Exceptions don’t prove the rule, they just show the bar you have to obtain

Whenever I talk about writing and I say X, people are always quick to point out exceptions to the rule as though it disproves it. I just realized why that bothers me. Today someone mentioned that using more than one first person narrations is just not done, and I’m reminded of Mindscan, by Robert J. Sawyer. It has two first person narrations through complicated reasons that don’t need to go into, but within a few sections apart you can tell which one is which character. It’s a masterpiece of point of view.

When people point out masterpieces of the genre that disprove a general writing 101 rule, they’re not helping their case. Those books are masterpieces for a reason. If most people could spin an almost perfect book while breaking a fundamental “rule” of writing, it only proves that any rule can be broken, but that the rest of the story has to be amazing or the broken rule would have sunk the story. The rules are there for a reason. The amount of work necessary to break the rule from the inside of it, shoring up the parts of the story that rely on conflict being there or tension always rising or the action happening on the page is significant. It certainly requires a lot more work than just using the ingredients of a story to the best of the author’s ability.

The best example to breaking a 101 rule is molecular gastronomy. Anyone can order most of the chemicals that they need, but some are very hard to find and others need to be measured by the gram. Even making something as “simple” as the jellified blobs of liquid still require a lot of steps and know how. Leaving them in one suspension makes the wall of the blob too thick and leaving it in the water to long to rinse off makes osmosis your enemy. You might be able to accidentally yourself a meal using chemicals instead of ingredients, but successes will be few and far between.

The next time someone is talking about general rules and you can think of a specific example, ask yourself if most people could produce writing at that level. They might be able to, but they probably won’t. There are always going to be geniuses in the genre or in the moment who can take a generally accepted rule and snap its back over their knee, but it’s calculated.

The moment I stopped thinking there are no rules and started to look into exactly what, exactly, these rules actually said, my writing took off. I might be able to make a glob or two of something that by all that is holy should not be able to glob together and served on a Chinese spoon regardless of the ethnicity of the ingredients. By all means mess around with whatever you want. Knock you and your guests out. But there’s a reason chefs judge potential employees by a simple omelette.

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