Break The Rules
(You rebel, you.)
Writing believable fiction involves creating the world in which your characters live. In establishing clear rules, your readers maintain reading flow because, with logic and order, they know what to expect.
But there comes a time for rule-breaking.
When handled well, breaking an established rule raises the stakes, increases the tension, and creates excitement.
Here’s an example.
Rule: In every magical family, magic passes from mother to the eldest daughter at midnight on the daughter’s thirty-third birthday, preserving the maternal tradition of female witches.
Plot Point: As Julia approaches her thirty-third birthday and the corresponding midnight ceremony to celebrate her heritage and welcome her into the witch’s circle, she spends days getting ready—spa visits, deep meditations, burning of sacred herbs for reception. Her twin brother, Peter, expresses his absolute disdain for the magical world, preferring scientific fact over whimsy and routine over spontaneity, and hiding from witches who make him feel anxious.
Rule Enforced: Julia receives the transfer of magic much to Peter’s chagrin and general disdain. Julia learns about her new magic, and Peter does unwhimsical person things.
Okay. Expectation meets outcome, though it's a bit vanilla.
Rule Broken: At midnight on their thirty-third birthday, the smoky swirl of magic lifts from her mother’s shoulders and lands not on Julia, but on Peter, who didn’t want to attend the ceremony but (though often begrudgingly) supported his twin sister. Now, Peter must reckon with his new magic and interact with witches despite the hives that develop over his entire body at the mere thought of magical people, and Julie faces a future of uncertainty and bitter jealousy for losing a magical future that could have been.
By breaking the rule, you spark a list of questions to answer, pique reader curiosity, and turn a vanilla story into a Neapolitan experience.
Are you a rule breaker?