Ulysses. To the Lighthouse. Beloved.
On the Road. All of them,
But okay, maybe I’m talking about
classics of literary fiction, and I should be talking about popular fiction.
Most of us aspire to write the latter, not the former. Isn’t popular fiction
more rule-bound than literary fiction?
Perhaps. But that doesn’t mean it’s so
rule-bound as to be rule-hobbled.
There are thousands of writing “rules”
floating around out there, and there are just as many aspiring writers being, I
fear, misled by them. Whenever I encounter one of those rules on some agent or
other authority’s blog--whether the rule be, “never start your novel with a
character waking up” or “never have a character describe herself in a mirror”
or “never delay the inciting incident to chapter two” or “never insert a scene
with a dancing pink hippo into your novel”--I find hosts of grateful comments
from aspiring writers: “Thank you so much, Divine Agent! You have shown me the
error of my ways and likely saved me from a lifetime of public humiliation! I
will certainly never insert a scene with a dancing pink hippo into my novel ever
But you know, maybe your novel needs a
scene with a dancing pink hippo. Maybe your novel needs to begin with a dancing
pink hippo waking up, looking at itself in a mirror, and then having a philosophical
conversation with the ghost of Albert Einstein, thereby delaying the inciting
incident until the second chapter. Maybe those are the particular rules your
novel needs to break.
There is no rule in writing so ironclad
that it can’t be broken for the right reasons. Just as it’s ridiculous to insist
that all novels begin with dancing
pink hippos, so is it ridiculous to insist that no novel can begin that way.
What’s the test? How do you know which
rules to break?
The test is the story itself. Each story
creates its own needs, its own form, its own rules. It’s the writer’s job to
know her or his story well enough to know which rules to obey, which to bend,
which to ignore. If you don’t know that, then really, what do you know?
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to
return to writing my big dancing-pink-hippo scene. Trust me. It’s killer.
has been writing novels since he was eight years old (though admittedly, the
first few were very, very short). He taught college for twenty years, wrote a
bunch of books for college students, then decided to return to writing fiction.
SURVIVAL COLONY NINE is his first book, but the sequel's already in the works!
loves to read (mostly YA fantasy and science fiction), watch movies (again,
mostly fantasy and sci-fi), and spend time in Nature (mostly catching frogs and
toads). He claims to be the world's worst singer, but plays a pretty mean air
guitar. He also like to draw, and will be putting up some of his artwork
on his website as soon as he can.
yeah, and he like monsters. Really scary monsters.
Last week, I had the pleasure to cross something off my
bucket list. Did I broker world peace? Cure cancer? Figure out the value to
humanity of the slug? No, but any of those would be cool. Alas, all I did was
SIGN WITH A LITERARY AGENT!!!
Yes, it’s true, and trust me, there is a blog post in the
works describing how I got my agent. But this post isn’t about that. It’s about
how finding my agent, Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency, has already changed
1. Free time is now a precious
commodity. In order to enjoy more of it, I am decluttering the house and hiring
a cleaning service. Let’s be honest, I don’t like cleaning in the first place,
but having someone come in every week will certainly give me reason to do the
small pick-ups in between!
2. I have realized that it is
possible to be so tired from late nights of revision that food becomes an
3. I have been weaned off
Facebook games. Good-bye Candy Crush.
4. I really don’t have much
interest in watching TV, well, except for The Foster’s on ABCFamily. (Shameless
plug for Dan Richter.) I’ve even stopped
watching Big Brother. The true test will come in the Fall when the new season
5. I can no longer say I’m
bored. There is always something to do and most of the time, I want to do it.
(I’m talking about revisions. What’s that? No. I’m not insane.)
6. I was forced to seek out
alternative sources of carry-out. The natives threatened to revolt. Apparently
there is a such thing as too much pizza.
7. I’m earning Starbuck’s
Rewards faster than even before.
So that’s it. Seven ways that signing with an agent has
changed my life. Okay, it’s only been five days, so I can only hope that my
life changes in other ways. Until then, BE PASSIONATE about what you love.
Someday it might change your life!