One of the topics we sometimes cover here on the blog is that of writing rules. With the caveat that there are no ‘rules’, just loosely agreed-upon standards and conventions that can and will be broken at will on a regular basis. Still, those conventions give us lines to paint inside to make pretty pictures, and guardrails to keep us from driving our stories off the road and over a cliff.
Sometimes the hot mess created by violating the lines is also a beautiful mess. Sometimes flying off the edge of a cliff is exhilarating. Thus flouting ‘the rules’ can be like catnip to the writer’s brain.
You’ve probably ascertained by now (because you are smart and observant!) that I’m planning some sort of leap over a guardrail. You are correct. The rule I shall break today is: start where the story begins, stop where the story ends. And in between that beginning and end, make sure every paragraph, every line, every word serves the story (and only the story!) you are writing.
This is good advice. This convention has brought me back from the brink of story ruin more than once. A few months ago, when the end of novel 1 of my HFF series just was not working, I pulled out some roots and shoots of other stories that just did not need to be there. There was a convoluted backstory that was just as effectively covered by a quick and pointed conversation. There were some pieces of scenes that were really set-ups for future stories. They were dragging down the current story, so out they went!
But at the same time, I made a decision to keep another story thread that is not necessary to book 1. And I’m not just adding it to book 1. I’m including it in every book in the series. The Harrow’s Finest Five series starts with a novella, book .5 (that’s point five, as in half, for no good reason except that’s the way things worked out). Then there are books 1-5, all novel-length, with heroes who are the ‘five’ mentioned in the series title. And finally, there’s book 6, also a novella.
Book 6 will feature a HFF-adjacent couple. It’s a mature love story, a second-chance love story, and an anyone-but-you love story. And it’s teased from the first novella. These characters (and their motives, which become clearer over the course of the series) are woven into each story, and I have fun every time I put them on the page together. So much fun that I wanted to give them their own scene, just the two of them – arguing, scheming, generally plotting the other’s downfall – at the end of each book, as they reflect on the events that just unfolded. Like the chorus in a Greek play. Or the witches or muses or name-your-story-device-here group in Shakespeare. That’s right, I’m invoking Shakespeare to excuse my roguish ways.
So that’s (some) of my bad behavior. Are there any rules you’re breaking (and loving it!) on your current projects? Go ahead, tell us. Remember, story confessions are good for the writer’s soul!
*I recently learned this phrase was appropriated as a book title by a…questionable…former politician who confused lack of knowledge and discipline with ‘going rogue’. Yeah, I’m taking back this phrase.