Thursday, February 16, 2006

Breaking the Rules

I had my Using Margaret Atwood class last night. Something I notice that keeps coming up in various incarnations during class discussion is the concept of rules. I have not taken enough creative writing classes (this is only my second and the first fiction) to know that there are rules for the way a short story is to be written. And I am beginning to think that is a good thing because not knowing the rules, I won't be afraid to try something that goes against them. Over and over as we discuss what Atwood does in her stories the teacher or a classmate comments about how she is breaking the rules either in the way she uses tense or point of view or chronology, or any number of choices she has made for a particular story. The class seems to be split over the rules. Some in the class think the rules are there for a reason and as a writer one should stick to them. Others think it is okay to break the rules as long as you have a good reason. As someone who didn't know there were rules, I think that whatever serves the story best is what you should go with whether it is frequently skipping around through the timeline of story events or having more than one narrator. I've been thinking about the idea of rules from a reader's perspective too. As a reader, do I expect a story to follow certain rules? Other than the story having some sort of understandable coherence, I don't think I expect anything. Of course, I could be fooling myself, and someone will probably say, "but what about x?" Reading Atwood I don't think omygosh she's not supposed to do that in a story. I usually find myself thinking, wow, that's neat, how'd she pull that off? I would imagine there are readers, who, like the writers, expect rules to be followed. Are you, reading this, one of the people who believes there are rules that need to be followed? And if you do, why? If a story breaks a rule is it badly written? Are there exceptions? I am curious to know these things but can't ask them in class because it's not really what the class is about and I don't want look dumb in front of 12 people but will happily look dumb on the internet in front of potentially a lot more than 12 people. Go figure.