Breaking the rules

Having written my last post about rules and structure, I’m now going to reply to a couple of the comments about breaking the rules. I think in any form of craft or art work breaking the rules is essential, but with some very important provisos.

First of all, you must know the rules and preferably have put them into practice before you break them. You must understand what they are there for and what the effect is of breaking them. From what little I know of art history, I think Picasso was really good at conventional painting, yet he redefined art by breaking out from the tradition at the time.

Another thing is to choose which rules to break, which really follows on from the first point. If you don’t know what the rules are, and why they are, then it will be impossible to make this choice. In my opinion, the more rules you break, the harder your readers will find it, and probably the fewer those readers will be. Your fans will probably love your work as brave and redefining genres, but there won’t be many of them! Jasper Fforde is another author I’ve read a lot of and he illustrates this point beautifully. The world he’s created in his books breaks all sorts of rules – for example his characters hop in and out of other people’s books. This means that characters from Dickens, for example, come out of books and have a life of their own in his books. But, his plots are very carefully put together. They are usually classic whodunnits with a strong detective (called Tuesday Next!) and a series of clues so that when you get to the end you have the “Oh, of course!” reaction. So he has chosen to break some fairly major rules, but he has kept some intact, and while they are successful books, they’re not exactly mainstream either.

To pick up on Susan’s comment, I think this illustrates the strength of plotting. If this situation had arisen in a “seat-of-the-pants” style of novel, then it could have unbalanced the whole work. But by having a written plot and synopsis, especially one that you regard as flexible, you can allow your characters their freedom to grow and change, while still keeping one eye firmly on the plot. In this way you can make sure that the whole book is still on course.

I have now got my copy of a book about plotting (I won’t mention the name here because it arrived today and I have no idea yet if it’s any good or not) and I’m already looking forward to reading it. I’m wondering if I could cut my previous novel up and rearrange it into a more pleasing plot. I also have a file of interesting ideas and characters that are waiting around for a plot as well as my WIP which may need some serious plot rescuing. If nothing else, the first few chapters need rewriting!

So I’ve got plenty of work ahead and feel quite energised about writing, especially now I’m viewing it as a craft. As always I’d love to know what you think so please leave your comments below.

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