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.
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!