Unwritten Rules

In my writing I’ve been thinking a lot lately about rules.

Not the long lists of rules explaining what to do or not do… there are plenty of opinions from every corner of the writing world on that. I’ve been wondering about the unwritten rules we face as people. You know, the “walk left, stand right” rule, the “let people off the elevator before getting on” rule, or the “don’t take the last cookie without offering” rule.

I suppose these examples reflect a culture or an etiquette. They may be particular to a certain place or group of people. They’re subtle. Simple even. We almost don’t notice them — until someone breaks the rule. Then what?

I believe interesting things start to happen.

In my previous work in progress, my character travels to a new city unlike anything he has experienced before. Figuring out the unwritten rules becomes a major part of the story, as there are cultural differences that he just doesn’t understand, and consequences when he breaks the rules.

In my current project, the slightly cantankerous protagonist has his own set of rules not necessarily shared by others, and so he gets bent out of shape when someone else doesn’t follow them.

These varied practices may be small, but they have a big effect on the characters in my work.

So what are the unwritten rules that you encounter every day? How many are situational, or particular to a certain place? How do you figure them out, and inevitably, when you break an unwritten rule, what are the consequences?

Now what unwritten rules do your characters face?