I think we learn at a young age where rules fit into our lives. I’ve met people other the years who are unhindered by the rules and laws of society. They don’t harm others, they just live their lives with a type of freedom that I envy, even though their view of fearlessly living life isn’t available to me. Then there are those that find comfort living well within the confines of rules, whether they be of family, corporation, or country. In our own opinions, I think many of us would claim to be somewhere in the middle. For me, there’s a delicate balance between bucking the system and brushing up against (and sometimes ignoring) those in authority, and understanding the fear that keeps me within my circle of comfort, generally only being stretched when life circumstances shove me to the other side of that line I’ve drawn in the sand.
When it comes to creating, like living, we have to understand the rules before we can break them. There must be some acknowledgement, some recognition of where those lines are before we wiggle our toes and obscure that line with sand grains, or leap clean over it. How do we learn the rules? In life, most of us learn from our primary caregivers, teachers, older siblings, and friends. In creative pursuits, we can learn from workshops, classes, books, and fellow artists. We garner information about what is expected in whatever art world we wish to live in, be it painting, writing, music, dance, cooking, etc. We practice staying inside the lines, following others, maybe copying to help us get a feel for our voices, our own styles.
Then, somewhere, sometimes, along the way, we begin to move closer and closer to the line. We understand a rule, a law, written or generally accepted. Sometimes by accident, sometimes by design, we break those rules. The consequences could be anywhere along the continuum of “good” and “bad”. What we learn from that moment of crossing over guides our future moves. Maybe we get away with something like starting our novel with a flashback, or describing the weather. Despite this, we earn 5-star reviews on Amazon. Or maybe our piece is accepted by a literary journal. Or an agent sells our story to a publisher. Of course, the opposite could also happen, and the piece goes nowhere.
In either scenario, it’s our responsibility to evaluate the outcome and decide if breaking the rules was worth it. For some artists, like some who tread the earth, breaking the rules is the only way to live. For others, their creativity lies within the lines. There is no right or wrong, only what feels right, or works, for each individual.
When I look at my writing, I understand the rule of “don’t use prologues”, but each of my novels, except the second in my trilogy, begins with a prologue. Prologues are to be used sparingly, and often what is written here should be the first chapter, or not included at all. Or so the rules say.
I understand not starting a story with the main character waking up, but I’ve done so in the third manuscript of my trilogy. Readers think it’s boring. We need to begin with a hook, something that makes the reader emotionally vested in the story or the character. Or so the rules say.
It’s important to readers that all strings are tied up at the end, and that there are no unanswered questions. Whether or not the story ends in a way that is satisfactory to the reader, a writer can’t guarantee. But we don’t want to leave our readers wondering about details or a character. In my third novel, I left details hanging that were answered in the sequel. In book one of my trilogy, I put in a detail that I’ll address in book three. I’m not supposed to do that, or so the rules say.
Some believe in art, as in life, that rules are made to be broken. Others will uphold rules to their last breath. But where does creative license apply? I think we can apply it to almost any rule, once we understand why it’s an accepted “line in the sand”. Whether or not we cross that line, and how we interpret the consequences, is an individual choice, in art as in life.
I’ve studied the rules. I understand the rules. My rebel self becomes free only when the rules are bent, or broken. My safe self evaluates the results and decides if it was worth it. There’s been a lot of rules I’ve broken, in art and in life, that I thought were worth breaking. You can view them on my website: www.myjoyenterprises.com
Are you a rule breaker? Are there rules in art, in your writing, that you refuse to break?