Friday, January 22, 2016

Writing 'Rule' Breaking: Sci Fi and Fantasy Edition

A few nights ago I stumbled on an article titled '10 Writing 'Rules' We Wish Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors Would Break More'.  I was chatting with a friend at the time and went down the list making snarky responses to each one.  The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to explore longer, more detailed answers to each rule.

I am and always have been a rule breaker.  Especially of so called 'rules' that govern creativity.  As a writer, I adhere to the quote 'write the book you want to read' and that means I ignore writing 'rules' about genre left and right.  Grammar and structure rules are an entirely different thing.  Those are most necessary.

As the article states, sometimes breaking the rules is the only way to tell a good story.  That is pretty much my writing motto; tell a good story and worry about the 'rules' laterHowever, I also agree that if you're a young and/or new writer, or even an writer with some experience but new to a genre, it's usually wise to follow the rules at first until you understand what you're doing.  That said, I want to explain why I usually break most of these rules.  The rules from the article are in bold and my snarky comments to my friend are in italics.  (I would plead 10-something at night, a headache and a virus except that yes, I really can be that snarky without any of those added stimuli.)

#1- No third person omniscient.  *snorts* Well shucks, I break that with pretty much every book I write.
Third person omniscient POV is hard to write.  It's hard mostly because it's a balancing act.  How much 'head hopping' is too little, how much is so much that it's confusing instead of enlightening?  I love it because I am a 'big picture' kind of writer and with this POV one receives a more complete picture of the world, because it allows me to display more of the layers of the plot, characters and story world.

#2- No prologues.  *snorts again* Yep, I break that one all the time, too.
I don't think I've started a book in the last three years that didn't have a prologue in it.  I understand why this is a rule.  I've read some cringe worthy prologues.  But used correctly they are a fantastic way of setting up the story.  I tend to think of prologues in the vein of a teaser at the beginning of a TV episode- before the opening credits roll.  It's something that sets up the story in a somewhat mysterious way, that whets your appetite and inspires you to keep going to see how it will be explained later in the book.  If it doesn't do any of that, I don't think the story needs one.

#3- Avoid infodumps.  Ehhhh, I've broken this one a few times but right now I'm really just trying to find my stride with description so I don't know how much of this I do or don't do.
I don't always skip infodumps in novels.  If the story has been set up correctly and given me question after question about the world and the plot, I will reach a point where I feel like grabbing the author and making them EXPLAIN.  At that point, I will sit through a five page infodump, yes.  Victor Hugo is a good example of how not to do infodumps though.  (And all people who have read Les Miserables snicker.)

#4- Fantasy novels have to be series instead of standalones.  *cough* Ummmmm, YOU try writing the huge character casts that I do without it becoming a series.  Nope, with few exceptions, I'm not breaking this rule.
I agree that good fantasy stand-alones can exist and it would be cool to see more.  But, from the standpoint of an author who constantly writes huge casts and complicated worlds, once you've built an entire world with many details, it's hard to only write one story about it or even to write loosely connected stand-alones- for example, spread out across generations.

#5- No portal fantasy.  Wellllllll, I'm breaking this one at least once.
Again, I agree this is cliche and has been used a lot, and that's why writers are now advised to stay away from it... but sometimes a plot device has been used so often for a reason.  People tend to like the idea of the possibility of a portal in our ordinary seeming world.  It's escapist at its best and I believe that when done correctly, it can still be fascinating and fun.

#6- No FTL (faster than light travel).  Ha!  Are you out of your mind?!  You betcha I'm putting FTL in Sci-fi/futuristic/sci-fantasy!
In my opinion, what's the good of writing speculative fiction if you can't insert some unrealistic things now and then?

#7- Women can't write 'hard' sci-fi.  I disagree that they can't... however, I'm not going to be one of the people who breaks this rule because I'm not good at the sciencey side of things, so I'll leave that to some other woman.
I think a woman can write hard, detailed science just as well as a man, but it's not my area of expertise nor my cup of tea.  I wonder if... many women tend to focus more on characters and character interaction and ethics as opposed to just the /science/ of hard sci fi and that's why this misconception exists?  I really don't know.

#8- Magic has to be just a minor part of a fantasy world.  HA! Watch me!
Magic as a main plot in fantasy has been overused, (Look up sword and sorcery fantasy books from the 80s and early 90s.  Hilariously ridiculous.) and that's why writers today are advised to steer to the side of it.  But used correctly, magic can be a focal part of fantasy and it can be the foundation for an amazing story.  I believe that the key is to have it be one part of the harmonious whole, and equally blended with character dynamics and world circumstances, instead of just being there because someone was enamored with magic and decided to... basically liberally bedew the book with magic EVERYWHERE.

#9- No present tense.  Ehhhh, I'll do it sometime, just because it's a rule and I like to break rules and I think it can be good.
As with most of these rules, I think present tense can be done well and it can be fun.  Throw a somewhat absent minded chatterbox into a new world or a new set of circumstances and it's bound to be hilarious.  I've also personally seen it done well with an introspective character in a friend's book.

#10- No 'unsympathetic characters'.  Oh really?  TRY AND STOP ME.
The answer to this grew so long and involved that I'll be putting it into a separate post.

What do you think of these writing rules?  How many of them have you broken or do you intend to break at some point?


  1. As said friend, I still highly agree with every point.

  2. chatting with /a/ friend? XD

    strangely enough, #1 is what I started out writing by slaughtering, and I've been moving away from breaking it...slightly tempted to return to breaking it for some of my upcoming books with larger casts, though. :D about making that rule don't write lousy prologues? XD
    #3, kinda like I said, pretty much same answer as you. :D
    #4 - I /tried/ to keep that one, I did. LOL
    your answer to #9 still makes me laugh. :D
    yayyyyy #10. XD

  3. 1. I attempted writing Bookania this way ... and failed miserably. Third limited is my favorite tense ... but I think I'm going back to omniscient for at least part of book 4.
    2. Sometimes I write a prologue, sometimes I don't. I think short and sweet like I have in the Bookanias is best. But really, it depends on the book.
    3. If you handle it properly. Sometimes it's hard to avoid an infodump.
    4. I keep trying to write my fantasy as standalones, but they keep changing their minds and turning into series. Or at least into a giant interconnected mess.
    5. *Glances at Laura* They say no portal fantasy? *shrug* Well, all the more doors for us then!
    6. *Glances at Elsie and Elyse, shakes head* I'm sorry, but you're going to have to catch me before you take away my FTL travel. They need it so they can make their regular trips between Andromeda and the Milky Way.
    7. My answer is pretty much the same as yours. My scifi is more of Science Fantasy. (There's a planet with fairies and elves!)
    8. My magic! You can't take it away from me!!!!! Okay, seriously now. It really depends on the world with how much magic I use. I actually have been trying to cut back, but not for this reason. I reserve the right to use as much or as little magic in a world as I need.
    9. I only break this for Character Encounters. My sister love present tense, though.
    10. Why don't we say "no unrealistic characters," because it's not realistic for every character to be sympathetic.

  4. Hahaha--you're not the only one who likes to snark at things like this, m'dear. In fact, after reading this list, I'm tempted to put my own snarky comebacks on my blog....:-P

    QUOTE: "Victor Hugo is a good example of how not to do infodumps though. (And all people who have read Les Miserables snicker.)"

    And Hunchback. Seriously, practically a whole chapter (and a long chapter at that) ranting about the horrible decor/improvements/whatever added to the cathedral in later years?? Who cares? I skipped right to poor Quasimodo's trial (?) after a few pages, 'cos that's the important part of the plot just there. Oy.

    I agree that there have to be some rules and all--otherwise writing can degenerate into rubbish and not true literature--but some of the things they're axing are what make these genres fun. Balance, people!!!

    God bless, and Happy Writing...and rule-breaking (the right way!),

  5. This is a great article! I love breaking writing 'rules'! It gives a nice sense of freedom, don't ya think?

    I've awarded you the Sisterhood of World Bloggers award! Please visit my new blog at:

    Have a great rest of the weekend! :D

  6. As I haven't finished even one book yet, I really don't know how me a these rules stand. I may or may not end up with a prologue. I intended to write a stand alone, but then I realized that it ended with a character in a fascinating and awkward position. I won't be able to just leave it there and I can tell something great with it.

  7. Lol! Loved your snarky answers (snarky is the only way to do it)! I've definitely broken #2, though I don't do it as much and #5. I'm sure I've broken #3 without realizing it, lol.

  8. lol..Mel, love your sense of humor!! :D


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