Early in his acting career, Arnold Schwarzenegger established a reputation for being both ambitious and easy to get along with. But he once famously clashed with James Cameron on the set of The Terminator about what would become the most famous line in a groundbreaking movie.
Arnold suggested his killer android character would say “I will be back,” arguing that a machine would not use a contraction. Cameron, who was renowned for his meticulousness, held his ground, finally demanding that Arnold stick to the script. As Arnold recalled, Cameron told him, “I don’t correct your acting, so don’t correct my writing.” Arnold did as he was told, and in the above video, he confesses that Cameron made the right call.
Kudos to Arnold for admitting his mistake.
But the real point is how you can be technically right but artistically wrong. Submissions editors see manuscripts all the time that click on all the technical points, such as tension, characterization, and a good premise, but fail to engage the reader.
The showdown between Arnold and Cameron illustrates that sometimes the logical way isn’t always best. A story develops its own internal logic and dynamic, and it takes years of practice to recognize that fact. James Cameron knew what he was doing.
Another way to put it is that you have to master the rules before you’re good enough to break them. Then you can wield them flexibly and effectively.