Thursday, 21 January 2010

Rules are to be Broken

One of my regular blog readers e-mailed me a few days ago to point out that he could name a number of short stories that actually made the ‘mistakes’ that I listed in my last post but managed to pull it off. (Thanks Ken – a very valid observation)

Here are the examples he cites:

3) The bad joke – similar to 2 – the only point of the story is the delivery of a [bad] punchline at the end.

“Normally yes, but it can be an effective device occasionally; see "Shah Guido G" by Issac Asimov for a rare example where it is.”

I have to agree that I have also seen this done well. It’s a version of the twist in the tale story and I have a friend who is particularly good at those. However, I think my point is that it has to be skilfully executed. And the joke has to be pretty good too.

1) It’s not a story (beginning, middle and end) – just a scene or setting & 5) No Proper ending.

“As in pretty much anything by the American writer Lorrie Moore IMO.”

I’m not familiar with this writer so I can’t comment. But again, it wouldn’t surprise me.

You see, this was never meant to be a definitive list. All rules can be broken, you just need the skill to do it and an experienced writer could probably pull off pretty much anything. But for the newer writer, still developing their skills, some of these are pitfalls best avoided.

So who else can think of an example where someone has broken one of these ‘rules’ and got away with it? I bet there are loads!


  1. Although I agree both that the rules you posted are good guidelines, and that sometimes an amazing story can result from flouting the rules, I question the idea that Lorrie Moore's work lacks plot or endings. At least not all of it. "Terrific Mother"? "People Like That Are the Only People Here"? Traditional narratives; powerful endings; sublime stories.

  2. Hi.
    Thank you for stopping by my blog. And good to hear another perspective on this particular author. I can see I really need to read some of her work so that I can judge for myself :-)


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