Friday, February 17, 2012

Breaking (and Making) the Rules

As someone who's primarily read and written general fiction over the years, it came as quite a shock to me that many romance readers, writers, and publishers ascribe to so many rules I'd never heard of before.  Here are some of the rules I've heard, a few of which are not specific to the romance genre:

-All stories must end "happily ever after."
-First person is an inferior point of view, and only third person should be used.
-The only dialogue tag allowed is "said," but it's better to avoid dialogue tags entirely.
-Main characters and a romantic element must be introduced by a certain chapter.
-There must be "X" amount of sex in the story.
-Married characters can't cheat on each other.
-Only the lead couple can be shown having sex with each other.
-The main characters cannot experience any truly serious bumps or problems during the story.

I think I gravitated toward Dreamspinner Press because they don't impose so many of their own rules on writers and instead evaluate each story on its own merits.  I've seen some other writers, though, who are quite adamant in pushing their beliefs on dialogue tags, POV, etc.  I think it's great for writers to have rules for their own writing, as long as they realize that their rules are not universal, and that every writer should have the ability to draft their own rules to fit their own audience, goals, and creative vision.

So I've decided to list the rules I use in my writing.  I do not hold other writers to these same rules (although some of them do factor into my personal reading choices).  Also, some of these rules might be more accurately described as "goals," since my current skill level may not measure up quite yet.

Ironically, my own rules are probably more restrictive than the rules I mentioned above.  However, they are rules that make sense to me.

My Rules for Writing

I will end my story in a manner that's authentic to the plot and its characters.  "Happily ever after" will be a conscious choice, not a default.  Whether happy or sad, I will try to deliver an ending that is satisfying.

I will give the reader the freedom to decide what happens after the end of my story.  I will not dictate what happens ten, twenty, or fifty years into the characters' futures.

I will not forget to tie up any loose ends in the plot.  I may, however, choose to intentionally leave some untied.

I will not glorify or celebrate violence.

I will not use animal cruelty as a plot device.

I will not handle gender or orientation in an exploitative manner.  Characters will not be defined by their gender or orientation.

Even if my stories are focused on male characters and a male point of view, I will not use it as an excuse to create cookie cutter female characters based on overused tropes.  Any focal character, male or female, must be well rounded and original.

I will not pretend that people of color don't exist.  However, my characters will not be defined by their ethnicity but rather by their individual traits.

I will not treat minorities as helpless victims.

I will not use sex scenes in an exploitative manner.  Sex scenes will always contribute to the development of the characters involved.  They must work in the context of the story and not be excessive.

I will not let my characters lose their personality and individuality just because they have fallen in love or started a relationship.

I will not use narrative to fawn over my characters or let the audience see how much I love them.  I will let my readers come to appreciate them on their own and will not try to twist their arms into liking my characters.

I will try my best to use language that flows well, is fun to read, is not pretentious, and serves the plot.  I will try to avoid unnecessary words and will be as direct as possible without losing individuality, flow, or creativity.

I will not write plots based on a formula.  Formulas are for math and science, not art or creativity.

There will be no damsels in distress in my stories.

My stories will be based on creative vision, not on marketing.

I will write fiction, not propaganda.  I will not use my characters as a mouth piece for political beliefs.

I will not release a story I don't believe in.

I will only write a sequel if I feel it adds to the overall story, not as a means for financial gain.

I will choose originality over derivation.

I will submit to a publisher if my story fits within their rules (HEA, heat level, etc.), but I will not write a story to fit the rules of a specific publisher.

I will not make creative decisions based on a desire for popularity.  I will not water down my storytelling in an attempt to please everyone.  I will write for my audience only and accept that not everyone will want to be a part of my audience.

I will take risks in my stories for the sake of creative growth, even if I know the risk may make my story less popular.

If someone else's rule has sound reason and makes sense to me, I will follow it.  If I disagree, I will not follow it.

If it is not against my rules, it's fair game.

Okay, your turn!  What are YOUR personal writing rules?

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