Writing against the rules

IMG_3255I have a friend, a fellow writer who I swap works-in-progress with. I trust her judgment as she has a good eye, and I’d like to think she regards me in the same way. (By the way, the picture above has nothing to do with what I’m writing about. I was on Martha’s Vineyard last week–hence, why no post–and this is a picture of me standing in front of the Aquinnah Cliffs.  Just thought you needed to see it.) But what I recently sent her did not include the laudatory and enthusiastic commentary I had hoped. As a matter of fact, she thought I was writing as if I didn’t know my own character as well as I thought I did, not to mention his motivation and where it fit in the story.  She thought the reaction my character had after an amorous situation was a bit cold, and that I should just let the story happen. But I had also sent the same piece of writing to someone else, and her reaction was totally different: That was hot and sweet with a sprinkle of realism, and that got me to thinking – how much should you let reality intrude upon your fiction?

Many of us think of fiction as an escape, and that writer all should follow some unwritten rules on the road to a satisfying conclusion. This is especially true of romance fiction, as its many readers expect the protagonists to act or react in a preordained way, ie, there is an instant attraction, and that once attracted, the couple should only have carnal knowledge of each other, and most important, the hero and/or heroine should never deceive each other without a very serious, nearly life-threatening reason. Not that what I’m writing is a romance per se, but it does have a very strong romantic overtone, and here is where it gets sticky: my main character breaks one of those rules. And by doing so leads my friend/critique partner to think her acting cold. Perhaps so, but that’s all right, because that’s where the sprinkle of realism comes in (and the fact my other friend got that is why she is my friend. So shallow, me.)

The way I see it, is that people rarely follow a preordained set of rules, so why write them as if they do? Although many have reactions we can deem typical, in reality, things aren’t that cut and dried, so why should I write as if they were? As long as my character is acting within character, and I’m following a certain sense of logic, it makes for better writing, as well as a better story, if I let reality intrude now and then. You have to ask yourself if you can reasonably see your character acting the way she does. Does it make sense to the story line? Does it carry the plot forward? Does it make for a better outcome? If you can satisfactory answer each of these questions, then go ahead and include that bare-knuckled fight, the bus falling off a cliff, the fact that she gets up and leaves him instead of the other way around. Life isn’t always pretty, but there’s nothing more compelling than writing a pretty compelling story. It’s what selling. And what they’re buying.


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