First of all, there are no rules.
No, seriously, this is fiction we’re talking about here, so the rules are what you make them. At this point, pretty much every “rule” you can think of when it comes to writing fiction has been broken. For instance, when I was more dedicated to the craft (ie. fresh out of high school), I read a book titled Mister Johnson, which was written in the present tense. Generally, that’s a “no no” in fiction, but, Joyce Cary pulled it off. But, since I know that working within a certain set of rules can sometimes unleash creativity in surprising ways, and you all are probably here reading my blog instead of working on your NaNoWriMo novel because you’re stuck, I’ll offer you several links on rules that might inspire you to get unstuck. And, since I mostly enjoy science-fiction and fantasy, those are the rules I’ve collected.
Let’s start with the science-fiction links first.
First, let’s consider how to write Killer SciFi without breaking the Speed of Light. There are some doozies in this one, basic rule. It makes a lot of space opera stories really difficult, in an interesting way. Of course, I think there’s a lot to be said for this. So much so, in fact, that I hired an astrophysicist to develop that idea for me, resulting in Hoffman’s Quartet, a rather unique setting for science-fiction stories.
And, while we’re at it, have a little fun with Ten less-than-serious rules of space opera. Honestly, I only included that link because of the homage to the old Buck Rodgers TV show of the 80’s. You’ll have to go read the list to see what I mean.
Personally, I love it when science-fiction tries to explain the impossible, even if I have a hard time writing it myself. So, I encourage you to look at the Ten Science Fiction Myths about Space Travel that Make Better Stories and see if you can work out a way for them to happen that readers will buy. That really ought to inspire some creativity!
Then, of course, there’s the sub-genre of so near and dear to my heart; the hacker/panopticon dystopia. And, frankly, I see these two things as inextricably linked now, thanks to my work and Anonymous. Of course, because my “day job” is basically being a system administrator, it may be especially easy for me to identify with the hacker as hero. So, keep in mind that these Eleven “L33t” Rules of Hacker stories are pretty tongue-in-cheek, or, at best, cliches to be avoided, unless you’re writing satire. And, naturally, if you’re writing the hero as hacker, especially these days, there’s a better than even chance that you’re writing a story about a surveillance dystopia. Which is perfectly cool, because I think these Ten Rules of Surveillance Dystopia stories, fit right in with the rest of the hacker genre.
But, don’t think I don’t have love for fantasy writing, too!
In fact, because the writer can use the full range of their imagination in a fantasy setting, I think rules are even more important for that genre. Don’t agree with me? That’s okay, I’ll just refer you to IO9’s article Why Does Magic Need So Many Rules? Of course, I think the most important thing is to stay consistent with those rules, and that holds true for the “magical” parts of science fiction, too! That internal consistency makes the fantastic parts of the story seem more real.
And, while we’re on the subject of additional reality, have you ever wondered why fantasy heroes never have to stop and empty their bladder before they slay the dragon? I always enjoy when characters break out of stereotypes and do things that, well, real people do. It adds so much more interest and realism to the work. Need more examples? Then check out Twenty Things Characters Should Do More Often, according to award-winning fantasy author Lev Grossman.
So, there you have it! Hopefully, if you’re stuck in your NaNoWriMo work, following, or rebelling against, one or more of these rules will help you get unstuck.