When you write everything you are told not to write and it works.
Written by Tess Woods.
My debut novel Love at First Flight reads like a checklist of everything you should not do in story-telling:
- Never write in the first person. Many readers have an aversion to first person narrative and it limits the narrative greatly. Tick.
- Stick to single narratives. Dual narratives are confusing and annoying. Tick.
- Stay far, far away from infidelity. It’s a major taboo subject and it alienates heaps of readers. Big fat tick.
- Romance readers need to be given a happy ever after. When they start reading a new story, they want that re-assurance that everything will be as it should in the end. Happy, happy, happy in the end all the time. Do not navigate away from this. Tick.
The thing is, I knew none of this before I wrote my story. If I had known, it may well have changed the way I wrote it, so I’m very grateful that I had no idea about these unwritten rules because I love my story just the way it is – first person, dual narrative, cheating heroine, unconventional ending and all.
So why did it work? If there is such a backlash against these aspects of writing, why then did Love at First Flight grab the attention of arguably Australia’s leading literary agent and then one of the elusive big 5 publishing houses?
I’ve thought long and hard about this and I think the reason is authenticity. I think with writing, you can break all the rules and write however the hell you want as long as you are honest with your story-telling. Readers are clever and they will see through anything so if you write in a way that is transparent, they’ll appreciate you being up front and respond to you. So I have come up with my own new rules:
- Write in the first person to your heart’s content but really get inside that person and make the reader believe in them. If you are writing as a young man – be a young man. See the world through a young man’s eyes, not a middle-aged female. And stick only to what that young man feels, sees and does. Give up the fancy narrative and sacrifice flexing your amazing descriptive narrative muscles in favour of simple dialogue and real thought processes.
- Dual narratives are great if both narratives are as strong as each other. Make both narratives equally likeable, equally exciting and equally sympathetic. Have the reader rooting for both narrative stories the same amount. Give a brief nod to narrative that has already been covered by the first narrator with the second but don’t repeat the whole thing through a different perspective – that’s just boring. And be very clear with where you pick up and leave off each narrative to avoid confusion.
- Infidelity happens in real life. A lot. Be sensitive to readers who are living with the hurt that infidelity causes and don’t play it down. If you are going to write about infidelity, really explore it. Look at the lead up and the aftermath, both short and long term. Realise that you can’t be frivolous when you go there or you will anger your readers. And I think the most important thing is to focus on your character’s self-reflection. Nobody is going to cheer for a protagonist who is proud of an affair or who doesn’t go through hell themselves because of their actions.
- A happily ever after can be different things to different people. The romance genre requires an uplifting ending, not a miserable one. So don’t let romance readers down. But you can be creative with your happily ever after. It doesn’t have to follow the same well-trodden path. If both hero and heroine are happy within themselves, this counts for me as a satisfying happy ever after.
So my point in all of this is that there will always be rules, spoken and unspoken, for writers. But go ahead – break them!
In the spirit of breaking the rules, Tess has snuck us five copies of Love at First Flight to giveaway. And the lucky winners are….
Keep an eye out in your inbox for your prize!