I can’t believe we’ve been spending the past twenty Saturdays looking at The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke. This week’s chapter marks the end of the first half of the book entitled: Freeing Yourself From the Paralyzing Rules of Fiction. This portion of the text wraps up with an examination of several rules sorted into two categories: Fiction Rules that Merit Discussion and Silly Fiction Rules That Do Not Merit Discussion. Because the author focuses on so many rules in this large chapter I’ve chosen a few to highlight that I find particularly applicable to the writing that I am working on.
In this chapter, Gerke seeks to help you understand each grammar rule, to consider whether to follow that rule, and to determine your own preference.
Fiction Rules That Merit Discussion
- You must give each character their own introductory scene or moment the first time they appear in your book– In order to build reader connection with each character it helps to give a little introduction to each person as they first enter the scene. This doesn’t have to be a flashback, but it helps to do more than just give their name. In my book, the main character gets a whole introductory chapter. Then, each major character as they are introduced receives a bit of an introduction followed shortly by a flashback. I’m still working on shaping this perfectly, but it’s effective for my genre and plot.
2. You should not italicize a character’s thoughts-Although using italics for thoughts isn’t technically a rule it does help a reader distinguish between narrative, dialogue, and thoughts. In my book I introduce thoughts very few times, but when I do I use italics to help the reader make the differentiation.
3. You must belong to a critique group to become a successful novelist-To me, this has proven false. Granted, I haven’t earned the title Successful Novelist, but I have not found critique groups to be helpful. I’ve joined a couple of online groups, and found them to be less than beneficial. I’ve found that my blogging community and real life friends have helped my writing more than any of the critique groups.
4. Don’t dump backstory in the first chapter-I was guilty of this in my first draft. I think a lot of people are to be honest. When you set out to begin a book you want to know about what led the character to where we meet them in the first chapter. However, as my first draft was finished I realized that I give the backstory at a later point and it is more effective. The first chapter shows the protagonist in a new struggle and in later portions of the text I discuss what led them to that point. The first chapter is too action packed to pause for a backstory.
5. Write only what you know– When I first heard this rule it really threw me for a loop. I had nearly finished my book about a middle-aged, homeless, alcoholic man and realized that I had just broken this rule. I’m a twenty-something, female teacher and in no way does my life reflect that of my protagonist. So instead of scrapping my whole novel I decided to learn about what it is like to be my protagonist. I performed a ton of research. I volunteered to work with the homeless. And I used that experience to build authenticity for my book. I do not agree that you can only write what you know, however, I do feel strongly that if you don’t know about what you are writing that you better get a little informed so as not to sound ridiculous. Research is necessary no matter what you are writing.
Silly Fiction Rules That Do Not Merit Discussion
- Never use beta readers– Beta readers are people who will read and critique your manuscript for free. You would be silly not to take free advice. I’ve currently got my novel out to one beta reader and their comments have proven valuable to my overall story and manuscript. I’m still looking for a couple more beta readers. If you are interested please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Your protagonist must always fail until the climax-Again, this is a silly rule. Every story is different. Depending on your genre and the major conflict in your story it makes more sense to follow this rule. However, if your reader is used to always getting bad news it will be hard to believe the good news in the climax. In my book I turn this rule on its backside. For most of my book the protagonist is doing well for himself. The climax is a major problem leading to a setback in upward movement.
3. Crack down on your grammar-I’m learning that this rule is pretty much impossible to follow. I’m an English teacher. I’m used to correcting grammar on every assignment. But when it comes to my own writing I really struggle. It takes me hours to edit each chapter because I crack down on my grammar so hard. But, I’m learning that cracking down on grammar is the job of an editor. My book would never get finished if I cracked down too hard on my grammar. There will always be mistakes. With fiction writing, you are also given the privilege to break some of the rules. There is freedom in fiction writing. I’ve learned not to feel so bound to rules from reading The Irresistible Novel.
The Ameri Brit Mom