best books we have ever read are books that have told us about events, and these aren’t just books that are the exceptions to the rule.
It is all about balance. Too much showing overloads a book with prose and adjectives and that runs the risk of convoluting the story.
Sometimes it is just better off dealing with a scene, or an event, or a twist of fate in nothing more than a few chapters. It is all about what feels right to you, which requires you to read what you write back and decide on the flow. A good writer must learn how to balance showing and telling when writing.
Rule #2: Never Use A Passive Voice
You may have a small echo at the back of your head right about now as you try to think back to your high school days and your teacher reinforcing the passive rule at every chance, along with the use of however in a sentence and all of that.
Yes, using a passive voice can cause problems in some situations, but it can be a great thing to use in others. For example, an author may well want to use a passive voice to obscure who it is that is doing the actions, and why.
It is a great way to add a little bit of mystery, some intrigue, and suspense. So, yeah, using a passive voice doesn’t automatically make it synonymous with problems, it is just about using it wisely.
Rule #3: Only Write What You Know
For most people, writing is an escape. It is a chance to use the incredible imagination we were gifted at birth and nurtured as a young adult.
Sure, there are some people who have climbed Everest with just a parrot for a sherpa and people who have discovered Atlantis while looking for the lost treasure of HMS Whatever, and for these people, it is fine. They get to write what they know.
But for everyone else, well, we need another approach, and that is to write about what interests us. That’s the key to success.
To be interested in our own work. That’s what most authors and writers do. Put it this way, L. Frank Baum didn’t take a quick vacation to Oz and study all those flying monkeys before writing The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz.
Writing Norms and Creative Writing
A creative writer should not be bound by writing norms in the same way that formal or academic writers might be.
The hallmarks of creative writing is the freedom to break traditional rules and writing norms to create unique and imaginative works. Here’s why creative writers may not be bound by writing norms:
Artistic Expression – Creative writing is often considered a form of artistic expression. Writers are encouraged to experiment with language, form, and style to create something new and original. This can involve the intentional breaking of grammatical rules, playing with structure, and using unconventional vocabulary to achieve artistic effects.
Voice and Style – Creative writers often develop their own unique voice and style, which may not conform to conventional norms. These distinct voices can set them apart and make their work more compelling and personal.
Innovation – Creativity often thrives on innovation. Creative writers push the boundaries of accepted writing norms, introducing new techniques and approaches to storytelling, poetry, or any other form of creative writing.
Emotional Impact – Creative writing aims to evoke emotions, thoughts, and reactions in readers. Sometimes, adhering strictly to writing norms can stifle the emotional impact of a piece. Creative writers may choose to break norms to achieve a specific emotional or thematic effect.
Subversion of Expectations – Creative writers may intentionally subvert writing norms to surprise and challenge readers. This can lead to thought-provoking and memorable work.
Finally, on Writing Norms and Rules
While creative writers have more freedom to deviate from writing norms, they should still have a strong understanding of these norms.
Knowing the rules and conventions of language and storytelling allows writers to break them purposefully and effectively.
It’s a bit like the idea that you should learn the rules before you can break them. This way, writers can ensure that their deviations from norms are intentional and serve a specific creative purpose, rather than simply being the result of ignorance.