I was stumped by our theme this month. I don’t break the rules. My hero & heroine always meet in Chapter One. I don’t head-hop. I never miss a deadline. So I put it to some of my friends. Asked what they do that is technically ‘wrong’. Here’s what I got back:
- I like to write first person romances where the hero gets no POV
- I like to write them in first person present tense
- I sometimes put the sex scene up front, in the first few chapters.
And that’s when I realized that we tossed the rules out a long time ago. None of her ‘broken rules’ got my hackles up. I’d seen all of them in lots of other books besides hers. What I think we’re actually talking about are writing conventions. Unless you write for a category line where expectations are stipulated, if you write a great, interesting story it will probably find a home. Or at least, it won’t get rejected because it bent or broke an old-school plot or POV convention.
I teach an advanced fiction writing class, and there are some rules I hammer home to my students. Things like sticking to a single tense. I don’t care if it is present or past, as long as it is consistent within the manuscript. The hero and heroine have to have a character arc. There should be loads of internal monologue, because otherwise a book is just a bullet point laundry list of events – we read for the emotional reactions to said events. Use decent grammar. Yes, there can be exceptions for dialect and specific ‘voice’, but in general, make your copy editor proud.
But the more I think about it, those things aren’t writing rules, per se. They are common sense. Write a good story. Be sure the craft is good, so that the reader stays engaged, and doesn’t get pulled out by confusion over who is talking or why the word ‘dude’ is in a medieval historical. Don’t head hop (see above confusion for reader) unless you can do it well (such as the awesome Nora Roberts).
Will I still have my hero and heroine meet in the first chapter in every single book? Probably. But not because it is a rule. They meet in chapter one because the whole point of a romance is to watch the hero and heroine interact, so I figure they’d better do it from the get-go. Will I still avoid ending my sentences with a preposition? Yup – because it just annoys me otherwise. Will I still write in 3rd person deep POV? Yes – but only because I’m comfortable doing it. However, I adore reading books written in 1st person.
Don’t worry overmuch about the rules. In fact, don’t worry about them at all. Worry about writing a great story. And be sure both you and your characters use common sense in it!