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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Love/hate Relationship with "Rules"

I bought a book Jessica highly recommended. I'm glad I did, because there on the opening page was a line that reinforced what I've tried to teach others.

The book?

Robert McKee's Story

The line?

It's in the Introduction. It says:

"Story is about principles, not rules."

Now before y'all start Snoopy dancing and throw out your craft books, listen to the next line.

"A rule says, 'You must do it this way.' A principle says, 'This works ... and has through all time.' The difference is crucial."

He goes on to say that you don't need to model your work or novel after the "well-made" one; rather yours should be well-made or well-written within the principles that shape our craft.

He also adds, "Anxious, inexperienced writers obey rules. Rebellious, unschooled writers break rules. Artists master them."

It takes time, learning to master these principles, but once you do, you will also know how to manipulate them to the benefit of your work.

So when you see a multi-published novelist deviate from the principle of let's say passive writing, study closely why the author did that. Could it be they were trying to create a passive mood? Show the character's inability to make a decision?

For me, dissecting a novel I loved became vita to the mastering process. So instead of grousing that So-and-so didn't follow the rules so why should I, I started to study why So-and-so did it, and in that process, I learned more. May we never stop learning.

Write on, scribes, write on.


  1. Rules, schmules. They only work when they work. ;) (My Yogi Berra phrase for the day.)

    Rules are guidelines. (My tribute to Captain Barbossa.)

    The creative process of writing fiction can't be limited to a formula. While the rules apply to many areas of the process, to bind a writer and the quality of their work to a set of rigid rules is to snuff out the beauty of creating something innovative and worthy of a new design.

    Writing shows trends just like other art. Trends last a season. Writing lasts forever.

    Good post, Ane.

  2. Good stuff, Ane. Got to get that book!

  3. Fabulous post, Ane! My favorite quote from it: "Anxious, inexperienced writers obey rules. Rebellious, unschooled writers break rules. Artists master them."
    Gonna print that off as a reminder when I get my big girl panties in a wad over these rules!


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