January 11, 2011

What Writing Rules Do You Hate?

Angry Face Drawing

Anyone who has had me read their work can attest to the fact that I can be a tad, um … detail-oriented.  *ahem*  All right, I’ll admit it.  I’m a nit-picky perfectionist, even on beta-reads.

I know, I know.  I’m trying to control this tendency.  Beta-reading shouldn’t involve line-editing.  And I owe more beta-reads than I have time to line-edit, so it’s in my best interest to scale back my overly abundant comments.

But it’s hard for me to not say anything once I notice an issue.  If I see a misplaced comma, a missing word, dialogue tags that should be beats and vice versa, improper punctuation for dialogue tags/beats, unnecessary sentence fragments, or any of a hundred other broken “rules”, I have to sit on my hands until the urge to correct the problem passes.

Except for one.

Do you know what rule I won’t correct?  I’ll give you a hint.  I broke it two paragraphs up.

Need another hint?  There are three rules for using other punctuation with quotation marks:

  1. All commas and periods should go inside quotation marks.  (She said, “Hi.”)
  2. All colons and semicolons should go outside quotation marks.  (She rattled off her grocery “list”: something green, something healthy, and something chocolate.)
  3. Question marks and exclamation marks should go inside quotation marks when they apply to the quoted words (She asked, “Why?”), and they should go outside quotation marks when they apply to the unquoted words of the sentence (Would she ever forget this “incident”?).

It might be hard to believe this statement coming from a stickler like me, but I hate rule number 1 when it applies to scare quotes, air quotes, irony quotes, whatever you want to call them.  After all, they’re meant to emphasize certain words, so shouldn’t rule number 3 apply to comma and periods when used with scare quotes?

But alas, that is not the rule.  The comma in my sentence above should have gone inside of the quotes, like so:

…a hundred other broken “rules,” I have to sit on my hands….

Yes, it’s okay to stop and scoff at just how bizarre I am.  Not only do I know this somewhat obscure rule, but I have the desire to break it—on purpose—all the time.  And this isn’t a my-voice-demands-an-occasional-sentence-fragment type of thing.  This isn’t a voice thing at all.  This is a I-plain-hate-the-rule-and-think-it’s-stupid thing.  I am a punctuation usage wanna-be rebel!  *roar*

Or more likely, I’m a complete dork.

However, I’m a dork with Google skills.  That’s why I know the only reason that rule exists is because with the invention of printing presses, the puny little period and comma pieces were placed inside the quotation marks to protect them from breakage.  My method of ordering the punctuation even has a name: logical style.  Hah!  Logical.  I am so right about this stupid rule.

But what do I do in my manuscripts?  If I ignore the rule, agents and editors would assume I don’t know the rule, and I might lose the tiniest bit of respect in their eyes.  And that bit of respect might tip the scales from a “yes” to a “no.”  So, just like I did in the previous sentence, I *grumble grumble* follow the inane rule of punctuation placement, even though it’s completely illogical.

Are there any writing rules you hate?  Do you love starting a scene with unattributed dialogue?  Do you hate remembering all the rules for commas?  Do you *gasp* have a prologue?  What are your writing rule pet peeves?

Comments — What do you think?

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Piper Bayard

Thanks so much for clearing this up for me. Personally, I punctuate from the heart. However, I will periodically listen to instruction when it’s delivered this well. All the best.

Roni Loren

I’m with you on the logical way. And I hear ya about the urge to line edit everything. I have that compulsion too. That’s why it’s taking me forever to get through the contest entries I’m judging. I should’ve just stuck with judging for the GH since you can’t do any inline suggestions on that one, lol.


I agree. Commas and periods make more sense placed outside air quotes. Maybe if more established authors broke Rule 1, the rule would change. Another funny thing I’m seeing a lot is the personal pronoun “I” not capitalized, even on “serious” websites. Not sure what to make of that one.

Austin Wulf

I follow the logical style rule, but I think it’s silly. Kind of like ending a sentence in a preposition: Sometimes it sounds awkward not to. Also, I like to start sentences with conjunctions. But I know it’s incorrect.


Wow, did you write this post for me? Commas? Oh, boy!

Actually, now that you’ve listed it all this stuff. I think I hate beat versus tags, too. *shrug* Alright, I confess, I do eenie, meenie, miney, moe with them. 😉

Did I bedazzle you with all those pesky commas?

Murphy 😀

Kristen Lamb

I used to be the Grammar Nazi from Hell, but have had to learn to lighten the hell up if I hoped to ever accomplish anything in life LOL.

Great blog!

A.J. Zaethe
A.J. Zaethe

I am so glad you asked. My number one hated rule would have to be the one on prologues. I love prologues. I think they are handy dandy notebook. Then again, I am also a fantasy writer, so I have more use for them. But still!
Thanks for the post.

Janet B Taylor

Hi Jami, old buddy!
Man, I have me a serious em dash and ellipsis issue. I like them. I think they add nicely to the pacing of a book. It may be that I like them too much. What do ya’ll think about these slippery, little buggers?

Suzanne Johnson

THANK YOU for clarifying the rules for commas and semicolons–those are the most common errors I see when I’m editing. Unlike you, I REALLY LOVE having commas and periods inside quotes and it drives me nuts to see them used improperly–no matter how the rule came about. The thing that makes me roll my eyes when people read my work is having them mark sentence fragments. I use them a lot, especially in dialogue and deep POV because that is how people think and talk, especially heterosexual males.

Lisa Gail Green

I am guilty. I know rules are there for a reason. But sometimes I break them anyway! Sometimes there are good reasons to break them… 😀


Preach on, sister.

I was an English teacher for sixteen years and am a bit of a stickler (geek), too.

But the quotation mark rules need to be adjusted. (And I think it’s okay to begin a sentence with a conjunction or even to write sentence fragments when it’s a style choice.)

I used to tell my students that they could break rules if they first knew the rules and then had a reason to break them.

Sounds like your logical rule for quotation marks fits that bill.

Carry on. 😉


Hmm, I guess I lean towards the punctuation inside the quotes, otherwise it just looks so weird to me, very “the cheese stands alone.” I have a pet peeve for writers that use the same adjective over and over. If it’s necessary, fine, but it can degrade the story too if the reader is bored of hearing about the same thing. (ex. I LOVED the Twilight series, but Stephenie Meyer did use the word ‘russet’ to describe Jacob all the time in the first book. I just wanted some other trait about him.)


I hate trying to remember all the rules. Really, they just need to be simpler. Lol. So of course I’m on board for rule breakage on this one. ;p


Having forgotten most of the rules of grammar, I generally jitterbug freely through my compositions–and no, it’s not just to bug English teachers. Mrs. Mary Orr of seventh grade will always be a sweet memory. “I didn’t say you were a good writer. I said you wrote interesting sentences.” Some journalism class in college gave me the opportunity to set type. Take it out of little drawers and place it carefully, in reverse, into small wooden boxes. Fun with obsolete technology. Several years ago I threw out the typesetter rules for quotation marks, opting for the logical system. Also gone: the prohibitions against splitting infinitives, ending a sentence with an infinitive, and beginning a sentence with a conjunction. What will never go 1: the prohibition against mixing number in order to avoid saying the dread his. “Each student will turn in their paper”–NOT! “Each student will turn in his or her paper”–NOT! “Each student will turn in his paper.” Or, if it’s a class of girls, then, “Each student will turn in her paper.” What will never go 2: The requirement to use the proper case for pronouns. “This invitation is for she and I.” When I hear that sort of thing, I want to hunt, trap, skin, and cook the perpetrator. Where does that particular disaster come from? Quibble: Our language lacks a half-height exclamation mark. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to show that a sentence was spoken with vigor but not alarm? Yeah. I want a…  — Read More »

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