Not long ago, I read this article over on io9, appropriately titled "10 Writing 'Rules' We Wish More Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors Would Break". If you haven't read it, you probably should, else this entry won't mean a great deal.
Back? Good. Not a bad article, eh?
I've never been much of a stickler for writing 'rules', aside from basics like "use proper grammar and appropriate formatting unless otherwise necessary" and "words should generally mean what people expect them to mean". I think the story is what's most important, and while some claim there are rules for how you have to tell a story, a lot of that is bunk.
So, since story rewrites have eaten much of my time and spare brain cells this past week, I thought I'd offer my thoughts on the article. Feel free to share your own in the comments.
1. No third-person omniscient.
I don't think this should be a rule, though I'd be hard-pressed to use it again. The first book I wrote was written like this, which led to me developing the horrible habit of dropping into everyone's head and giving them a paragraph's worth of reaction thoughts whenever something major happened. There's a reason it took me three years to write that thing. And it was still bad! But I think if you rule out a storytelling perspective completely, you're just limiting yourself.
2. No prologues.
I go back and forth on this. I understand why people are hesitant about prologues, and a lot of the complaints I hear are that they're not where the story really starts. In BoLR, I had a prologue short story written up (even posted it here back in February), but I held off on adding it until I wrote the book, to see if I could fit all the backstory in without it. As it turned out, I could. That won't stop me from putting a prologue in another book if I think it's necessary.
3. Avoid infodumps.
I generally agree with this one, but I think it's possible to do it right. So long as no one says "as you know" or starts lecturing without reason. Unless the person they're talking to cuts them off and asks why they're telling them something they already know. I think I'd forgive an infodump in the form of an actual lecture, though, especially if the characters are bored to tears since they already know it and start offering their own commentary.
4. Fantasy novels have to be series instead of standalones.
I think this depends on the story you want to tell. BoLR is meant to be the first of a trilogy, because that's how it's worked out in my head. But the crazy dream book is a standalone. Other stuff I'm plotting could lead into more books, but I haven't thought ahead that far. I think all that matters is that the individual books stand on their own, whether they have books that come after them or not.
5. No portal fantasy.
Oog. This is a stupid one. I understand it's cliched and hard to sell these days, but if your story has to be a portal fantasy, go ahead and make it a portal fantasy. I agree with what the article says about them being appealing to new readers, that's a really good point.
6. No FTL.
Someday, I'm going to write FTL Fantasy. You can't stop me. :P
7. Women can't write "hard" science fiction.
...what. I think anyone who believes this is a rule is not only sexist, not only ignorant of some great sci-fi, but possibly a goddamn idiot as well. Moving on.
8. Magic has to be just a minor part of a fantasy world.
Oh, screw that. There are many ways to make a fantasy world unlike our own, but magic is easily the biggest one. And while I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Martin and how well he's handled a very low-magic fantasy world, the idea that now everyone has to imitate that is ridiculous. What matters is that you tell the story as it's supposed to be told. And you can't do that if you think magic - magic, of all things! - is required to be a certain way.
9. No present tense.
This is another one of those "you're just limiting yourself" things. I haven't read much that's written in present tense, but The Hunger Games comes to mind. The present tense gave a sense of immediacy to that series that simply could not have been there in past tense. It's easy to believe that someone really could die at any moment when they're telling their story right now. Present tense isn't for every story, but ruling it out is just foolish.
10. No "unsympathetic" characters.
In addition to what the article says - which I generally agree with - some of the greatest characters are the ones you're not supposed to sympathize with. A good writer can make you want to see a character suffer, even die, and make you exult when they do. (Hopefully it's not a character you're supposed to sympathize with.) Done right, and done well, this can be the greatest thing about a story.
Next week: no idea!