Breaking the Rules With Your Writing

BREAK Last month I self-published a collection of flash fiction. My lovely Sprint Shack co-founders, Faye and Cristina, did me a huge favor by beta-reading the collection. When I received their infinitely helpful feedback  and was reading through their notes, something Cristina said caught my attention. It was on a story titled “Greeting the Moon” – a piece told entirely in second person.

Cristina enjoyed the piece and commented: “Also, I’m going to pooh pooh any writer who says to stay away from second person, because I love it and I think this story wouldn’t be the same written any other way.”

This got me thinking. I’d broken a stylistic rule of writing and had barely even registered that I’d done so. The story just felt like it should be written that way.

I often write short pieces in second person – I don’t know if it’s because that’s how we often speak to other people in our day-to-day interactions, but that’s what comes easiest to me. I especially enjoy the ambiguity that second person lends to the narrator. I don’t always write from the perspective of a female narrator – and often I like leaving that interpretation open to the reader because the stories often read differently if told from a male or female perspective. And sometimes, gender doesn’t matter at all in the story so I leave it out intentionally/for that reason. Essentially, I have a lot of reasons for breaking this rule.

But I will admit that while it is comfortable for me to write in second person, it’s not always the best way to approach each story. Plus, as Cristina pointed out, tons of editors, authors, and readers turn their noses up at second person narrative.

So today I wanted to share my thoughts about breaking the rules with your writing: why you should and – most importantly – when you should.

Why You Should Break the Rules:

  • Because sometimes rules stifle our creativity.
  • Sometimes the story turns out for the better when the rules are bent or broken.
  • Because you’re the writer. You get to decide what you write.
  • Because some of the best writing you’ve read has broken the rules. Shakespeare made up his own words, for heaven’s sake!
  • Who made these rules in the first place?! Who says what is or isn’t acceptable in the realm of creativity?
  • Because it’s fun!

When You Should Break Rules:

  • Once in a while. Do it sparingly. It’s not something to fall back on or depend on in your writing, but something to spice it up from time to time.
  • When you know your story so well that you can objectively say that breaking the rules will benefit the story. People will notice when you break rules. And they’ll call you out on it. So you better make sure you break the rules for a darn good reason.
  • When writing by the rules feels forced and unnatural – when it just feels right to break the rules.
  • When you’re afraid to break the rules. Sometimes that’s when your writing can benefit from it the most.

~

What rules do you break while writing? Or have you yet to try breaking any rules? Let us know in the comments below!

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6 thoughts on “Breaking the Rules With Your Writing

  1. I don’t mind second person, and if it works why not write it that way. And it is fun to break the rules occasionally, but I agree it should be done sparingly. Great advice, thanks for sharing :)

  2. I think it’s important to note that the “no second person” rule is a formal/ academic/ journalistic rule. It is very rarely alright to break the rule in those writing situations because the authors of those texts rarely know their audience. In fiction, when a narrator uses “you” he/ she usually knows exactly who the words are meant for, even if the reader isn’t in on it. Second-person is almost always an issue of audience. With that being said, the novel I’m writing is written in second person.

    Additionally, we are writing in a time when rules are made to be broken. Our language can be more playful, our timelines can be chopped up, and we can even blend genres in one narrative. Excellent post!
    -Shane

    • Well put, Shane. I would say that many fiction writers still stay way from 2nd person – maybe because the stigma has carried over from formal/academic writing.

      And I couldn’t agree more with you. We are living in an exciting literary time!

  3. Hahaha! I totally forgot I used the term “pooh pooh” in my comment. That made me laugh.

    I’m so glad my comment helped you out Taylor! :) SOTM is a wonderful piece of literature and I LIKE that it breaks rules! It gives it so much more charm that way.

  4. Pingback: The Story Arc: A Guide To Structuring A Smooth Story | The Sprint Shack

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