The rules of writing.

Rules, Laws and Writing Gurus (ignore them).

In life we crave certainty. It makes us feel secure. If you have ever studied Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, ‘Security’ is a base need. As humans once we establish food, water and air, we will look for security. This is why “the rules of writing” seem so attractive to writers. They make people feel safe and by extension secure.

They also bring the next level of Maslow’s needs into play, Community. If I follow “the rules” I will be like everyone else, I’ll fit in. I am told by other rule followers that by following the rules I will have something in common with the professional writers. This will also make you feel secure. Because as writers we are scared that we are going to make mistakes and somehow lose an opportunity.

What you are about to read may not make a lot of sense when you first read it. But if you sit and think about it for more than a few minutes you will find even more comfort in it than relying on Rules dictated by Gurus.

Rules don’t exist. Yes, there are commonalities in all movies, stories and even novels, but these are not rules. A story must have a start, a middle and an end. This is just how the world works. There are no special rules. When you write you just have to tell a story in a way that reflects the experience of the people.

Why do people get angry when the rules are challenged?

Because like I said earlier the rules make people feel secure. When I have voiced my opinion about the rules I have had people say, “well you obviously don’t want to write a successful film then”. These people truly believe that the so-called rules are the only way forward. So, when you challenge that thinking, you are challenging their very security and wars are fought for less.  If the rules had to be used the word “Formulaic” would never appear in feedback or in film criticism.

The thing that upsets them most is when you present them with fact. I was involved in a discussion lately on a forum and someone said, “never use WE SEE in a screenplay”. I jumped online and randomly grabbed a dozen scripts. Things like HEAT, GO, Nightcrawler, 100% of these scripts contained “we see” as a way of indicating that the audience sees something the character doesn’t. Once I pointed this out, I was called unprofessional, amateurish and everything else that a writer may feel is insulting.

The danger of the rules.

Once you can quantify something you can have experts. These experts will tell you that they are Script Consultants or Story Consultants. They will read your script and give you a 3 or 4 page analysis with fixes and issues. This is supposed to get your script ready for the market. They aren’t buying your script or even setting up a deal. You are paying for their opinion.

You can assess this for yourself. You may have exhausted the good will of friends and family on successive reading requests and think a few hundred is worth it. Or you may use that on competitions that give you notes as well. Your choice.

I think most of these services are frauds. No doubt some believe they are providing value. But I always ask, “How many of the scripts you have helped have sold?”. This is always met with silence.

People have said this opinion I hold is hypocritical as I have some books for sale based on writing skills. But my books are tools and ways of thinking. They are NOT formula and god forbid “rules”. The second point in my defence is that they are the cost of a cup of coffee. I even give them away if people ask.

The thing I find most objectionable about the rule bullies is that they beat the creativity out of people. I can imagine that someone with a truly creative soul encounters a rule bully and could be so disheartened that they don’t pursue writing. This is not only their loss but ours as well.

I charge you with this task. As payment for reading this article you must now defend creative freedom. When people say, “You Must”, I want you to reply with “I am a writer. I create my own rules”.  Then wait for the onslaught of insults. Be strong and defend creativity.

Why the Rules make no sense in a creative world.

A cook follows a recipe to make sure every plate of food is exactly the same as all the plates that came before it and all the plates that will come after it.  Is that what you want for your writing. To be the same as every story in the market? I hope not.

Please follow your creative spirit. Practice writing, read exhaustively, watch films like you are a scientist – pull them apart and analyse them, but most of all. Don’t be told you must conform. This will only lead to everyone being the same and that is boring.

Craig Griffiths

Craig Griffiths is a screenplay writer and best selling author. His books on screenwriting are available via the Books page on the website. He has written and produced several short films with his feature scripts in production. Craig has been involved in numerous podcast including Canada’s “The Bunker Project” and was the host of “Making Business and Sales Work” a top ranked podcast on iTunes for many years.

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