Yay, Rules!

My name is Rebecca, and I’m a rule-follower.

I’ll be honest, when I saw that this month’s theme was breaking the rules I was at a loss. I’ve always been highly retentive when it comes to rules and regulations, and while sometimes I skirt them, I rarely if ever break them. I wait to board airplanes until my seat number is called. I leave a two-second distance between me and the car in front. And if the tag in my shirt says machine wash cold? You better believe that garment will never, ever see a drop of warm water.

It’s odd, because I’m very much a critical thinker with a strong radical streak and no great lover of routine, and yet I find small everyday rules quite comforting. It was in trying to reconcile these disparate elements of my personality that I thought back (waaaay back) to my first-year psychology seminar in college, and suddenly it all made sense.

I'm so impressed with myself for finding this dude's name. I think my search term was like, "czechsintmintholly".

I’m so impressed with myself for finding this dude’s name. I think my search term was like, “czechsintmintholly”.

Thanks to some pretty exhaustive, mostly phonetic Googling I’ve managed to find the psychologist I studied who posited that imposing constraints on people can actually make them more creative. His name is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (say that five times fast) and he does a lot of research on creative personalities and what affects creative output. My ill-remembered precis of the course is that imposing rules on people forces them to innovate within those boundaries, resulting in a more creative product than might’ve been achieved with no restrictions.

In the context of romance fiction, this makes perfect sense. It’s a genre with a myriad of constraints – HEA, focus on the romance, the presence of internal and external conflict – and arguably some of the best romance writers are those who find a way to do something totally different within those constraints. Maybe rules do more for us as writers – maybe we wouldn’t be half as creative if we weren’t trying to flex a pre-existing structure.

Do you think rules can challenge creativity or do they smother it? Can you think of an author whose rule-bending (not breaking!) prowess is second to none? I love fresh takes on classic tropes and would love to add some ideas to my TBR pile!


Yay, Rules! — 4 Comments

    • Thanks Liz! I think it does make sense when you consider how, for instance, word count restrictions or requirements affect the way we write (and make my rule-loving little heart squee!).

  1. Great post Rebecca! Makes a lot of sense when you think about it, especially when considering ‘the rules’ of romance writing. Professor Czechsintmintholly might just be on to something!

  2. I’m pretty impressed with your ninja Googling skills. 😉 As to whether rules help or hinder creativity, my answer would be “it depends.” I tend to overthink things, so sometimes knowing exactly which lines to color in takes away some of that stress. Other times, those rules feel restrictive and limiting.

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