There be dragons

I love those old maps. You know the ones; where the cartographers got bored, hadn't explored an area, and claimed that dragons existed there.

I love it because it really demonstrates a key aspect of any art to me: boundaries.

Look at music. Before 1600, Europeans had devised music based on a set of scales that harked back to the ancient Greeks. Pythagoras wasn't only good at triangles; he literally invented scales of music. In fact, the Greeks were so good at it they invented somewhere in the region of twenty-one different scales, all starting on the same note. Over time (probably because some of those scales were disgusting) only a handful survived. The ones we call major and minor.

(Of course, jazz musicians dug up some of these old scales and use them today, but that's because they're cool.)

Then, around 1600, some bright spark decided to change things up. You see, the biggest problem with the Pythagorean tuning was that it was incredibly difficult to play in different keys. You could play all sorts of scales starting on a D, for instance, but if you wanted to play those same scales starting on an E? Hah! Sheer madness!

Then Equal Temperament came along, where each semitone was the same distance away from each other. A lot of people at the time hated it, as it sounded out of tune and, well, wrong. But it took off, and even now, Western music uses Equal Temperament and, if we listen to those old Pythagorean tunings, they sound out of tune and, well, wrong.

What has this got to do with writing?

Quite a bit, actually. If you want to start a Twitter fight, all you have to do is tag the #WritingCommunity and say something like Commas are pointless, or maybe We should give up using apostrophes. Never mind topics as hotly debated as Never use a prologue or Adverbs are great.

The fight happens because people have been so ingrained into a particular set of rules. Anything that goes against those rules is weird and, well, wrong.

But the tuning system in music shows us that rules are more like guidelines, really.

Don't get me wrong: rules are important. I doubt I could read a book that didn't bother with correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

Then again, I doubt I'd like a book that rigidly stuck to each and every rule religiously.

Look at the Marvel franchise. The recent batch of films (by recent, I'm referring to the Robert Downey Jr Iron Man to modern day) started off, well, in a fairly standard format. There were no big surprises, albeit they were exceptionally well made.

Then they made things like Inifinity War, which ended (spoiler alert) with literally half the universe dying, including the superheroes. Rule #1 of superhero movies is: the superhero never dies. Never. Ever.

They broke that rule. And audiences were left for over a year before they found out that the rule was more bent, than broken.

Since then, some of their films and TV shows (like Wanda Vision) have become much more daring in their approach. It seems the stuffy suits, sitting around a board meeting table and deciding how best to monetise the franchise (*cough* Pirates of the Caribbean *cough*), had become swapped with artists and visionaries.

Of course, these films still worked in and of themselves because they still followed a lot of the rules. They just knew which ones could be bent, and by how much.

When it comes to your writing, and mine, this is what I suggest. Yes, there are rules. Most of those rules are important, and probably should be followed. But, learn which ones are there simply because someone saw There Be Dragons on a forum somewhere, and was too afraid to explore it themselves.

Then... Go exploring.