Write Wrong 3: When You See A Rule, Break It.

Hello rebels!

I wrote a ton of stuff on this subject, but upon reviewing it today I kind of wanted to poke my eyes out with pillows. So, I’m going to start over because it’s just easier than reading my mess and fixing it.

What’s that you say? I’m going against my own lessons learned? Yeah well. You’re going to love this then.

Rules. They exist to be broken.

Speed limit 55. That means seventy, right? Unless there’s a cop, or maybe I’m in a parking lot.

Early to bed and early to rise. Why? I’ll take the exhaustion in order to catch up on Colbert, Noah, Fargo, and whatever might be rolling on TCM. Or a good book. Or Milk Duds.

My favorite writers continually break the rules, but don’t kid yourself. They do it on purpose. You’re not a rebel if you break the rules by accident. You’re just ignant.

For example, a huge, gigantic, big deal rule on storytelling, is that your main character must start out wanting something they can not have. It gives them something to do.

Sounds dumb? Or too obvious to apply to your genius work?

This is probably the shortest and best explanation of why the rule exists:

Before you leave though, I’ll tell you how I wrote wrong because dammit I’m a rebel and don’t need no stinking rules.

In my critically avoided novel, Attack of the Bootysnatchers, the main character did not want something she couldn’t have! I KNOW! I’M OFF THE RAILS YO!

In fact, she wasn’t motivated to do anything, she just didn’t care. I dedicated a lot of early chapters to illustrate that point.

When I gave my future-NYT-best-seller manuscript to friends and asked for feedback, none of them finished the story. Some of them had a few nice things to say, but didn’t get very far. How could they NOT finish my masterpiece?

When I joined a writer’s group to showcase what would be the greatest book they ever read, I spent so many months explaining that they didn’t get my story; they didn’t understand what I was leading up to, and if they just kept reading, it’d all make sense.

Have you ever said that to someone about your book? “Just keep reading, you’ll love it!”

That’s a tough sell. I know there’s plenty of books that do start like that, but the only time I’ll keep reading a book (despite my disinterest) is if I already love the author, or I’ve been TOLD that the book gets better. I wish I could tell you I’m more patient than that, but, hello, have we met?

I spent a lot of time disregarding that rule, (once I’d heard about it) and instead, explaining to people that the story gets better, I meant for the main character to be uninteresting.

After about six months of that, I finally got it; I accepted that I’d written wrong and could either go back and fix the mess, or I could save the book, and wait for it to be published posthumously when scholars are begging for any remaining scraps of my brilliant wordsmithery.

Please let me save you six months of frustration:

Take the time to understand why a rule exists, how it serves your story and your writing, before you disregard it.

When you understand WHY Mr. Miyagi is making you wax-on-wax-off, only then will you you become the superbad karate kid. Or something.

Maybe next week I’ll take on one of the most annoying rules of writing: Show Don’t Tell. So many people hate that rule, but not so many understand what it actually means.

But that’s next week.

For now? Go write some crap.