What I'm reading: Split Image by Robert B. Parker
Contest reminder: There are two contest going on for another week. Click the contest tab above for details – plenty of prizes, and a surprising dearth of entries – join in!
And check the sidebar--I've added another short story to Smashwords. This one's the unpublished prologue to Finding Sarah.
On my recent hopping around the blogosphere, I've noticed many posts listing "rules" about writing. Of course, nothing will get my contrary nature fired up faster than trying to tell me to follow specific rules—especially if I don't agree with them.
In my early, naïve days of thinking I might want to put my works out somewhere other than my hard drive, I was clueless. If you've read any of my bio information, you'll know that I wasn't a romance reader, so when my daughters told me I was really writing a romance, I listened to some friends who suggested I join a RWA chapter.
I looked them up, saw they had a contest, so I decided this might be a way to get feedback from people who didn't know me. The rules said, "enter the first chapter," up to 30 pages, so I did. Nobody told me that the idea was to fudge your first chapter to hit the maximum page length allowed. Chapter One of Finding Sarah (titled That Special Something in those days) was 6 pages long.
I blindly wandered into my first meeting, which was kind of a 'pot luck' of sharing writing hints. There were also accolades to a couple of members who'd just had their first books out (Kresley Cole and Roxanne St. Claire – so I guess I can say, "I knew them when…"). There was all sorts of buzz about some conference in New York, and awards called the Golden Heart and RITA.
When the meeting got down to sharing tips, I got handouts with charts for characters, with grids for chapters, with summaries of the hero's journey … and I was about ready to drop the whole writing gig. These were things I had no interest in. I wanted to write a story.
Now, I'm not denying that all the above are useful. However, being told I had to fit my story into those boxes went against my nature. Knowing that those elements would make a better story was enough. But I tend to work backward, with a very basic plot in mind.
One "rule" that also irked the heck out of me was that the first male character to show up is supposed to be the hero. In Finding Sarah, I unwittingly broke that rule. The first male was NOT the hero. Gasp! That was a no-no. I was told, "this guy isn't very likeable." Well, duh. He wasn't supposed to be.
There was this other "rule" that said my hero and heroine had to meet in chapter one. I think, my first drafts had them coming together somewhere around Chapter Four. Or maybe Six. Okay, I admit I was still learning the craft, and I'd dumped a lot of back story into early chapters, so that "meet" could easily move up. I could also write longer chapters (Chapter One is now 15 pages) so they'd end up together in the first chapter. But why did I have to?
Most of those "rules" were based on category romance—those short Harlequin books that come out each month, and because of their severe length restrictions, you have to get things off to a running start. But I didn't want to write those stories. I tried reading a few, and most of them didn't work for me.
Then, some time later, I read a romantic suspense by Linda Castillo where her hero and heroine didn't hook up until well into the book. And one by Allison Brennan where she killed the guy that seemed the obvious choice for a hero.
Repeat after me. There are no rules. Write a good story. On the flip side, if you're targeting a publisher that has clear requirements, follow them. Or don't submit to them.
This isn't to say there aren't some basic rules you have to follow: good grammar, and solid craft techniques are a given. If you're writing a mystery, the crime had better be solved. If it's a romance, there needs to be that HEA. But in between—write a good story. And if it's stronger because it follows the Hero's Journey, or the 12 Steps to Intimacy, so be it.
Any "rules" that bug you, either as a reader or a writer? Too many rules lead to formulaic writing (by the time I read Allison's book, I'd figured out a lot of the romance conventions, and kept waiting for some explanation of the "mistake" in having the obvious hero die.)
Come back tomorrow when author Susan Oleksiw tells us about a book she's not sure she should write. And enter the contests. Free stuff. What's wrong with that?