Hubert Horatio Humphrey was a dachshund mix with the classic body shape and size, but with scruffy gray fur. And this long silky white hair on top of his head that I’d part down the middle and comb.
Hubert chased cars. So dad took a small board and hung it from Hubert’s collar thinking it would bang the dog’s knees and keep him from chasing things. But Hubert figured out how to run with a weird hip-swinging gait in time with the board. It didn’t slow him down at all and eventually at an advanced age, he lost a race with a garbage truck.
Then there was Peppy Le Pew, a teacup poodle. He also didn’t like to stay in the yard but his thing was visiting. Our house had huge windows along the back of the house. Dad put chicken wire up around the outside of one of the windows. We could simply open the window and put Peppy out into his little yard, fenced six feet high.
Peppy climbed the chicken wire.
After all, aren’t rules made for breaking and boundaries made for crossing? Or at least challenging?
They are in writing, as long as you purposely break rules for a reason that improves the whole. If you understand the rules, you know how to revise them or ignore them as a specific story requires. But it’s something you have to be cautious of because readers have an expectation and if you don’t live up to that, they may simply move on.
The Longmire series by Craig Johnson comes immediately to mind. A typical dialog rule is that each speaker has a separate paragraph so it’s clear who’s speaking. But Johnson combines multiple speakers in one paragraph, sometimes with no dialog tag to help a reader follow the conversation. A lot of readers like this, obviously, but how many others have walked away? I know I did. That device took me out of the story.
It’s always a gamble to break a rule. It’s especially risky for a new author.
But hey, that’s also a rule that can be broken. If the story and characters are strong enough and vivid enough, even that rule about new writers can be ignored.
Then there was our dog, Sorka. Fences, windows, doors, cables, and crates were all boundaries to be broken. Rules that involved words like ‘sit’, ‘I said sit!’, ‘come’, ‘come back here right now’, ‘COME BACK HERE YOU F***ING DOG!’ were ignored. Breaking the record for how long a dog and its owners had to work with a canine behavioral therapist was something to strive for in her world. Two years, in case you’re wondering.
It’s one thing to break a few rules. It’s another entirely to excel at breaking every single one.