Writing has rules. I don’t think anyone who’s been at this writer thing a while would argue with that. But, at the same time, we artists tend to like to break the rules, don’t we? It’s an odd relationship, and it leads me to my topic of discussion.
How important are writing rules?
Well, there’s certainly something you could say about technique’s value. One shouldn’t just ignore years and years of other’s hard-earned experience. There’s a reason we say “ecstatic” rather than “very happy”: because the former proved itself to communicate and entertain better.
And yet, for every rule, there seems to be some kind of exception to it. “Don’t have an adverb after a dialogue tag,” is generally a good one, but go back and look at Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and you’ll find it snaps that particular chestnut over its knee. “Show, don’t tell,” holds up until you hit Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, whose long explanations of how things work are the best parts of the series –in my opinion at least.
So then, what conclusion can we draw from all of this? Perhaps that the rules don’t really matter? That breaking the rules makes you famous?
No, obviously not that. I don’t even think it’s the old adage of “rules are meant to be broken.” I think it’s more along the lines of this:
The rules exist to prevent mistakes. To make sure that people still learning don’t develop bad habits.
But, and this is important. If you want to break them. If you know the rules, and feel like they are making your story worse or less communicative. If altering it to fit the rules would destroy a piece of your artistic integrity: then you smash that rule. You do it with a smile on your face.
You do it because part of being an artist is exploring the limits of art, of seeing what new crazy effects you can make.