Should Writes Bend to Expected Conventions?

Monday, October 8, 2012


If writing is a little bit more than a hobby to you, at some point you might have thought about ‘writing to formula’ and riding the next wave. You know, for example, writing a romance novel according to accepted formulas and jumping on the vampire wagon.

I have thought about both, but being the kind of writer I am, none of those routes will work for me. My characters are rebellious in ways that don’t make them suited for formulaic stories. One of my heroines has a child out of marriage, another had an abortion and yes these two are in different romances and wouldn’t you know it, they are sisters.

This kind of unorthodox writing can lead to problems if you want to be published by houses (even small presses) that are sticklers for formula. Luckily for me, I was able to slip the story of one of these women into a novel that was bought by a publisher. An aside here; the main character in that romance was a goody-two-shoes, which made for a nice contrast. 

Which brings me to short stories. I like writing looping or figure eight kinda stories. That’s where you start in the present, go to the past and then bring the reader up to speed on what’s happening now.   I can write stories that are sequential, but somehow my ideas always take the characters spinning into the past before dumping them back in their present predicament. 


The drawback with this style is that it can, and does confuse some readers. Naturally, I try to make it clear when the character slips into the past, with a lead-in sentence. I also put in some clear indication when we’re back in the present. This works fine for some readers, but there are those who get lost somewhere in between. I took this risk with Distraction, and luckily, only a few people were confused by the way the story was written, but I didn’t see how I could write that story any differently.

That said, I looked at the reviews for a free short story I have on Amazon, which is a spin-off of Distraction. In the back of that ‘book’—Giving up the Dream—I included the first three chapters of Distraction. I realize that despite the bold heading that said Excerpt from DISTRACTION, some readers still experienced confusion. I’m thinking that as a promotional strategy, this might not be such a hot idea since people thought the story was disjointed because there were three characters and no ending to what they interpreted as another short story.

It boggles my mind that people download short stories for free and then complain that they’re short, but that's for another post.

Going forward, I’m thinking that rather than putting excerpts in the back of short stories, I’ll go with a listing of my other books. Inserts are fine for sequels, but for stand alones, a list of other books makes for a lot less confusion.  

This is some of the stuff I like about life. You get to change strategy and shift things up a little if they’re not working as anticipated. It gets complicated though with writing. Am I going to change my style because less than one 1% of readers don’t ‘get’ how my story is written? Their concerns do bear thinking about and yeah, I strive to become a better writer every day, but the short answer is that I won’t change my style to suit someone who’s picked up a free book and probably won’t buy anything else I write. 

So, dear readers and writers, make your mark, but know you too have to be happy with the stuff you’re doing.  Otherwise, your writing will be an exercise in frustration as you nip and tuck, trying to fit in with every reader’s idea of the perfect story.

36 comments:

  1. I just write. I think if a book is well written and edited, then there will be a market for it.

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  2. I so hear you about writing to formula. My stories don't conform either. We belong to the same club :)

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    1. I hear ya! Writing to a formula is no fun. :)

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  3. That's bizarre (people complaining about shorts being short!). Yikes. Sometimes I wonder if people really think before they write things down!

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    1. I wonder the same thing. Someone left a review on the Giving up the Dream story that said it was a very, very, very short story. This at 2,300 words. (Plus the first three chapters of Distraction) Go figure.

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  4. If someone said the story was too short I suppose they loved it so much they wanted more! Think of it that way. I agree with you - I can't write to a formula, it never works out. My first book had a prologue and an epilogue, he he - after all the warnings about never doing either. No-one's complained about them so far. Just do what feels right. I'm in your club!

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    1. Hi, Susan, putting a good spin on things is the positive thing to do. :) Gotta tell you, I like prologues too, but I don't use unless necessary.

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  5. I'm not quite this far along in the writing and publishing process, so just reading your post gave me great food for thought. Thanks!

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    1. Glad this gave you something to think about, Julie.

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  6. Hmmm...you raise some interesting points. I'm admittedly, tickled at the fact that sometimes, things just get missed. As you mention, even though you clearly mark that there is an excerpt from another book, people read it expecting it to be another short story. Maybe that's a flattering way of saying they were so into the short stories that they didn't realize the Excerpt was being noted - okay, so I'm tying lol!!

    But you keyed in on a good point. Maybe you're right that the Excerpt approach is better with sequels.

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  7. Angela,
    I'd love to think my writing is that compelling. :D Yeah, gonna stick the excerpts in for the next in the series rather than in the shorts.

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  8. I hear you on the complaining it's short thing. It's something.

    I think you're a wonderful writer, Joy. Don't let the sticklers stop you. I agree with you about the excerpts. I'm going to redo my stories, too, to put in a list of books and blurbs instead of excerpts on the stand alones. I'll also add them to the end of my other books that are parts of series. It makes sense from a marketing point of view to update them now and then that way.

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    1. Thanks, Mary. Yeah, it does make sense to do it that way. The thing about doing business for yourself is that you're always learning new stuff.

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  9. I've never tried to write to a formula. But I've decided to give formula writing a shot with my next story to see what happens. Great post.

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  10. I don't think I can write too closely to formula either. Good thing I believe there is a place for every story in the market--I just have to find that place.

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    1. For sure, Lynda. It makes sense to ensure we find the right fit.

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  11. Good transitions are essential for that kind of writing. And as many small publishers and self published authors have proved, formula is overrated.

    ......dhole

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    1. True that, Donna. I enjoy reading stuff that's different from everything I've come across before.

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  12. Oh gosh, trying to please anyone is impossible. The world is changing and at my first conference 4 years ago, I was told the mystery was dead, paranormal on the way out, and vampires overrated. Yeah, they knew what they were talking about!

    Good post!

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    1. Yolanda, that made me laugh. Hard to tell what will last and what won't. :)

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  13. I can't imagine people having the nerve to complain about a short story being short especially when it didn't cost them a dine. Seems a lot of people who have never tried to write a book, just don't get it. :/ But I do like the idea of listing your other book titles in your book flap. That makes it easier for readers to look up your other works, though you know you'll probably find someone who'll get confused by that too, lol!

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    1. Elise, that's right. Someone will indeed lose their way through that listing.

      I understand the concept of putting up work for free. The challenge I have is that the vast majority of hoarders who download free books have no intention of ever buying anything from that author or any other. There are so many book free on Amazon that people can go without buying another one if they so choose.

      The advantage though, is that people get a taste of our writing style and a clue as to whether we can write from reading the free stuff.

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  14. I don't care to conform either.

    I can't believe someone would complain about short stories being short. That person should stick to reading novels.

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    1. You'd be amazed. :D I've even gotten complaints about the nature of the stories in the book Don't Get Mad...Get Even. If the title isn't a hint, then I'd think the angry woman on the cover would do the rest of the job. :)

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  15. You have to be true to yourself. I don't think it's ever a good idea to jump on a fad, because it would probably come across as stilted and by the time you get in front of any editors, that particular "wave" has probably crashed onto the beach!

    I like the figure 8 idea, though. Sounds like an interesting approach!

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    1. Def. agree with you on being true to myself. You know the difference between a story told from the heart and one that's just a potboiler.

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  16. So very true! If you're not writing what you love, then what ARE you writing? Excellent post!

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    1. What's interesting is that people can tell when writers turn to churning out stories that feel generic.

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  17. I like to do some experimentation to see what works. I enjoy authors who do the same so long as they keep things comprehensible and interesting. I don't want to get bogged down when I'm reading something. It's nice to be able to flow with the story and not get confused by what's going on.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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    1. Arlee, clarity and simplicity do work best in storytelling.

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  18. Okay, so you've given me more food for thought... conform in order to please the-powers-that-be or remain true to yourself...

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  19. This is an unanswerable question. I guess it depends on what you want to write and if you feel comfortable with that.

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  20. Sometimes I think people just like to bitch. As an insatiable reader I love it when authors put chapters for their next book in their novels (short or full-length.) If I'm hooked and it's a reasonable price, chances are high I'll snag the next one in the series. :)

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  21. I guess some people are never satisfied, especially if they are getting something for nothing. Definitely some food for thought, blessings for the rest of the week. Amanda

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