Friday, November 26, 2010

Rules or No Rules?

A few truths pop up in most commercial fiction. Does that make it formulaic? I don’t think so. People read fiction for entertainment or escape. Happily-ever-afters make me happy. Life has enough tragedies—I don’t need any more. Crime fiction does have some bad scenes and a few murders; but the main characters usually win in the end, and the bad guys get what they deserve, so it’s satisfying.
What about the “rules”? Don’t kill children or dogs, at least not if they’re major characters, and definitely not “on-screen.” That’s an understandable guideline, one that suits me. A child murder in backstory is usually acceptable though, something that happened before the main story begins and is only referred to, not seen.
Rules are only guidelines, and they shouldn’t stifle creativity. Sometimes they even make you stretch to come up with an interesting twist on an old theme.
Rules can always be broken, and it’s easy to come up with successful examples, but seriously breaking them makes the book a harder sell, particularly if you’re not an established writer. The rules are there for a reason—they’re proven to make books more interesting and help them sell. But it’s still tough sometimes.
What do you think? Do you find them constraining? Do you ignore them or try to work with them?


Polly said...

I couldn't physically hurt a child on the page. I have hurt a dog, but the dog didn't die. Everything else is up for grabs. Some say to close the door on a sex scene. I have written graphic sex scenes. I suppose if they offend an editor, they could be toned down without offending me, but the only time an editor mentioned a sex scene it was because she wanted more of it. Go figure. I say write it the way you think it should be written. Don't hold back because someone tells you you're breaking a "rule."

Ellis Vidler said...

In one book, I decided not to give my character a dog because I was afraid the villain would kill or injure it. Cats are usually safer, though I did have an attack cat once. But that's another story.

As for sex, it's in my stories and on the page. To me it's part of the characters' makeup, and how they react and deal with each other shows more about their relationship. I just want it to fit in the story and not jump out as gratuitous.

Vicki Lane said...

Ah, the rules! Except for dogs, which in a weak moment I promised never to arm in my books, everything else is vulnerable. It has to be or where's the suspense.