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10 Writing 'Rules' SF/F Authors Should Break More Often
Nevena Georgieva
Posted: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 1:34 PM
Joined: 2/9/2012
Posts: 438

I wanted to share this great post by the awesome io9 writer Charlie Jane. She presents examples of famous SF/F writers breaking genre conventions to great effect. Definitely go back to this article next time you can't decide whether to stick to or deviate from a particular genre convention. 


What do you think about the examples the writer gives? Have you broken any of these "rules" in your own writing?
Nevena Georgieva
Posted: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 1:38 PM
Joined: 2/9/2012
Posts: 438

Angela Martello
Posted: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 9:36 PM
Joined: 8/21/2011
Posts: 394

I had read this a few weeks ago and thought, "Wow! I've read lots of stuff that breaks these rules!"

I don't think of them as rules; more like "current trends" or "current tastes." (Not a code; more like guidelines - arrrrrghhhhhh). And, besides, rules are MEANT to be broken.

That said, I haven't broken any of them in my own writing. My books in their very earliest drafts were third person omniscient. But I got so much feedback against that, that I changed it to third person limited. Doing so helped me get more into several characters' heads and, I hope, helped me to develop them more fully. But I've read lots of works that are in third person omniscient or first person or works that switch from third person limited to first person present tense from chapter to chapter. And they all worked for me.

When I read a list of rules like that, I think of all the books I've read over the last 40+ years and wonder how many would be published today. A few years from now, who knows? Maybe the "rules" will change again.
Atthys Gage
Posted: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 9:49 PM
Joined: 6/7/2011
Posts: 467

Angela.  I completely agree.  Nearly all of these things are stylistic issues and therefore temporary.  Personally, I think there's ample room for third person omniscient, but we all have our pet-peeves.  (Mine, among others, is the way everyone in Fantasy is so preternaturally beautiful -- a flaw shared by a lot of other genre's as well.  I blame Hollywood for that one.)

The vogue for 'present tense' hardly seems 'over' to me.  I never use it but I still see it everywhere.  I assume it's over the same way vampires were called 'over' five years ago.

It's a good blog post.  Rather than just snarkily dishing on outdated trends, she questions the trends themselves.  
Posted: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 8:22 PM
Joined: 4/26/2011
Posts: 57

Was it e e cummings that said you need to learn all the rules before you can break them? He should know! A lot of those rules, particularly the ones about prologues, tense, and point of view, used to really puzzle me. I mean, most of the greatest literature every written is NOT third person limited. That being said, I think it's actually a good thing that there are such rules in place, specifically for new, unpublished writers. Writing is such an intimate, fragile art, and so often the writer is the last person to see his baby for what it truly is, at least in the early stages of writing. I can only speak for myself, but following these rules (more or less) has helped me to learn how to craft better. I hope I'll be able to get to the point where my craft is good enough that I'll be able to break all the rules (if I so choose) without anyone noticing. 
MAS Douglas
Posted: Saturday, June 8, 2013 8:23 PM
Joined: 6/5/2013
Posts: 7

i don't think i've ever considered these actual rules, it's always been "if I'm going to write a story like this how am i going to make it work?" and i think that is true of all writing. I kinda broke the first person rule in a short story i still haven't finished about a teenage boy who goes for a boat ride in the carribean only to be nearly killed as a storm washes him ashore an isolated island, in the process he meets a mermaid who gets snared by the fragments of his boat. but, in that case present tense first person really made sense to me because i started the story with the character  coming in and out of consciousness, he had scrapes and cuts and bruises and he was coughing up sea water, so  i think that in first person present tense the reader can really feel what the character feels both his pain and his shock when he discovers a mermaid. now, i have had a story idea that would break the "no more portal fantasies" rule, i honestly don't know why that is a rule, characters being transported to a new and strange land is always fascinating and exciting, i can definitely see how it can get old, but at the same time i can see how those types of stories can be addictive. especially when one considers that a portal fantasy basically mirrors the readers own journey into the realm of the story. but, it can be done in ways that are less than savory. i read the free preview of one of my favorite author's other books and i was less than happy. the main character broke the rule about unsympathetic characters(not completely but the character was right on the edge ). then she did what i think is the problem with lots of portal fantasy and even other types of stories; it happened too quickly and too easily. the main character simply looked at a mirror in a way he hadn't thought too, read an inscription , immeadiately figured out what it meant, had a grand revelationand then did what was neccessary to travel to another world and poof he was their; all in maybe 2 pages. i think its okay to have a story where the character just wakes up in a weird land but if you are going to show us how it happens you need to let it breath and you need to make it mysterious not easy. it shouldn't be like "oh look i've never noticed that hair brush before, i've been searching for a way out of my life for a long time, this brush should do it! hmm it has an inscription that says; 'the ceiling holds the handle'. i know i'll brush it upside down...hey how did i get in the middle of a forest" okay im done ranting about that. hopefully i'll be able to know when i shouldn't and should use the "rules" and be a better writer for it.

Lucy Silag
Posted: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 12:39 PM
Joined: 6/7/2013
Posts: 1359

Ahhhhh! I absolutely LOVE the term "infodump."tongueout

Posted: Friday, November 15, 2013 8:39 PM
Joined: 9/26/2013
Posts: 8

I'm writing what will be book 2 of 2, but I wrote the first book specifically to work as a standalone. If someone reads that and no more, it is a complete story. The second book doesn't work without the first, though. I agree that it's a pain in the @@@ to get a book without knowing it's part of a series and getting to the end without a resolution!
Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Friday, July 18, 2014 11:18 PM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 195

In one book or another, I think I've broken all of them...and most of the writers I enjoy reading have broken them as well.   But there are plenty of people writing who should perhaps have observed them a bit longer (the contrived conversation to avoid infodump IS infodump.)
Amanda Kimberley
Posted: Wednesday, January 28, 2015 11:54 AM
Joined: 11/30/2011
Posts: 69

Angela Martello wrote:
I had read this a few weeks ago and thought, "Wow! I've read lots of stuff that breaks these rules!"

I don't think of them as rules; more like "current trends" or "current tastes." (Not a code; more like guidelines - arrrrrghhhhhh). And, besides, rules are MEANT to be broken.
I feel the same way, Angela. I don't believe there are a lot of hard rules in fiction writing (except spelling and grammar). I've read countless numbers of books that have broken all the rules listed in this article and I had no problem reading and/or understanding them.
Personally, I do tend to break the rules, and badly sometimes, in my first drafts of a novel. It's sometimes hard to flesh out the characters unless you have that all-knowing narrator in the background helping you to type out the story. And I need to see magic-- lots of magic because the real world has none. I also don't mind info-dumps if it helps me to understand a character via back story etc. And yes, I do that in my own writing in the first few drafts too.

Posted: Wednesday, September 2, 2015 12:57 PM
Joined: 1/19/2015
Posts: 11

I remember coming across these in my time surfing the web. I like them but at the same time I see them more as trend’s than anything else. However there is one thing which I don’t quite understand, Portal Fantasy. I get that the person is supposed to be ‘stuck’ in the other world but why are they so desperate to get back home? I mean I understand family and stuff but why don’t they want to explore this new world at least a little bit? That is one thing I decided to rectify in my own book. I’ve decided to take the portal fantasy idea and try and breathe new life into it.  Here’s the prologue for my story. Tell me if it is a yay or nay. The story start’s off with the main character who is a bag boy at a local grocery store wanting to kill himself by throwing himself off of a bridge. As he’s about to leap to his death he look’s up at the sky one last time and he see’s a shooting star in the sky. Curious and a bit delusional he make’s a wish, a wish to be somewhere else and be someone that matter’s. He get’s his wish. The shooting star start’s to get bigger and bigger and soon it whizzes by the dude knocking him off of the bridge’s railing and back onto the concrete sidewalk. The star then crashes’ in a small forest area not to far away. Now with his death stuffed into the back of his mind the dude go’s to investigate the now fallen star. He arrives at the crash site to see that there is very minimal damage to the surrounding area. He spot’s a small sphere in a small crater about a foot wide. He poke’s the sphere with a stick and is surprised to see it not catch on fire. He get’s closer to the sphere and doesn’t feel any heat. After he get’s up the nerve the dude grab’s the sphere in order to take it home. As soon as he grab’s the sphere he is paralyzed. He hears a voice in his head telling him that his wish is to be granted. Then the sphere begins to glow as mystical energy swirl around the dude. In a flash a pillar of light engulfs the man and when it clear’s there is no trace of him or the stone having ever been there.

Amber J. Wolfe
Posted: Wednesday, September 2, 2015 1:01 PM
Joined: 7/24/2014
Posts: 539

Hi, Rojack


You should write your prologue and then upload it to Book Country for feedback. We can't know if it works if you don't write it.



Posted: Wednesday, September 2, 2015 2:59 PM
Joined: 1/19/2015
Posts: 11

ah ok sometime's i get so excited when i write. I will try and upload it this week depending on my working hour's.
Amber J. Wolfe
Posted: Wednesday, September 2, 2015 3:05 PM
Joined: 7/24/2014
Posts: 539

No harm done! Just be sure you don't let that excitement go to your head--writing fiction is time-draining, brain-straining business. Us here all want to see you flourish and will do our best to help you grow

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