This is my last post on rules. Really. It is. As much as I love the idea of following rules and finding success by doing so, rules are only parameters by which we can measure how fluent our stories are. To me, the key to good writing lies not in an ability to follow rules, but in an ability to write from the heart.
Case in point, I've got four books out. Three of them got great reviews. One did not. I've gotten great reader response on that less-than-stellarly-reviewed book, I've had many people tell me it was their favorite thus far, but the fact remains - in my mind it fell flat. I fought that story from page one to the end. I was so busy worrying about rules and guidelines that I forgot the most important element of writing - heart.
What is heart? It's that indefinable force that compels a reader to keep turning pages, that not-so-easy-to-define something that makes characters leap from the book and into the minds and souls of those who are reading. It's what is achieved when a writer lets go of preconceived ideas about what works and what doesn't and writes what is clamoring to be written. It's what happens when we trust ourselves and our abilities, our talents and our gifts. Some people call it writing in the zone. I call it writing with passion.
So, last rule - write your first draft with passion and heart. Then go back and apply whatever list of rules and guidelines you're working with. In that way, you'll better express your individual style and voice. And in the end, those things are what will carry your story.