My first blog post on writing considers “The 3 Rules for Writing Fiction That Every Story-teller Must Know and Follow.” We start with these three rules because they are of paramount importance to your success as a writer. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
Think about that for ten seconds or more. Are you angry at the curveball I threw you or merely disappointed at having your hopes, so quickly raised, dashed upon the rocks of reality? Maybe some of you had a little inward chuckle. I experienced these emotions when first hearing this —let’s call it a joke—from a writing workshop leader years ago. Yet it has turned out to be the best piece of wisdom on creating fiction I’ve encountered.
I first heard about the Three Unknown Rules at one of my five summers at the
Port Townsend (WA) Writers Conferences. The workshop leaders over those five 10-day sessions were Alan Cheuse, Ursula Hegi, Brett Lott, Ron Carlson, and Pam Houston, all of them terrific writers and good to great teachers. I forget which one offered the bit of twisted wisdom about the 3 Rules, but it is not original to him or her. I’ve heard it attributed to great minds from E. A. Poe to W. S. Maugham to H. L. Mencken.
But why is it important to understand that nobody has discovered any hard-and-fast rules for writing (despite the lists of rules at various lengths you can find on Google)? Because it gives you freedom. Go with the knowledge of the absence of knowledge, or at least the absence of dogma. Write with it. Enjoy it. Don’t let any supposed rule slow you down, because somewhere, some time, writers have “violated” with success any rule that has ever stood in a writer’s path…or been sought and used as a crutch.
Which is not to say that anything goes. You should know what “rule” you are breaking. Be aware that you are breaking it and to some extent why. For example, the “rule” about not shifting point of view between characters. (POV: who is doing the thinking, seeing, feeling). The POV “rules” include: Don’t change POV within a chapter. Never change POV in a short story. Absolutely no POV shift unless you use a line break to separate them. Why? Because the reader might get confused.
Well, here is a POV shift from one paragraph to the next. The first character is a nude model named Merav, the second is the artist in Blue Nude, the excellent novel by Elizabeth Rosner:
Danzig runs one hand through his hair, a gesture Merav already recognizes as habitual; he rubs at his jaw and his forehead. [We’re in her head, seeing what she’s seeing.]
For the first long minutes, he had been able to look only at her hand, the one that dangled on the edge of the bathtub, catching light and reflecting it back… [We’re in his head, seeing what he is seeing.]
Consecutive paragraphs; one POV shifted to the other. Breaks the “rule.” But I’m not confused by it. Are you?
Why did Rosner do this? Possibly because that moment in the story was so intimate that she needed to relate both minds nearly simultaneously, with no artificial separation in order to “follow the rule.” Every such so-called rule of writing has been successfully broken. It’s not the breaking of the “rule” that’s important; it’s doing it well.