I’ve been thinking a lot about the rules lately. Not laws. 😉 The rules when it comes to what I write. You might be thinking, what rules? There are no rules, beyond basic grammar, spelling and punctuation. Except there are.
In the genres I write, contemporary and suspenseful romance, the rules are pretty basic. They’re the same as the real world. I don’t deal in magic, portals to other dimensions, space travel, or supernatural creatures. People don’t fly, murder is wrong, and no man or woman is perfect. Sounds simple enough, right? I used to think so, but lately, I’ve been thinking that I’ve got a set of rules that I write within.
Let me explain a bit more.
In a fantasy novel, for example, the rules are different. There might be magic, wizards, flying people, and werewolves, etc, right? But they follow rules, or canon, set out by the author. They might be: magic is good, but can be used by bad people. People can fly, but it requires a certain spell, or they’re not able to fly beyond our own atmosphere. Werewolves exist, but only at the full moon, or maybe they can shapeshift on their own schedule. It all depends on the novel, or the world that the author has created. Once they’ve established that world, the rules are set. If a werewolf can only change at the full moon, then that is the rule. If people can fly without a magic spell, then they don’t need to cast a spell before jumping off the Eiffel Tower. They can’t break the rules. They can’t, in the penultimate chapter, suddenly have a werewolf change at the new moon. It would be against the rules. Do you understand?
When it comes to my own work, you still wouldn’t think the rules are all that restrictive. And they’re really not, but I do have them. I didn’t start out telling myself that I have to follow them, or that I can never change them. Each of my hockey-romance books are stand-alone and could each presumably come with a new set of rules if I wanted.
The TAITS series of adventure/mystery, they on the other hand, do have to follow the rules I’ve created. The technology they use is advanced, but it’s not omnipotent. They take care of foreign threats in far-off places, but they can still diffuse situations they come across at home. The characters are faster, smarter, and more resourceful than the average person, which means they can move faster, or handle more firepower than most people. There are a few other minor details that you probably never gave a second thought to while reading them, or that I even considered while writing them. All together, it makes up a sort of playbook that I have to reference whenever I write something new.
I’m not sure when it occurred to me that I’ve been writing everything I do within a set of rules. I suppose it’s been on my mind in the last couple months since I’ve posted the last two stories on Lit, “Cold as Ice” and “Reflections on Ice.” I enjoyed writing both of those, for different reasons, and to me, they ended on satisfactory notes. The majority of feedback I received was positive, but there were several people who commented that I’d ended the stories without a marriage, or even a hint of a proposal. This isn’t the first time I’ve had that sort of response, and I suppose it’s because I rarely end my stories with marriage or a proposal. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but in my mind, I cannot suddenly have my characters go from the first tentative confessions of love to all-out marriage and commitment at the end of my stories.
I write contemporary romance, which, to me, means they’re modern interpretations of love and romance, within the societal norms I’m used to in the Western world. Meaning, people don’t meet and get married after dating for a month or two. They don’t even get engaged. Not typically, anyway. I’m sure everyone out there has some story of love-at-first-sight or meant-to-be about real, live people they know, but whatever the case may be, that is not typical. That is a very small percentage of people who experience those things, and in my opinion, having those situations in my stories would not make sense.
There have been three stories in my catalogue of work where the characters have come together in marriage or engagement by the end. In those stories, that step in their relationship made sense. They’d been together for some time, and they’d spoken of marriage or a life together. It wasn’t just a grand finale chapter or epilogue I tacked on the end to bring some kind of final conclusion to the story.
In my other works, the characters have only known each other for a very short amount of time. (Kaitlyn and Alex dated for about two months, Mina and Drew, the same, Dylan and Cassia dated a grand total of two and a half weeks before the end) To me, it would be disingenuous to have them end in marriage mere weeks after they got together in the beginning. It may not have started out as a rule in my head, but it has come to be something I do follow, in my efforts to keep my stories as “real” as possible. Yes, yes, I know. I write fiction, and really, my hockey-romance stories could arguably be classified as pure fantasy, but I still try to have realistic characters, dealing with realistic issues in a realistic world, our world.
Maybe I don’t like the stereotypical happily ever after scenario because I don’t want to see my stories ending at all. Maybe I like to keep them open-ended for future sequels. 🙂 I know I like revisiting characters in later stories, weaving friendships throughout and updating on characters from old stories – in a more realistic timeline.
I’m not suggesting my rules are the same for all romance, contemporary or otherwise. They’re just what I find myself working with, or having had worked with all along. Any set of stories, romance, fantasy, or otherwise, does fall within a set of rules. You may not know it, may never be able to pick them out after having read them, but they’re there. I know occasionally I read something and find myself detaching a bit from the story, and it can sometimes be because the author has strayed from their own canon.
I read a truly awful hockey-romance themed ebook a few weeks ago. The story was all over the place, the characters went from being jerks to whiners and back again repeatedly, and there was a sad lack of research when it came to hockey facts, which annoyed me to no end. How hard is it to Google even the most basic hockey facts? Altogether, along with poor editing, I couldn’t get into it at all. It felt like the writer put down whatever they felt like in the moment, without a thought for previous actions or timelines. I can suspend my disbelief for just about any kind of story – I mean, look at what I write! – but this was too much. It’s just an example, of my own opinion, of how a story loses so much when an author isn’t consistent at all. Can you think of anything you’ve read recently that sounds similar?
I’m currently working on something brand new, in a new genre for me. It’s a fantasy story, and I’m making the rules up as I go, but writing notes as I go along as well. I’m sure I’ll contradict myself at some point – hence, the notes – but that’s why there’s the editing process. I hope the end product will be faithful to the world I’ve created and that I won’t have readers poking hole after hole in my efforts. It’s definitely got some plot points that will require firm guidelines. It’s not something I’ve spent a lot of time on before – well, not since I was a kid – but I’m excited to be working on something new and exciting anyway.
The rules are there for a reason. Then again, many of you are probably thinking, rules are meant to be broken. Maybe, maybe not. When it comes to my own writing, I’ll always be working on the things I need to, in order to improve and continue to deliver something I love, in the hopes you might love it as well. 🙂
Take care, and happy reading!