Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Zombieland, the Jonas Brothers, and breaking the rules

Don't worry, non-Jonas fans. The zombies will come soon enough.

Ever seen Zombieland? It's a pretty cool movie, even if you don't like zombies. I wasn't a huge zombie fan when I saw it for the first time. And my dad generally shies away from zombies or any other sort of sci-fi/otherworldly creatures, and even he enjoyed it. (Also, this post will contain minor spoilers for the movie. You have been warned.)

One thing that makes Zombieland stand out is its self-awareness. The protagonist, known only as Columbus, creates a list of rules for surviving a zombie apocalypse. Some of them are common sense, like "get in shape," or the famous "double tap" rule (if you shoot a villain down, don't assume they're already dead -- shoot them again).

And what's rule # 17? Don't be a hero. But, unlike the other rules, Columbus finds himself breaking this one to save his crush and her sister from a zombie horde.

But probably not this one. (source)

I've blogged before about breaking the rules, and how difficult it is for me. I'm a big rule follower. Rules are there for a reason, my thinking goes, and if people don't follow the rules, what's the point of having them? We might as well descend into the anarchy so common in zombie tales.

But when is it okay to break rules? For a slightly less dire visual than zombies, look at the writing world. If you want to be a writer, you learn some ground rules pretty fast: Show, don't tell. Keep it concise. Avoid "-ly" adverbs. Yet paranormal romances like Twilight and Hush, Hush are notorious for breaking rules and still being successful.

And for the least dire example of all, take Camp Rock 2, which I totally watched may or may not have watched the other night and multiple times before. The movie features a song called Heart and Soul which, while it doesn't discuss rule breaking much, states that you need to do much more than go through the motions of you want to produce something successful.

"Practice makes perfect
                                        But perfect's not workin'
There's a lot more to music than knowing where your cue's gonna be
You can play all the right notes, But that don't mean you're movin' me
But if you can jump like David Lee Roth
Or pump your fist like your Bruce "The Boss"
If you got a heart and soul,You can rock and roll"

So when is it okay to break the rules? Well, if you're a writer (or a musician, or trying to save someone from zombies), it's usually at your own discretion. But you'll probably know the opportunity when you see it. So writers, while you're working on that first draft, throw those stupid rules aside. Tell the best story you possibly can, and worry later on whether it follows the rules -- or if it even needs to.

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