10 Writing Rules I’m breaking . . .


So Charlie Jane Anders posted an awesome article this morning over here on io9 called 10 Wiritng Rules we wish more sci-fi / fantasy authors would break.

This is in response to the article, and while I didn’t break ALL the rules on her list, I’ll show you where my broken rules match up to the ones she wishes more of us would break.

#1 No third-person omniscent
#1 No third-person omniscent

Charlie makes a very valid point that while third person omniscent has been done brilliantly, it’s been overdone. Today’s YA market usually features first person or third person limited to tell a story. That being said, another awesome example of third-person omniscent comes from Malinda Lo’s Huntress book, which told the story of a lesbian couple embarking on a journey into the faery lands.

I used to write third-person omniscent. Until someone told me not to. Then I switched to third person limited, and switch up the POV’s depending on which character needs to be telling which part of the story. I don’t stick to the two main characters to tell every part of the story. Sometimes I throw in secondary characters or even throw-away characters just to keep the story flowing. It’s always nice to have another perspective in there, as long as the overall tone of the book isn’t compromised.

#2 No maps or family trees

How many sci-fi fantasy books have you read that make you look at a map located on the inside cover, or within the first few pages? It’s not bad to have a map, and sometimes I like it, and other times I find it cheesy. I don’t like having to study a family tree just to get all the characters straight before reading the book. An example of a good map though was in Beth Revis’s Across the Universe, which featured a map of Godspeed.

That being said, I didn’t get a map for my book. It was something people had mentioned to me but the idea of mapping out Avristar didn’t appeal to me. I left it because I wanted the readers to see Avristar through the character’s eyes.

#3 Avoid Infodumps
#3 Avoid Infodumps

Is it just me, or do you never notice the info dumps either? I am honestly completely blind to this. I’m either engrossed in a book and ready to follow it all the way to the end or I’m not. If I read an entire chapter that explains what’s going on in a book, as long as it’s not going to give the ending away I’m not going to hack and slash it up.

That being said, I got paranoid about this one last year when I was in the final revision process for my novel. I didn’t want to give away too much information and so I went more for show don’t tell. The result? Readers said they didn’t understand. They said they felt like they were dropped into Avristar and left there to figure it out. None of the characters were much help as guides to the land or anything, so people sometimes got uninterested.

So I guess sometimes the infodump works and sometimes it doesn’t. Pick your poison.

#4 The main characters have to be heroes

Ever notice that in most fantasy books the main characters are always heroes. They’re warriors, champions, they’re going on a quest for honor, glory, etc. etc. They’re running from something as a misfit, but ultimately they’re the underdog that will take down the empire.

Why do people think that all the good stories are about the heroes?

Kaliel and Krishani aren’t heroes. They’re misfits at best, sometimes they are their own worst enemies. They’re not on a quest, they’re just living their lives, falling in love and bad things happen to them.

#5 No portal fantasy
#5 No portal fantasy

Portal fantasy revolves around books like the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe where the main characters find a portal to another world and then spend their time exploring the other world. It’s been done multitudes of times in different books, Alice in Wonderland, The Iron King, etc. etc.

My story was different in the sense that my characters are from the other world. They understand it more than they understand Earth or in their case, “Terra” which is Earth in 7000BCE. In terms of portals it’s not a matter of discovering the other world, my characters always know it’s there, it’s just a matter of being sent there.

#6 No FTL
#6 No FTL

Love the Star Wars reference! This is more typical of the sci-fi variety, but as I’ve never seen it done, I have nothing to reference. I don’t mind traveling, but I find that unnecessary lengths in travel drag the story down. It’s great when the characters just get to where they’re going. At the same time, I like it when people experiment with the method of travel.

I’ve chosen a few ways to travel in The Ferryman and the Flame Series. The first is the obvious, boat through the mists scenario, in which the boat goes from the island of Avristar to another place. I’m also a fan of vortexes, but opening them is difficult and not something everyone can do. I’ve used seashells to call the boat, and I’ve used a lantern to create rips in time and space. In the future books I plan on using mirrors, and again boats and mist. It’s nice to have a traditional way to travel, not something that changes all the time.

#7 Women can’t write “hard” Sci-Fi
#7 Women can’t write “hard” Sci-Fi

I’ve never read a hard Sci-Fi book by a woman, mostly because it’s not the genre that appeals to me. I don’t know if I agree with this point, and my lack of experience with it just further explains why I can’t take a stand.

It’s obvious that because I don’t read hard science fiction books by women that I’d also be less likely to write one. I like my mythology, folk tales, romance and fantasy books. I’m happy leaving the hard science to the scientists.

#8 Magic has to be just a minor part of a fantasy world
#8 Magic has to be just a minor part of a fantasy world

I understand books like Amber Argyle’s Withsong where witches have been outlawed. For the past couple of hundred years magic was hidden from society. Writing books about places where magic is hidden is something people understand. It’s also a way to make the plot more thrilling. Magic being something forbidden turns it into something everyone wants to possess.

In my story magic is all around my characters. It surrounds them, lives with them and can be invoked at any time with them. It’s not something that’s hidden, more the opposite, it’s something that’s taught to my characters. It’s also something expected of the characters.

#9 No present tense
#9 No present tense

I liked The Hunger Games because it was told in present tense. Across the Universe was also present tense. I have a tendency to like speculative fiction that is told in present tense.

That being said, I use past tense. I don’t know what rule I’m breaking here, but it just seemed to fit.

#10 No “unsympathetic” characters
#10 no “unsympathetic” characters

You know, I think of my characters as people, not as character types. When it comes to creating unsympathetic characters, characters that people love to hate, I don’t really think about it. I just wrote my story the way it had to be and the characters were just the people they had to be based on the situation they were in. In that way they’ve shown different side of themselves.

I’m not a big fan of characters that go through a lot but remain the hero. Richard from Wizard’s First Rule series was like that. He was tortured, held captive, manipulated, and he stayed the same person. He was the hero of the story, he had a destiny that was preset for him and he didn’t deviate from the path. I found his lack of change throughout the series very monotone. Put Richard into any new situation and his reaction would be the same as it is to old situations. He’s diplomatic, he’s benevolent, he’s fair. He doesn’t change his colors depending on what he’s been put through.

I don’t know if I’ve created the best characters out there, but I made them as real as I could and I told their story the best I could.

What do you think about the writing rules? Are there any that you readily break?


Comments ( 4 )

  • Molli @ Once Upon a Prologue says:

    I have a love/hate relationship with info dumps. Sometimes they are useful, and others they just make my skin crawl. I prefer to unravel some stories! <br /><br />Good for you for writing YOUR characters the best way you could and being true to them. 😀

  • SM Johnson says:

    If you write well and break rules with purpose, it can work very well. I broke a POV rule – all characters in 3rd limited, except for one character in 1st person. How do I know it didn&#39;t work? Because almost every reviewer mentioned. I may revise it someday. But since recognizing I didn&#39;t do it well, I&#39;ve run into some books where the exact technique is done incredibly well. We live

  • Julia Rachel Barrett says:

    Nice. I like your rule-breaking.

  • Christine Tyler says:

    1. I almost always prefer third person. I would rather read omniscient than multiple point of views, however. Especially every other chapter. It drives me nuts. In real life I have to solve problems from the small corner that is my mind–why can&#39;t heroes and authors? Jumping into multiple brains feels unnatural and a little bit like cheating. That applies less when the party breaks up,

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