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.