Monday, March 18, 2013

Breaking The Rules

I decided to talk about rules today. I hate them! I have never been one to follow them, so why start now? I remember when I penned my first book, SHATTERED DREAMS, a million years ago. At the time I thought I was a romance writer and SD is a great woman in jeopardy romance if I have to say so myself. I still cry when I think about certain scenes. You can imagine my surprise when it started getting dinged in contests by judges who felt compelled to tell me I was not playing by the rules. Guess the fact that I had 2 male heroes in the story, one of whom doesn’t meet up with the heroine until the middle of the book drove them nuts.

Crap! To change the story to fit the rules would have ruined the story. My heroine gets kidnapped and smuggled into Colombia where she eventually fights with her captors against a powerful cartel. Enter guns, dead bodies and explosions.

“Romances don’t have those sort of things,” I was told. Well crap, again. Usually in contests, I would get two people who loved the story, and one who absolutely hated it because I broke the rules. Rejection comments from professionals included, “You can’t have a romance in a Third-World country,” and “You can’t have two heroes,” etc.

To this day I can still remember the way I felt when my agent called and said, “I love this story.” Unfortunately, she couldn’t sell it, either, for the very same reasons. But I thought it should have some readers, so I put it up myself a few weeks ago. (Shortened the title to SHATTERED.)

 Anyway, it made me think of my aversion to rules. My Berkley editor was always reminding me that I was writing “un-cozy-like.” I called her the cozy police. She was right, of course, but it didn’t seem to change the way I think when I write. I like big stories with lots of action, bad words and humorous sarcasm. So, I still try to slip a few ‘uncozy” things in.

Terri, on the other hand, loves my sarcastic potty mouth and wants more. HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE, my new series, is considered soft-boiled, and therefore I have more leeway. I’m anxious to see the response to it.

Back to the point of this blog…rules. Recently, I ran across this list from Kurt Vonnegut about writing fiction. I agree with most of them, but even if I didn’t I write mysteries, I would totally disagree with the last one. Read them and let me know what you think. And BTW, I am anxiously looking forward to meeting al the wonderful MI authors at Malice this year.

Eight rules for writing fiction:
     Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
     Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3.     Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4.     Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
5.     Start as close to the end as possible.
6.     Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7.     Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8.     Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
- Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1999), 9-10.


Angi Morgan said...

I agree to disagree with the last rule. Excuse me...WHY do I need to finish the book (or movie, or anything) IF I have all the information to finish the story. Come on writers...KEEP ME GUESSING what's going to happen and 'who dun it'. I don't want to know in the beginning and love it when I guess incorrectly (as long as the writer has laid down all the clues).

Liz Lipperman said...

My thoughts, exactly. Of course, you and I both write suspense!! Hey, Angi, thanks for commenting. I was feeling all alone over here.

Beth Groundwater said...

Loved this post, Liz! And "sarcastic potty mouth lover" Terri is a gem. My RM Outdoor Adventures MI series is soft-boiled, too, so I can get away with some foreplay, more violence, etc, than I can in my cozy MI series.

As for Vonnegut's rules, I would modify #5 to say "start when the protagonist's life changes forever." Also, I don't agree with #8 either. I think you need to keep planting unaswered questions to pull the reader through the story.

Liz Lipperman said...

Good points, Beth. I have one of your books on my kindle. Now to only find the time to read it!!!!

I am a little nervous about the bad language because Lois mentioned once that readers griped at her for a few cuss words. But both Terri and Courtney assure me that it's okay. And I'm also a little nervous that although they said it would be marketed as soft boiled, it is on the website as a cozy. It is SO not a cozy.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Hi Liz - my series is soft-boiled too, and I'm glad we can wave that banner. I look forward to your book. As for the rule...I disagree that every sentence has to do one of those two things. Sentences can sometimes establish setting, which is crucial for avoiding the white box syndrome. See you at Malice!

Liz Lipperman said...

Looking forward to it, Kathleen. And I agree with everything you said. Thanks for commenting.