It’s a freeing thought, isn’t it? For once in your life, you can do whatever you want, put it on a page and not be judged for it. That’s one big reason why writing can be so therapeutic. We live in a world defined by laws and restrictions. Isn’t it nice to know that there’s one place we can exist out of bounds…even if only on occasion?
This freedom can be empowering to some and intimidating to others. With nothing but a blank screen in front of you, your characters can go anywhere and do anything! But without a sense of boundaries, how can you be sure where to start? How do you know if you’ve gone too far? It’s a true catch-22 with no clear-cut answers.
Think of it this way. When considering your storyline, think big. Don’t limit yourself. Let your imagination take you to the far-reaching expanses of your mind where, oftentimes, the most brilliant ideas emerge. Once you’ve explored every option, then put some guidelines in place. Plot. Point of view. Theme. Style. It’s not until this second stage when the technicalities of writing may come into play.
If every writer and artist were to follow a strict series of regulations, some of the world’s most powerful expressions may have never come to be. If you doubt this theory, take a trip to the art museum. You can categorize many pieces into specific genres, but the pieces that truly stand apart are those that transcend preconceived notions of right and wrong to strike emotion in the audience.
Writing, after all, is an art form. Break it down to its most basic purpose and your job is to create an experience in the minds of your readers. There are so many variables to any experience that it’s impossible to apply a hard and fast set of rules every time. If you limit yourself writing what may be considered “right,” you may miss the chance to define deeper layers of the scene, cheating your reader out of the full experience.
Take stream of consciousness writing, for example. Legendary authors such as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs have experimented with this non-traditional technique with great success. When first published, some readers may have been turned off by the author’s unwillingness to follow established forms of dialogue and plot lines. But today, you’ll find stream of consciousness throughout pop culture, such as in Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation, television’s Scrubs, or anywhere you hear an inner monologue told from the narrator’s perspective.
The writing community (including WritingRoom.com!) is filled with tips, tricks and opinions on what constitutes great writing. Take a close look at some of your favorite novels or screenplays, however, and you’ll find that successful writers often violate the rules to make a memorable impression. Ultimately, the best writing occurs when you throw the right and wrong out the window and follow your instincts instead.