When To Stick To The Rules Of Fiction And When To Break Them


Confessions Of A Purist 

I’ll admit that I’m something of a purist when it comes to writing. Whether I’m lost in a novel or watching a movie, I like stories to follow a structure – with clear beginnings, middles, and ends. To put it another way, I’m not a fan of rules, but I believe stories must follow – no, obey – the conventions of fiction.

Don’t get me wrong – I love a good twist, I just don’t like cheats – you need to set up and earn that twist.

  • I love a fresh take on a classic plot, I just don’t like stories with zero plot or an implausible plot.
  • I love unexpected characters or plot devices – just don’t expect me to believe a character or plot simply because they’re bizarre or unusual.

They must serve, rather than detract, from the story.

What is your story?

Director of The King’s Speech, Tom Hooper says that viewers like to recognise the architecture or plot of a story – in other words, they like to feel comfortable within the outline of the story.

Once you’ve established that, I believe, you can surprise them all you want, but you must lay the groundwork. As he points out, you must be clear what your story is.

He is right, of course. But, like all purists, I probably want to break tradition and secretly want to sin.

What is my advice?

I think you can not only bend or break the rules – you can even throw the rule book away. There is an argument for the experimental novel or film, but keep in mind that experiments can fail or, worse, blow up in your face.

My advice is to learn to walk the tightrope with your eyes closed before you take away the safety net.

The truth is that you must only obey one master. Your story. Nothing else matters.

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