Steve Martaindale

Author of the JP Weiscarver Mystery Series

Are you a good rule or a bad rule?

Rules are made to be …

What do you think? The first thing that came to mind was probably “broken,” simply because it’s a well-established saying. But let’s admit most of us feel rules are meant to be followed.

Rules, after all, are rules.Hat for blog (917x1024)

Rules of the road keep traffic flowing smoothly, quickly and safely. One must drive defensively and “watch out for the other guy” because not everyone follows all of the rules. Or knows them all. Or understands them.

Often, I’ve stopped at an intersection and waited for a driver with the right of way, only to have that person wave me on as if he or she was doing me a favor. Come on, just follow the rules and we’d both be gone by now.

However, the strict application of some rules is simply burdensome. It’s late at night, you come to a four-way stop sign where you can see a mile in any direction. It’s perfectly safe to slow down, check for traffic and roll through the intersection, saving time and fuel. There may be no danger at all except it puts you in jeopardy of receiving a ticket.

Writing rules

As a novelist, I often hear of rules for writing. My protagonist must be this, my bad guy must do that, the least expected thing must happen, I must never begin a paragraph with one thing, I must always use another.

Uh, no.

A writer must lay out his or her story the way he or she feels it must be told. That’s it. If I begin reworking my manuscript to fit the demands of an agent or publisher – even if that person has case histories proving the point – then the story is no longer true to me, no longer true to itself.

As time goes by, I plan to share some of my thoughts about my JP Weiscarver stories, such as why I use so much dialogue and so little description. Or maybe why I opted to write without swearing, sex or violence … except for the fact someone must die in order to have a murder mystery.

First, here’s another angle to the rules question.

Gentlemen always …

Due to an occurrence not worth telling now, I recently found myself pondering the rule that a man should not wear a hat inside a building.

I’ve been sometimes obedient, sometimes not, regarding that rule, but I found myself wondering why gentlemen (the rule always refers to gentlemen, not simply men) are expected to remove their hats.

After a brief online search, the best answer seems to be “because they do.”

One posting posed that very question … why? … and instead of an answer to the question there followed an exhaustive commentary decrying the fact men don’t remove or doff their hats as much nowadays and offering various interpretations on when said act should occur.

This is the type of rule I feel empowered to break, shatter, abuse and disregard. I’ll wear or remove my hat to my comfort and not worry about how some Miss Etiquette wannabe feels about it, at least until someone gives me a sound reason for reconsidering.

So, to complete the opening sentence, I believe “Rules are made to be examined.”

But I’ll continue halting at stop signs.

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