When Should You Break The Writing Rules?


Ever notice how many unwritten rules there are in life? Rules you pick up as you go along. Rules that keep you safe. Rules that help you fit in society.

Sometimes, those rules are good. Sometimes, they’re not.

Sometimes, you need to break those rules to get at something better.

In case my children ever read this – that doesn’t mean my rules. Those are always good. Don’t break them.

It’s the same in writing. Especially in genre writing.

There are things you do and a lot of things you don’t do when writing different genres. Like science fiction and fantasy.

But sometimes, those rules need to be broken to get at something better. A better story.

When is the right time to break those rules? How do you know?


The folks over at iO9 layout a list of written and unwritten rules and how to break them in they’re wonderful article 10 Writing “Rules” We Wish More Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors Would Break.

Go read it, it’ll be worth your time.


They emphasize you cannot break the rules successfully without knowing what you’re doing. To know what you’re doing, you need to have some grasp of what those rules are.

Of course, the question still lingers: Why? Why would we want to break the rules in the first place?

To give readers what they want.

Because, when it comes down to it, isn’t that why we write? To tell stories, our stories, but for other people.

Unless you write only for yourself – which is fine. If that’s the case, just ignore me. I’ll be okay.

Another question lingers still – a bit further tucked in the corner over there – yes, that one: What about Agents and publishers?

They’re pretty locked on to those rules, aren’t they?

They’re locked on to the rules of the day – what makes a story hot, and what they know will sell. Typically, that means they like to see submissions follow the rules.

Nothing wrong with that. Follow the rules until you can make your own rules.

Meaning – when your name alone is a known seller, you can afford to break the rules as you see fit.


You can go indie. You don’t have to follow the rules as an independent author.

In either case, you have to know the rules. You have to know how to break them successfully.

Otherwise, you won’t look brilliant and refreshing. You’ll look like an amateur and a hack.

Me? I’m still looking pretty hackish, but I’m working on it. Might be some rule breaking with my first novel, but it needs some tweaking to get it right.


What do you think? Is there a right time to break the rules? Have you ever found them to hinder you?


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