Breaking the Law in Fiction

As a novice writer, especially one in search of an agent, we swallow every writing and industry rule hook, line, and sinker. It’s understandable when we’re dying to get our foot in the door. And sure, most of those standards exist for a reason, but those books that BREAK OUT, often break the laws of fiction.

I’ve stomped all over plenty of rules, just like Natalia. (See her Tuesday post and yep, I hit just about every single one.) But there are others…

MY FIRST NOVEL WAS NOT A TRUNK NOVEL:  I’ve heard this about a million times from so many sources: blogs, writers, agents. The advice out there says to write a novel, (or 500,000 words worth of manuscripts), and stash it in a drawer because it just isn’t good enough. Your craft is sure to be riddled with newbie mistakes and a total p.o.s. in the plot and structure department. But that just isn’t true and my publishing contract proves it. The very first novel I ever wrote was agented and published. Granted, I rewrote that bad boy about a million times to GET IT RIGHT, but it can be done. It HAS been done. Don’t let that rule scare you. Do the work, be tenacious, and press on!

I WROTE A HISTORICAL IN FIRST PERSON: Gasp! There’s a lot of shuddering when that happens among the literarti and historical fiction crowd. “Serious fiction”, after all, is written in third person, or so I’ve been told over coffee from a “friend” with an elegant sneer on his face. That just isn’t true and my publishing contract proves it. I’ve been told over and over by many readers how very personal this POV feels and how much they enjoyed it. If it speaks to you, use it.

I SKIPPED TIME PERIODS: BECOMING JOSEPHINE took place during the French Revolution and for my second novel, RODIN’S LOVER, I’ve fast-forwarded in time an entire century to the Belle Époque. This is another thing frowned upon, as many historical novelists conquer an era and become the expert of that time. I, on the other hand, relish the challenge and excitement of discovering new eras, peoples, events. (Or maybe I’m a glutton for punishment and need to STEP AWAY from the research books.) In any case, that just isn’t true and my publishing contract(s) prove it.

Are we seeing a theme here?

At the end of the day, we’re individuals and what’s so dadgum amazing about books in the first place is how they are all so different, and, more importantly, how they bring up questions of human nature and challenge us to change, evolve, and REVOLT if necessary. Know when to revolt.


What advice have you been given about the industry, or the craft of writing, that you find dubious?

Author: Heather Webb

Heather Webb is the author of BECOMING JOSEPHINE, her debut historical (Plume/Penguin 2014). A freelance editor and blogger, she spends oodles of time helping writers hone their skills—something she adores. You may find her Twittering @msheatherwebb, hosting contests, or hanging around as a contributor to the Editor's Posts. She is also the Twitter mistress for the popular Writer Unboxed. She loves making new reader and writer friends. Stop on by her website, Between the Sheets!

8 Replies to “Breaking the Law in Fiction”

  1. I’ve always found the “1 million words” rule a bit bewildering. Let’s call it 100k a novel (because my math skills are bad). If you hold true to “you have to write 1 million words before you write anything good” that means you write 10 novels before you can even hope to be “acceptable.” Really? I mean, first drafts are rarely gold, but really?

    1. I agree, Mary. I think it’s impossible to say how many novels/words writers should accomplish before they’re able to be published. Everyone has a different level of talent and skill. There’s also this whole luck factor that comes into play. Sometimes it’s very much about striking the market at the right time.

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