There were a lot of interesting comments on the Neil Gaiman Breaks Writing Rules post. I thought I'd highlight some of them to continue the discussion.
Several commenters drew parallels between writing and other art forms.
Emily Bryan: When I studied music composition in college, one of the first rules we were taught was no parallel fourths. Then I went to my first Pucinni opera and how does the overture start? With parallel fourths.
Rules exist because only the masters of the craft know how to break them successfully.
Kat: I also studied music composition like EmilyBryan, and yeah, the rules are there to stop intermediate composers from shooting themselves in the foot. They're generally good guidelines that help make things sound better.
It's probably the same with the writing rules. For beginning or intermediate writers, the rules probably help them express their ideas better. For masters, perhaps they've gone beyond the need for rules, just like a good jazz player who can't remember the names of chords anymore.
HowDidUGetThere:I find that those who really know the rules are the best ones to break them. That breaking the rules is an art in and of itself.
Take Picasso for example. Never been a big fan of his-- too disjointed for my taste-- but I went to his museum in Paris and saw how wonderful his early works were.
He knew what he was doing, and I assume had the respect of his contemporaries on some level. So when he took art to a new level it was a break through, rather than a failure. I think this aspect is often forgotten.
I'm not an art historian, but that lesson wasn't lost on me. Art seems to be easier to put side by side, in chronological order, for anyone to see the progression. Books take a bit longer!
Amitha was the only commenter to say that she didn't like Neil Gaiman's approach. Is there anybody else out there who would have preferred it if he hadn't broken the "rules" discussed in the previous post?
(For those who didn't read the last post, the principles were 1)Don't break POV and 2)Build the plot and increase the tension with every scene, taking out any scenes that do not advance the plot.)
Amitha: I actually didn't like that it was an episodic kind of a book. No matter how well episodic books are written, I have trouble picking them back up after putting it down. For the Graveyard Book, I got stuck for a long time on one of the early chapters. I think he did this in part because he was trying to parallel the Jungle Book in some ways but for me it was like reading a book of short stories (which I generally don't read) :P Towards the end though, it became less episodic and I found it much more interesting.
That being said, I totally agree that you can break the rules and still have a great book. It's just really hard while you're writing to tell whether or not you're one of the people who can pull it off ;)
And finally, Graham had an interesting comment about how readership affects "the rules:
Graham: "The rules" exist for the reader's benefit. The more closely they are followed, the wider the audience your book will have. They ensure that your writing stays within the comfort zone of the largest number of readers. The more your writing moves outside this comfort zone, the smaller your audience will be. Each of us, as writers, picks the audience we want to appeal to. "Head hopping" is harder work for for the reader but we might still choose to write for those readers who find it easy, or who are prepared to put in the effort.
Further thoughts, anyone?