Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Character's Class Schedule: Detention

Detention: Characters Who Break the Rules
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about how authors break the rules in writing. Then more recently, I stumbled onto this blog post at Wicked Tricksy that talks about the same thing (in a much more intelligent way than I did. XD).

It’s fairly common knowledge that writers break the rules all the time, but in this last segment of a Character’s Class Schedule, I want to talk about characters who break the rules.

To my way of thinking, there are three main types of rule-breaking characters.

Characters who break good rules for good reasons: They sneak out after curfew, drive without licenses, disobey their parents/guardians/mentors, but they’re not really bad kids. Circumstances drive them to break the rules – to lie, steal, and disobey – all for the greater good.

After all, it’s not their fault that the evil ceremony can only be stopped at midnight, and it happens to be taking place miles away. And even though their fearless protector told them he’d be ‘fine’ on his own, we all know he’s going to get captured and tortured unless our little rule-breakers step in.

And then we have our innocent men and women, framed for crimes they didn’t commit. If they’re ever going to clear their name, they’ll have to run from the police.

The character Benjamin Gates in the movie National Treasure once said, “The only way to protect the Declaration [of Independence] is to steal it.”

Sometimes, impossible situations like that arise, and there’s no alternative but to break the rules. It all comes back to that choice between the Action and the Unthinkable (like I talked about here ).

These characters aren’t bad people, but they have no other options. They either act, or they die, period. The legality of those actions is insignificant.*

*in fiction, people. In real life, the legality of actions is very, very important. XD

Characters who break any rule, usually for bad reasons: Often these characters play the role of an antagonist, but there’s also a fair share of them on the side of the hero (or who are the hero). Note that these characters don’t have to be the embodiment of evil. This category can also be broken up into two subdivisions.

First, we have our Captain Jack Sparrows. Our Ferris Buellers. These often frivolous, charismatic, and street-wise mischief-makers might be scraping out a life going from stolen meal to stolen meal, or they might just be shirking their responsibilities. Whatever the case, their tendency to break rules stems mostly from the fact that they just don’t care, or the rules don’t make sense to them. They think they have a better way, or that the rules just don’t apply to them.

Then we have the darker side of the spectrum. Our super villains. Our Jokers. Our Voldemorts. They break the rules without a second thought, or even go out of their way to break the rules. They reject societal standards, and they’re willing to do anything to get what they want. Legality has nothing to do with it. Sometimes, these characters are the embodiment of evil. At the very least, they’ll feel like the embodiment of evil to our main characters.

Unless of course they are our main characters. >:)

Characters who break bad rules, for good reasons: Chances are, these are some of the first characters you thought of, especially with all the examples that are honored in today’s world. I’m not just talking about Katniss, from The Hunger Games, although she is a good example.

Just think of our history. People who dared to hide Jews from the Nazis. People who dared to guide escaped slaves to freedom. People who dared to sign the Declaration of Independence.

To quote the character Ben Gates once more – “To high treason. That's what these men were committing when they signed the Declaration. Had we lost the war, they would have been hanged, beheaded, drawn and quartered, and-Oh! Oh, my personal favorite-and had their entrails cut out and burned! … So, here’s to the men who did what was wrong, in order to do what they knew was right.”

These are the characters who dare. The ones who will oppose the wrong rules to their dying breath, even if doing so means that last breath might come sooner.

They’re the martyrs. The revolutionaries. The heroes that will grow into legends and find their way into the history books.

Three categories. Lots of examples. Lots of characters for us to become involved with.

Think about your characters. Which category would they fit into? Do they follow the government and society’s rules, or make their own? Would they ever break their own rules?

Your (optional) homework assignment: Make a list of rules for your writing. They could be your generic “Don’t kill, steal, etc.” or they could be rules unique to your world, or your characters. They could be unspoken societal norms, like “Don’t mention the kings that came before this one.” Whatever you want. Just make a list. Then think about which of your characters would break those rules, and what the legal/social consequences would be if they broke those rules.

Did I miss a category? Or an example that’s especially representative or one of the rule-breaking classes?

And with this, class is dismissed. :) Thanks for reading. More posts coming soon.


  1. Just when I thought you couldn't be more perfect, you go and quote Ben Gates.

    Silent - I love you.

    I love how every single one of your blog posts make me think of my characters, of my stories, where they are heading and how I could make it better.

    Thank you and my characters thank you as well.


  2. XD Aw, thanks, Tanya. ^^ You are one of the best followers I ever could've hoped to have. ^^ I just hope I can continue to be helpful, lol.

    Plus, I should really apply some of these things to my own writing more. XD