5 Rules Writers Should Break

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broken rulesWelcome back to Firsts in Fiction, loyal listeners! Sadly, Heather couldn’t join us this week because of a scheduling conflict, but she should be back with us next week. For now, Steve and I take a look at a list of 10 rules iO9 (a sci-fi/fantasy website) says more writers should break. While we don’t agree with all of their assertions, the list is worth looking at and considering. You can find it here. As always, you can listen above or download the episode here. Find Steve and Heather and me on FacebookTwitteriTunes, and Stitcher.

Rather than copying and pasting the article from iO9, I’ll simply list the “rule” and let y0u click over to see what they have to say about it. I’ll also list our reaction to their ideas.

1. No Third Person Omniscient: While iO9 says that, when done well, third person omniscient point of view can add variety and much-needed information for world-building, we still think it’s too distracting. There are examples of good books written in omniscient, but there are far more examples of those that are done in a more structured series of third limited. While by the strictest definition, these books are in omniscient, each chapter or scene takes on a “limited” perspective to keep everything clean and tidy. We think this is the best way to handle it.

2. No Prologues: This one’s pretty easy. We’re with iO9 on this one. While editors and publishers say that prologues slow thing down (and often don’t focus on main or important characters), in genre fiction, readers are fine with them, especially in science-fiction and fantasy. They may not be as successful in literary fiction, but they can help to create some great suspense and widen a worldview to readers who thirst for rich world-building details.

3. No Info-Dumps: I tend to agree with this rule (which means I disagree with iO9–sorry, guys!). For me, an info-dump is a pretty lazy way to drop back story and world-building in the lap of the reader. The problem with these is that it’s trying too hard. I’d rather see things revealed a bit at a time, creating mysteries, alluding to icebergs that lie far beneath the surface of the water. Long story short, the reader doesn’t need to know every little detail about our worlds, only enough to understand the plot as it exists on the pages. By the way, these are especially bad when done through dialog. Resist the urge to explain. Let the mystery of your story bring about appropriate details where necessary.

4. Fantasy Novels Must Be Part of a Series: I think the idea here is that series tend to sell. I also think fantasy writers like to do series because it allows them more time to fully develop their worlds. But I’m with iO9 with this one. Fantasy books can be just as good as a stand-alone. But, as a writer, when you invest so heavily into a world and a wide-ranging cast of characters, you want extra pages to flesh things out. At times, though, it’s nice as a reader to pick up a quick journey and see it through from beginning to end without having to wait a few years for the next installment. Additionally, stand-alone books still give you an opportunity to expand. You can follow new characters in the same world, follow a new quest with new players. So feel free to break the “series” rule for fantasy novels (though publishers won’t be as thrilled with that decision).

5. No Portal Fantasy: The reason this rule exists is because it’s become a trope that’s been over-played. It’s a well from which too many people have drawn (I feel this way about literary books set during World War II). That said, I’m not sure the concept, though overdone, is truly dry of all originality. My series, The Hand of Adonai, would be considered “portal” fantasy (I like to pitch it as Tron meets the Chronicles of Narnia), but it still brings something new to the table. Bottom line, if the book is a poor retelling of tired tropes, it won’t do well. If, however, it takes a well-loved genre and adds a unique perspective and vision, it can be every bit as successful. We’re with iO9 on this. Feel free to break this rule.

5 Comments on 5 Rules Writers Should Break

  1. Morgan Warwick | March 12, 2014 at 3:20 pm | Reply

    I thought that these were very interesting to know what these rules were, some of them I did not know were rules, such as prologs and fantasy being apart of a series, thank you Steve for the twilight reference due to the fact that I had an idea what you were talking about, and I am not familiar with the plot of Ender’s games.

  2. Jeremy Grigsby | March 14, 2014 at 11:52 am | Reply

    I think that this podcast was a very good podcast and i learned alot about and the next workshop i have i will try to break one of these rules

  3. Heather Oxley | March 14, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Reply

    I can see your point on these, and i tend to agree. writers should break these rules more often. if used correctly they can be very helpful and interesting. thanks for this post

  4. Ryan Rodriguez | April 27, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Reply

    I agree that most of these rules should be broken, but only if it works well with the story.

  5. Erin Woolstenhulme | May 7, 2014 at 8:31 pm | Reply

    I really liked these since it seems like a lot of people don’t want to cross the line for some of them in their writing. Some people think that they have to stay within certain boundaries but a lot of really good works of literature break our preset rules. I tend to do that too in my writing so it’ll definitely take some getting used to.

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