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Monday, May 31, 2010

Rules to break, rules to follow

I had a Sunday post on the Lyrical Press blog, and since today's a holiday, I'm re-posting...

When I started writing, I had no idea there were “rules” other than grammar, punctuation, spelling… the general mechanics. Since I considered my first novel (still lurking in a file in need of major rewrites) a romance, I joined a romance critique group and soon learned about lots of rules. A heroine couldn’t leave one man for another in the course of a story. She shouldn’t be divorced, but widowed was okay. If a heroine made a mistake, she was "too stupid to live". Adultery? Subject matter not to be addressed, in any manner.

I didn’t like these rules.

And when I first learned about character Point of View, I didn’t much like that either. The idea of each scene coming from only one character’s perspective seemed outlandish. After all, I’d read many books where the POVs were mixed, or omniscient.

Many critiques and several novels later, I still let my heroines do the things real women do, so I subsequently label my work “women’s fiction” when necessary. Standards of behavior women expected 50 years ago don’t cut it with me or my target audience. Sometimes my bad guys aren’t all bad, and they might have understandable motivations. On occasion, it takes awhile for the heroine (and reader) to know for sure if the hero is really a good guy or not. Those situations mirror real life, and I think today’s woman would rather see realism in their stories than have everyone perfectly good or perfectly bad. So I happily break some rules (and feel good doing it!).

But on the matter of Point of View… Well, I’m currently reading a novel by an author I’d dub the Queen of Contemporary Romance. This is an oldie, from 1987, before the POV Revolution. Sometimes one paragraph will have internals from both characters, and the next might be from the bad guy who is chasing them. Very disruptive. I keep reading because the premise is fun, but I’m honestly not all that attached to any character. And you know what? It might be an interesting “aside” to see/hear what the bad guys are up to, but particularly in a romance, this is not pivotal to the main story: that of the hero and heroine. Sticking with one character’s thoughts (at least for a scene at a time) allows the reader to delve deep into motivations and really relate. As an author, I want my readers to relate to my hero/heroine. Root for them, ache with them, feel the sexual tension, get that warm happy feeling at their happily ever after.

And if I do a really, really good job, those readers will think of my main characters from time to time and remember their story, the way I do about some great stories I’ve read.

Autumn Piper

Got romance?

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