A couple of days ago in the 3/16 blog discussion on minor characters, David Cranmer (The Education of a Pulp Writer blog) cited the example in Nero Wolfe that Archie gets more page time than the main character, Nero. This is totally contrary to the general story writing “rules.“ Hello, a main character has to be the main character!
What is it Captain Barbossa tells Elizabeth Swann? “The code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.”
Sailing along, if we only base our writing off what has been done before or what the masses popularize, we box ourselves within an area already set. As a broad generalization, in my humble yet entirely accurate opinion, nobody’s teen vampire book will top Stephanie Meyer just as no boy wizard book shall surpass Harry Potter. Authors trying to replicate those successes will likely go adrift.
Now, to be more specific, let us return to David’s example. Rex Stout broke the rules. Yet, it works beautifully, acting almost as a suspense mechanism which pulls the reader along. You read Archie’s parts at times wondering when he’ll go to Nero. Archie gets more pages, but David nailed it. Nero is undoubtedly the main character.
Writing conventions give the reader a familiar ground to stand on, which can at times be good. Mitch Wallace (Sphagnum Patch blog) and I blogged a couple of weeks ago about the standard use of past tense and the possible merits of present tense. Yesterday, over at Magical Musings, Edie Ramer wrote about how James Patterson consistently defies not only chapter lengths but also the standard 3 sentence paragraph. My goodness, we're all rule breakers!
There’s an exceptional business book sitting on my desk at work that came out about 10 years ago by Gallup called “First Break All the Rules.” It shares that the world’s best managers don’t follow the norm and goes on to identify common ways in which these managers differ.
I’d say the world’s best authors don’t necessarily follow the norm, either. Could that be what differentiates them from the rest of us? Can you think of some other writing rules we can break? Or, name some rule breaking authors?