Writing is an art form. And just like every other art form, there are certain rules to follow. However, a sizable part of being good at a craft is knowing what the rules are, precisely with the purpose of breaking them. Take Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story. Writing rules normally say that an author should only put certain words in italics for emphasis. The Neverending Story often features entire paragraphs or pages in italics. Ende purposely breaks this rule constantly throughout the book, and it never feels like an accident. These paragraphs in italics may break the fourth wall (addressing the reader specifically) or foreshadow future events. In this article, we’ll talk about a few guidelines that fantasy writers follow, and what it means when we go out of our way to ignore them.
Organizing is pretty much essential when creating a fantasy world. Generally speaking, this is an effective way to keep you prioritize when planning out your story. Organizing how you want your world to exist before you start writing can help because it allows you to make all the little details about your fantasy world. The maps, the geography, the politics, the social hierarchy; all of it has a place. Ironing out these details can help your story feel fleshed out and real to the reader.
So why might an author not want to organize themselves first? Well, the simple fact is that you are the world’s creator: you’re allowed to change your mind partway through. It goes without saying that J.R.R. Tolkien is famous in the fantasy world for knowing his universe down to the strands of hair on a hobbit's foot. But what people forget is that Tolkien didn’t just sit down one day and create this expansive universe. He spent years going back and forth between writing and revising, with many works being published after his death in the 1970s. It’s never too late to change your mind or switch your ideas around.
Intentions are key
Never underestimate the intelligence of your audience. If you suddenly change perspectives or writing styles pathway through the novel, your readers will notice. Normally, the writing guideline is to keep things consistent. But there are good reasons why the author may break consistency, and this comes from having an intention. Having intentions to break writing rules can add depth to the story.
For example, if your protagonist goes out of their way to tell the other characters that they only speak Elvish, but then later begins speaking Gnomeish without a word of explanation, your readers will naturally notice. However, maybe you broke this linguistic rule on purpose. Maybe you did that because you want to drop hints to your reader that this character has a secret part in their backstory which will only be revealed upon further exploration of the plot. Having intention to break the rules makes all the difference.
An infodump is essentially a large amount of information, quite literally dumped onto a page. Sometimes it can feel like reading a rant from the author about every individual detail happening, without really adding to the plot. Avoiding infodumping can be difficult: there is a thin line between adding to a scene without dialogue while avoiding a mess of overloading information to the reader. Descriptions normally become infodumps when the details stop being relevant to the plot or page that they’re describing. Infodumps can be distracting to the reader.
With that being said, there are certain reasons why you may want to include them. The Neverending Story does this well: any infodumps are short, maybe a paragraph which delves into a quirky fact or breaks the fourth wall before getting back to the main plot. You may choose to include infodumps because a character could be going on a rant or is having a lot of internal dialogue. Overall, which writing rules you choose to include and break are your choice as the creator.
is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto. When she isn't writing, she's reading and working on her bullet journal. You can read more of her work at ashaswann.com