I think that the second thing a writer ever does—after finding that great idea, the one that shakes you right down to your little cotton socks—is look for advice. How to write. How to write well. What to write, and what sells. Markets, platforms, outlines, rules. And let’s not forget strategies, story arcs, structures, and genres.
But sometimes, when you’re working on something, you find that it just doesn’t fit. The structure is weird. The characters don’t do what they’re supposed to. There’s a prologue, or an epilogue. Or, gods forbid, a fucking flashback. The story you’re working on breaks the rules, as you have been taught them. So, what do you do: change the story so it fits the rules, or say ‘fuck it’ and go your own way?
Thing To Consider #1: The rules exist for a reason. And that reason is not to hamstring your creativity. These rules of fiction exist because people have, at various times, found that they work. Overall, characters talk, and do things. Plots move like this. Dialogue sounds like this. These things are all useful guidelines, especially when you’re learning the craft. Because there is a craft to this, like making furniture or laying bricks. A lot of those techniques and things just plain work, and result in you not making a table that collapses under the weight of a single beer bottle.
Thing To Consider #2: You know your story better than anyone. Or you should. So you should know how it goes. And why you’re writing it. Is it for publication? Is it for your own enjoyment? How much does the intention dictate what rules are necessary? Personally, I feel like punctuation is tremendously useful if I’m ever planning on getting anyone else to read my crap. You might feel differently. You might also be the newest incarnation of James Fucking Joyce, in which case I wish you luck, but I’m not reading your book. Once was enough.
Thing To Consider #3: Are you breaking the rules because the story demands it…or because you demand it? Are you writing the best story you can, as you understand the criteria, or are you just proving what a special snowflake you are? Is this story or ego? Choose honestly and wisely. Because if you’re warping things just to prove how special you are, or because you think all those guidelines are for other people, you’re not telling a story. You’re making noise.
If you have considered the above to your best ability, then make your choice. Sometimes we’re just flouncing because doing things the right way is hard, and we hate hard. Rules and techniques seem like shackles even when they’re what the story needs.
But sometimes you need to chuck every single rule out the window and just go. And if that’s the sort of story you have on your hands, then don’t be afraid to break the rules so hard an entire legion of King’s men and all their goddamn horses won’t be able to put them back together.
So, which way do you need right now?
3 thoughts on “Do You Have This In Another Size? : Rules, and When To Break Them”
great to know these things.
I followed every bit of advice from agents and editors and ended up with a big piece of mush I didn’t like. I went back and added everything I LOVED and let the chips fall were they may. I don’t want to lose my identity doing what other people say. I tended to be a people pleaser and reclaiming my book was a good first step to taking back my life.
At the end of the day, you have to do you, even in books. Congratulations on taking the hard step!