Are “The Rules” a Barrier to Entry?

There’s a game where no one is supposed to know the rules, and if you find out the rules you’re automatically out of the game. I can’t remember what it’s called, and Google wasn’t much help in finding it. Does anyone know the game I’m thinking of?

When I heard about the game, my first question was, “How can you play the game if you don’t know the rules?” No one could answer me with anything better than, “You just do.”

Probably a year or two later, I wrote my last fan fiction and showed it to a coworker. He’d never written a day in his life, but he’d taken an improv class and he’d memorized all the tropes that plague the more geeky genres, and he went off on the story. I’d done something that made perfect sense to the fandom (and to me as a writer), but I’d flown in the face of one of the sacred tropes in the process.

At first, I was baffled. He was mad at me for not sticking to a trope. I thought breaking expectations was a good thing. But because I’d done it without being aware the trope even existed, he shredded my story. (He even went so far as to get a friend of his to post a review with his exact words on the story.)

It made me start thinking, though.  At the time, I was reading book after book, blog after blog, on the craft of writing, and they were all saying the same thing: You have to learn the rules, and then break them deliberately.

What happens, though, when you have someone who hasn’t learned the rules, and yet does a beautiful job breaking one or many, simply because no one ever suggested to them that they couldn’t do it to begin with?

I’ve been thinking about this lately, and I wonder what others think about this. Anybody?


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