The Rules

As a first-time novelist, I have a love-hate relationship with the idea of “rules” in writing.

There are no rules. Rules are meant to be broken. Make your own rules. Trust your gut.

On the other hand: Fiction writing has certain techniques–let’s admit it, rules. Learning those techniques can make one’s writing better.

On the other-other hand (I love that other-other hand): If you’ve ever been in a writing program or a writing workshop, many of the things people tell you not to do have been done before. (By very talented people, with great care, but nonetheless.)

As they say, You have to learn the rules before you can break them.

I’ve started a little project to reread books that break the rules. My goal: Find out how certain authors get away with rule-breaking.

At the moment, I’m a little over 100 pages into Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. Here’s one rule Rushdie flouts: A first-person narrator can only relate the things he or she sees/hears/tastes/smells/feels. The main character, Saleem Sinai, has so far narrated more than 100 pages covering events that happened before his birth–in great detail, much more so than could be accounted for by his having heard family stories. Rushdie explains this simply: The narrator reveals that he has a supernatural ability to know everything.

Oh, of course.

Midnight’s Children is a comical, satirical, and often magical novel, and that helps Rushdie get away with his conceit of an omniscient first-person narrator. Plus, Rushdie’s book is about the birth of a nation, but it’s also about fate and the impact of history on individual lives. The point of view he chose promotes those themes perfectly.

I’ll be back with more rule-breaking from the book … In the meantime, tell me about your favorite books that “break the rules.”


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