Past Events

Scofflaws and Revolutionaries: Breaking the Rules

Amy Beatty

When I was a wee whippersnapper, my father passed on some excellent age-old writing advice:

“Never say always, and always avoid the use of ‘never.’”

Then we both laughed at the way the rule so completely and deliberately contradicted itself.

I’ve never been very good with doing what I’m told. If someone says I “have to” do something, my first thought is nearly always, “Oh yeah? Says who?” When I’m told I can’t, or shouldn’t, or am not allowed, my gut reaction is, “Dude, hold my ginger beer.”

In fact, family legend has it that one time, when I was about two years old, my parents told me to get in the car when I didn’t want to, and I flatly refused. They told me that if I didn’t get in the car, they were going to leave without me (not something they’d actually do, btw). I responded by sitting down behind the rear wheel of the car so they couldn’t back out of the driveway without squishing me. What I did not do was get in the car.

Not much has changed since then.

Fortunately for me (and all my future teachers and bosses), my father also taught me another important piece of age-old wisdom:

“Before you take down a fence, always find out why it was put there in the first place.”

And that’s a key question to ask about the “rules” and conventions of good writing as well. Why was that rule put there in the first place? What will happen if you break it?

Good writing isn’t necessarily about faithfully following all the rules. That can be so predictable it’s boring.

And originality isn’t about defying all the conventions and hacking your own path through the teeming wilderness, either. Random disregard for the rules produces chaos, not stories, and makes you look like you don’t know what you’re doing.

No, the good stuff—the really good stuff—comes from knowing what the “rules” are, knowing why they were put there, and then making careful, deliberate choices about which rules you will follow, which you will flagrantly flout in order to achieve a particular effect with your story, and which (if you are particularly clever) you will pretend to comply with while you gleefully undermine them when nobody’s looking so you can collapse a mine-shaft on your readers’ heads and leave them breathless with your big reveal.

So, go forth, brave young writer. Learn the rules. Learn them all. Learn them well. And then commence scheming your devious writerly insurrections.

Amy Beatty is the author of The Vanir Dragon Series and the Viper Series. Her work has been compared to Robert Jordan’s, and her debut novel, Dragon Ascending (2018) was reviewed by Orson Scott Card (Author of Ender’s Game), who recommended it highly, calling it “an extraordinarily entertaining and innovative treatment of dragons.” Amy was raised in the wilds of Yellowstone Park as part of an experiment in combining the genes of a respected biologist with those of a grammar aficionado. She now lives in the mountains of Utah with her husband and two delightfully unconventional children under the benevolent dictatorship of a toy fox terrier who is determined to take over the world one delivery truck at a time.

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TABC 2020 Class


The first hour of this hands-on interactive workshop gives an overview of several popular story structure models such as Three Act, Seven Point, Save the Cat, and the Hero’s Journey. The parts of each structure model will be introduced and participants will work together to assemble the parts in the proper order, explore the relationships between different structure models, and discover the deeper patterns that flow through all of them. During the second hour, participants will work together to brainstorm and outline a sample story using one of the structure models presented in the first half.

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