Rules and Roolz

‘Now rules are for the protection of the people…’

Sometimes I think we’ve lost sight of why we have laws and rules. Given that if you put any two or more politicians close proximity to each other, and suddenly the dratted things breed in a fashion that makes rabbits look like celibates, well, we’re rapidly approaching the ridiculous point at which no human can possibly remember all the myriad and often contradictory regulations.

Many make little sense to start with, and none at all outside the narrow context of their initial framing. (For example if I want to connect a gutter to a water-tank I need to get a plumber to join the pipes. Maybe that makes sense in the city, who knows? But in the rural farms of Flinders Island… every farmer joins pipes. And you might well have to fly that plumber in. Which is very nice for the plumber, but straight bad in every other sense.) Remarkably few succeed in doing what they were intended for. Criminals ignore them, the ultra-wealthy find them no inconvenience (and ignore those that do impinge). However they’re pretty good at transforming Joe Decentfellow into either into a habitual criminal or harried — and very poor — wreck, trying to comply with them all.

Which rather begs the initial question: they’re not very functional, they hurt those who are the good guys, and they have limited impact on the bad. In theory they may have been for the protection of the people – but in practice they are all too often for the convenience and profit of those power and their cronies (see the plumber making a handsome profit, connecting rainwater tanks.)

But like most roads to hell, they started with good intentions, and indeed, at a certain level do good. Of course that’s never stopped people screwing it up, and using to further their power or improve their own profit. That’s humans for you. It’s at a time like this — when I’ve just been through 134 pages of bush fire rules for buildings – which could be summarized into ‘don’t be an idiot, and if you are, don’t expect anyone else to fix it.’ – that I’m glad to be a monkey, not a human. Yes, that would mean that several hundred bureaucrats were unemployed, various experts would not get to charge large fees (no, they guarantee nothing), town council bureaucrats would make less money, insurers would have less sure bets (no, they charge no less), and materials and building would be far, far cheaper for Joe Decentfellow – who, provided he was no idiot, would lose nothing.

You see law, originally with that good intention was intended to codify justice (or social interaction) and to make that justice affect everyone more evenly and reliably. It made for a more fair, and a nicer, safer society in which Joe knew the limits and knew if he stuck inside them. It was good for Joe and made a good place to be, to live, to do well for himself – better than a place without them.

And, once upon a time anyway, Joe could always leave if he didn’t like them.

So what does this have to do with writing, you may ask…

Not surprisingly if you think about it, a lot. Just about every phase of a writer’s life is hemmed with rules – more every day, many merely there for a relic reason or to benefit those in power. And – as in the wider world – many of these have no positive impact on either writers or readers – they’re either relics or there for someone else’s convenience. Trust me on this: the reader doesn’t care and is not less likely to buy your book if you haven’t followed the rules set out Strunk and White. The reader only cares if they can’t follow the story easily. The reader doesn’t give a flying pork sausage if you haven’t followed whatever formatting rules the magazine or publishing house set. They only care if it makes their enjoyment of the story less. And that of course was the noble intent those rules were set for.

They do actually help… at the basic common-sense level.

But that is where it stops. When a copy editor or proof-reader starts obsessing about the fact that you’ve boldly dared to split an infinitive – it’s time for them to go and soak their heads. If you’re an indy, you can tell them so. The same, for example, goes for head-hopping (multiple points of view). The purpose in the rule was to avoid confusing the reader. That’s ALL. I try to abide by it, for that reason. But there are times when that is a constraint that adds nothing. There are several authors who are wildly more successful than I am – who head-hop cheerfully.

The ‘rules’ for writers extend in many directions. Take the ‘you will only submit to one publisher/editor at a time – unless you have an agent, and then miraculously, multiple submissions are just fine.’ Does anyone in their right mind see that this is good for readers or writers? It was good for publishers and agents (the equivalent of plumbers needed to attach the pipe from the gutter to the water-tank.) And in a small, common-sense way that made sense to avoid gumming up the works and making 15 editors waste time reading something that the 16th had accepted. It was necessary (by virtue of their gate-keeper power) for authors to coddle publishers. It isn’t a rule which has the faintest vestige of sense any more. Yet it is still expected and obeyed…

On the other hand some ‘rules’ have evolved to make things better for writers and readers. Those are worth sifting out, and giving serious consideration to. For example: most books are written in past tense, either first person or third, and – for ease of comprehension, one sticks to either one of those in a book (yes, I know. I’ve done first/ third. One distinct character from first, the rest third. There was a good reason for it and it was clearer to reader, thus). A few people like Chuck Wendig have written present second person. It’s possible. I found it jarring, and hard to read for a while – and then hard to go back to past-tense third of first. This may be the intent or not, but as far as I can see it’s benefits are outweighed by fact that reading feeds reading, and there is 0.00001% of possible books in that style for the reader.

At another level there are clear rules which you have little choice as a writer but to follow: you want to be paid for your e-book– you follow the rules set out by Amazon. Createspace wants it just so… or it won’t work. Likewise – but possibly with less benefit, the taxman takes a dim view of you not following his rules.

And then there are my own ‘rules’ – about which I am personally rigid because they’re the compact I have with my readers. Your mileage may vary – it plainly does for a lot of the traditionally published authors out there, as I’ve seen in the post-election freak-outs. Firstly: I respect my readers. Their politics, faith and ideals are their own. I may not agree with them. My book may reflect that, but I’m not going to tell you not to buy it, or that you’re a racist and misogynist. What you are or aren’t is your problem. Mine is to write books. Secondly: I want readers to come out of one of my books not feeling like they just had a lecture about how vile humans are. Most of us have enough experience of that! My books are the inverse – how great humans can possibly be. Of course monkeys are superior, but you can’t have everything. I want you to come out that piece of escapism I wrote entertained and yes… feeling the world doesn’t entirely suck, and there is hope. We can build a future, humans can overcome.

But that’s more common sense than a rule.


      1. I think it was, back in the days when stupidity was more likely to be lethal. The chronically foolish got weeded out early by livestock, predators, large falling objects, or the non-human environment (“I’m just a little wet. I’ll keep going and dry off when I get there. Besides, moving will help keep me warm, and the wind’s not that bad yet.”)

      2. “Horse sense” is out of fashion, but there are a good many horses whose judgement I trust more than that of many people – even if you assume/presume horses aren’t very sensible, it holds.

        1. My experience with horses is pretty limited, and confined to what I suspect are the equivalent of horse East-Coast aristocrats (over bred and exceptionally pampered) but they weren’t long on sense. In fact I did wonder how they survived in the wild.

          1. The ones raised in a stall are totally incapable of reacting sensibly to bad weather. The ones that grew up out in all weather appreciate a nice warm barn no matter how scary the noise on the roof is. I’ve had both types.

      3. Common sense was probably originally “commoner’s sense,” and by historical standards, none of us are commoners. It’s surprising that any of it remains.

          1. Less insulation from the realities of life.
            Take the idiotic statement “humans are the only animals that kill for fun”. Anyone with exposure to wild animals (or even a housecat) should know the statement could not possibly be more mistaken.
            But I bet if you polled it, a majority of the population would agree with the statement.

  1. A timely post, in that I was racking my brains over the idiocy of two major publishing houses requirements for submission of my novel: one wants 10,000–give or take depending– and the the other wants the whole enchilada, which is fine. But what really got my goat was that in the 21st Century they want paper submissions and a prepaid envelope to send their reply back. What is this, the 1980s all of a sudden. No one has an email? Or is that secret? Have they not heard of no-reply accounts if they’re worried about being spammed?

    And don’t get me started on the other two publishing houses that will only take submissions through an agent. Perhaps I should start my own agency and represent myself?

      1. Heck, I’d considering joining though not an author. After all, you need some cover right? So, let ’em talk to the hoof… so to speak.

        Also, I think I need a new, full scottle of botch.

      2. The down side is that agent operates not so much on quality but on trust and leverage. That is the publisher trusts them to find authors that are to their taste (which de facto means that they share the same ideology and use the right code buzzwords and fit the PC mold neatly) and the agent has leverage by means of much more valuable clients who he may well steer away if the publisher gives strife. This is not something that the new created agent has automatically.

    1. Ashley I think they retain it to make it harder and more expensive to submit. A sort of first tier ‘weeding’ if you like. Unfortunately, given the alternatives, they’re pulling a lot of good plants too.

      Agents are a filter. As an unknown agent you would have almost value to their filter system ;-/

  2. RedState
    Associate Attorney General pick ‘scary looking’.
    Posted at 5:43 am on November 21, 2016 by Moe Lane

    His column today at EveryJoe discussed a few early priorities.
    1. A complete audit of the Department of Justice for corrupt or treasonous officials.
    2. A renewed focus on counterintelligence.
    3. Some changes to the Robert Kennedy building which have yet to be finalized.
    4. Making sure that Department of Justice armed forces are ready to be the tip of the spear in the fight against our intelligence rivals.

    Associate Attorney General Tom Kratman would serve along side Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Solicitor General Ted Cruz.

        1. “No, no, you idiot. That noise over there is the Southern Fandom breaking out into high-pitched-teenaged girl squealing. Yes, it’s disturbing. But what you should have paid attention to was when Col. Kratman said to you, ‘I didn’t come in peace. Unlike Gen. Mattis, I brought artillery.’ And that whistling you hear from that direction is…

          Oh, damn, connection terminated.”

  3. A dangling participle is a grammar error that is likely to cause the reader confusion, as the noun is missing. A split infinitive on the other hand, “To boldly go where no man has gone before”, generates no confusion, except to a grammar Nazi. As a reader I want to understand what you are meaning to say. I would find ‘to go boldly’ a more stilted phrase, in spite of it being more grammatically correct.
    It is kind of like reading the assembly instructions written by some Chinese Engineer in English as a second language. Sometimes they can be funny (one manual assumed ‘N’ was a substitute for ‘and’), they are always awkward, but they are understandable. I do not think an author wants his/her reviews to start “Awkward but understandable”.

    1. The company stood rooted to the ground in terror. The creature was about fifty feet tall, with wide lapels, long dangling participles, and a pronounced gazetteer.

      “Aiyee!” shouted Legolam. “A Thesaurus!”

      “Maim!” roared the monster. “Mutilate, mangle, crush. See HARM.”

      – Bored of the Rings

  4. If only all the rules came with consequences for the rulers. E.g. you can mandate plumbers for water tanks, ONLY if you can get people a plumber within 12 hours of the request and same price for everyone, no travel fees tacked on. Or banning guns in a business, but only if that business then accepts all responsibility for the safety of anyone who enters. (and provides free, secure lockers for the storage of legal weapons….) And my personal pet peeve, requiring sorted recyclables with fees for getting it wrong. That government has to PROVE, on demand at any time, that those precious sorted items actually get recycled and not all tossed in the same landfill. I think the penalty will involve the regulators getting staked out at the same landfill…

    1. I’ve seen “sorted ” bins all go into the same truck into the same holding bin many times. To eliminate the pesky high costs of people, they changed to more automated systems and team sorting at the collection center, but the towns/cities never dropped the mandatory sort clause and fine. Yes, the seem to be deep commie blue twons/cities, why do you ask?
      Also “No Glass” recycling. How effing stupid is that?

      1. I can kinda see the “no glass,” because of the color problem, and for the sharps hazard of the broken stuff. But yes, it’s a pain.

        1. but glass, like Aluminum, takes scads more energy to make than it does to recycle, and well, it ain’t like everything else doesn’t have sharps involved.
          At work they push their “No Harm” stuff and I asked “Where is the cardboard recycling?” (we generated a few tons a week), also no glass, also, no aluminum, nor Brass?
          Hell, before the buyout we recycled all metals because it made money (seen brass prices?), but any done after was just the local employee safety org, doing it for cash to pay for BBQ . . . and then once the announce closing, the scrap kept getting stolen.

  5. I’ve got three rules for writing:

    1) The writing is good if the story is clearly told. As long as the words don’t get in the way of the story, they’re fine. Literature teachers and Masters of Fine Arts may not approve, but I’d have hardly any sales at all if I worried about pleasing them.

    2) It’s my job to make sure the characters’ choices make sense within the story. If, on the face of it, the choices don’t make sense, I must provide a reasonable explanation for those choices.

    3) If I’m not having fun writing the story, my readers won’t have any fun reading the story.

    Those three rules are inviolate. Anything else, including every style and grammar guide ever written, can be ignored at my whim.

  6. Dave Freer: “Firstly: I respect my readers. Their politics, faith and ideals are their own. I may not agree with them. My book may reflect that, but I’m not going to tell you not to buy it, or that you’re a racist and misogynist. ”

    Ori: With one notable, and imminently justified, exception: “If you’re the kind of person who nicks stuff just because they can from someone who has trusted you, you’re not going to enjoy my work anyway, as I have a fairly low opinion of your ethics and values, and that shows in my writing.” (

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