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Writing Tips: God Can Break His Own Rules... and So Can You

One thing I love to see in cleverly written stories is when they maintain a respectful relationship with their own rules. Believe it or not, consistency is one of the most important factors in writing any story, whether you notice it or not. Think about it: in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, if Pip were walking down the streets of London, top hat and all, and suddenly was attacked by an enormous monster made of living cheese, you would rightly be pretty confused!

"Hey! I thought this book was about some poor kid trying to make his way up in society, in a realistic setting where a whole lot of nothing out of the ordinary happens at all! What's this?!?"

I hear you reader. And I would be quite befuddled as well. There is an obvious reason for this, of course. The story began with a set of rules for its world, rules that made sense to you and everyone else with a brain. But then, this change coming out of nowhere throws the whole thing into left field and sets it on fire.

You might be thinking this is a rather obvious remark to make. Of course, stories should have consistency! But you would be wrong in saying that everyone understands this. Similar to the point I made in my last writing tip, many stories are written with little regard for how actions have consequences. They continually break their own rules and pay no heed to how the reader/viewer might react to those actions. At some point in reading such a story, I tend to just turn my brain off and pray for a quick ending.

"So, what about that title then?" I hear you ask, "You just said I could break my own rules, but then proceeded to explain in detail why that's bad!"

Fair point. Allow me to explain.

Logical consistency in a story is a very good and important thing, but that doesn't mean you can't have fun with a setting, or even enjoy messing with an established one! For example, we've all heard of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, right? A socially awkward rich man is smitten with a girl with few connections and no money, so he of course can't have her. She as well becomes smitten with him, but knows he is too far out of her reach in the social hierarchy to have a chance at having him. Same story you've heard a thousand times before, right? Well, how about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!!!

Yes. You read that right. Go ahead and go back and read it again if you feel like it. But I'm serious, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a perfect example. It may sound like the exact thing I just told you not to do earlier, but it's not, I promise. Here is why.

The movie takes the original story by Jane Austen and rewrites it with one notable difference: zombies. Well, that and the fact that the Bennet daughters are all sword toting badasses who prefer slaying zombies to becoming housewives.

Okay, that is quite a drastic diversion from the source material. But that doesn't mean it is necessarily bad. It would be bad if they pulled the zombie schtick out of their butts for a one-off scene and then promptly ignored it for the rest of the movie. Instead, they run with the idea and create a whole new take on the story, on the backdrop of an existential threat of zombie apocalypse. The same story more or less plays out, but the consistency changes.

This is part of the reason we enjoy fiction, but I don't need to tell you that. We read and watch stories in order to escape reality or absorb some other perspective, and that can happen in literally any setting you want, so long as you maintain a cohesive logical consistency to your world.

Alright, yes, you've been so patient, and now we get to the bit about the title. As the creator of your own little make-believe world, you set the rules and you manage the consistency. But one thing that can create a fascinating story is to establish the rules and then break one of them, for extreme dramatic effect. Perhaps I have already written on this subject, but I feel it pairs well with the above point. Instead of breaking rules and ignoring their consequences, break a core principle of your world and then see how the characters and society react to it. And after you have broken this rule, be sure to maintain the others for a while, until you feel it is advantages to break another for dramatic effect.

Don't just break rules willy-nilly though. Think about the core tenants of your world and which rule would be most interesting to break. Then have fun with it!

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