Only Rule Breakers Need Apply

This month we’re talking about breaking the rules when writing romantic fiction and in our careers. But the truth is that the rules are more of a moving target these days than a stationary one.

A Little RulebreakerAs seismic shifts happen in the publishing industry the landscape will continue to change. Areas that were once considered the ‘hood (self-publishing) go through gentrification and are now proudly inhabited by indie rock stars. In fact, the transformation has been so impressive that even established Beverly Hills residents (traditionally-published, best-selling authors) have decided it might not be such a bad idea to have a summer home there, too.

Genres change. New ones emerge. (Hello, New Adult!) Even tried-and-true tropes are seeing some spicy new twists no-one saw coming. (BDSM-loving billionaire playboy vampires, anyone?)

In the midst of such change the winners are the readers and authors who learn to ride the wicked (as in awesome) waves of change. The authors who are successfully riding those waves seem to have a few more things in common:

  • They’re smart.
  • They work hard.
  • They don’t take no for an answer.
  • They’re in tune with their readers.
  • They write what they love.

I’d like to tell you that’s why I’m a rulebreaker.

It’s not.

I’m a genre-bending rulebreaker for a far more selfish reason. That’s what I like to read.

I reject the notion that only heroes get to be flawed or difficult while heroines must be syrupy sweet, fragile little flowers in need of a good rescuing. I like my characters a little broken and I love taking the journey with them as they unfold the secrets to finding their happy ending.

I don’t believe that a happy ending means that every single thread is wrapped up neatly in a bow. Nor do I believe that every story needs to end with forever. I’m satisfied with a romance that ends with a happy-for-now. Hell, if the story is well-told, a maybe can be just as satisfying. The books and movies I remember most are the ones that left me wondering what happens next. Or the ones where the story didn’t end at all the way I expected.

I know my rulebreaking ideas aren’t necessarily popular. But those are the stories and characters I enjoy writing and reading about. So, I’ll keep working hard to grow and improve my craft while writing what I love. Eventually I’ll catch a wicked awesome wave of my own. 😉

Where do you fall on the spectrum of happily ever after versus happy for now? Have you ever read a book in which the ending wasn’t what you expected, yet you couldn’t stop thinking about it?


Only Rule Breakers Need Apply — 8 Comments

  1. So glad to hear you say that, Reese! Although I’ve heard nothing but praise from publishers for my first two novels (“very enjoyable” “you have an engaging style” “really, really clean” “the main character is funny and relatable”), no one seems to be willing to take them on. The reason? Genre-bending issues! “It doesn’t quite have the romantic arc our readers expect” or “It has too much sex to be women’s fiction and not enough to be erotica – we wouldn’t know how to market it.” I see where they’re coming from – it really is tougher to sell a book when you don’t know what category to squeeze it into – but it’s very frustrating. I’m with you; I write what I’d like to read, and I have to believe that a lot of women feel that way. Many women simply aren’t interested in “traditional” romances (no matter how happily they end), and if you ask me, our books would appeal to a much larger market if we simply dared to stretch the limits of what we classify as romance or erotica or women’s fiction.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Lori! I feel your frustration: “It has too much sex to be women’s fiction and not enough to be erotica – we wouldn’t know how to market it.”

      Several members of my local RWA chapter are self-published, or hybrid authors. The freedom to step outside of narrowly drawn lines is one of the reasons they often cite for why they’ve opted to go indie.

  2. I’m with Liz. I like a happily ever after. But I’ll take a happy for now. And I don’t think every thread of the story has to have a happy ending. In my novella THE GIRL MOST LIKELY, my heroine Cara has had a rocky relationship with her mother for years. It becomes so toxic that by the end of the book, Cara decides to cut her relationship with her mother. She is no longer going to engage with her. She has to do it to save her sanity. Anyway, a reviewer took issue with that, saying she wanted Cara’s relationship with her mother to work out as happily as her romantic relationship. Consequently, she lowered the score she gave the review. But I still stand behind the way I ended the novel. Sometimes it takes more courage to end a toxic relationship than to continue to hang onto it. Great blog post, Reese!

    • Jana, I took a similar approach with the relationship between my heroine and her mother. It was important to me to be realistic in my approach to their relationship. Plus, I have ideas about a future story to resolve their relationship. But, yes, I’ve been dinged on that, too.

  3. I don’t need everything tied up in a neat little bow. I do need to believe in the relationship enough to know that they can work through the loose ends AND deal with the tangles that come after. Because I know in real life they’ll face more knots!

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