Know the Rules to Break Them

A look at why you need to understand the rules before you can break them.

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I’ve never been one for following the writing rules. I hate that people call them rules as well. There is no rule when it comes to writing; there are guidelines of things that generally work. That’s a bit more of a mouthful to say, so people call them rules. But you can literally do whatever you want when writing – history is filled with literature where people threw the metaphorical writing guidelines of things that generally work book out the window and went on to critical or commercial success, or both, and made a truly fantastic book.

Now, having said that, you can’t be bad at writing and claim that you’re being innovative. That may sound quite harsh, it is, but it’s something that is not uncommon. It’s something that I used to do all the time. The vast majority of my early writing lacked a second act. It was all beginning and end because I didn’t like middles. They also lacked any sequels when looking at things in a scene/sequel way. Again, it was because I didn’t like the boring bits. Yes, that is literally how I used to refer to them. My ignorance and lack of ability to write those parts was not a style choice. It was ignorance. Now that I have more understanding of why those things exist and how they work I’m free to ignore them if I want to. Because I’m making an informed choice. Hopefully.

That’s the crux of why you need to know the guidelines of things that generally work. They exist for a very specific reason. If you look at the act structure, that has been around for as long as humanity has been telling stories, much less writing them down. It exists because it works and it resonates with us. Does that mean it’s the only way to do it? No. Can you do a single act structure, or a fifty-act structure? Yep. As long as you understand why the classics methods work and what they’re doing to the story. Writing is no different than any other field. I can’t make a fully automated electric engine that runs off of sunlight without understanding first how a basic petrol combustion engine works. I can’t become the world’s new Gordan Ramsay without first understanding the fundamentals of classic cookery. When you understand the basics and why they work, you can do what you want with them. But, without that knowledge, you’re being ignorant and calling it style.

David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.

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