Last week, I discussed the concept that some of the advice you hear or read may be wrong. I asked you to instead consider elements within your genre. Sometimes what doesn’t work in one novel may work quite well in another. Consider the following examples:
- Don’t start with a prologue.
- Well, not to geek out or another, but GRRM’s prologues are phenomenal. They’re just different enough to start each book on a high note and really set the tone for what’s to come.
- From being a fairly avid reader, I’ve rarely encountered a good non-genre prologue. I tend to see more small vignettes in media res (Erin Kelly’s books do these quite well, actually, and she is more of a genre writer IMO).
- Never have your character alone reading a letter (or email, or text message, or whatever).
- Oof. Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth, anyone? It’s literally a classic.
- Bella and her mom email back and forth every so often. Snore.
- Read only your genre so you know the trends.
- This is a mistake! Other genres can help you write stronger, more layered scenes – my big go-to is mystery, because it tunes me into crafting a page-turning plot and building suspense…when well-written, of course.
- Okay, but yes – you should be reading your genre and knowing the trends. Also, this really helps with book titles which I totally suck at creating.
From personal experience, I hear the prologue one a fair amount. I’ve done a lot of work on my prologue – it’s the first few pages, and people do tend to stop reading if their interest isn’t piqued. It’s the first thing I bring out in writing groups and sessions. It’s been retooled quite a bit over the years, but I refuse to cut it from the manuscript. It works in my genre, and I’m repeatedly told by my readers that it draws them in.
On the other side, I initially had a very long “Hey, here I am reading a book! I’m so…literary!” scene that was really just about how cool it is to sit alone and read books without anyone bothering you.
(Sometimes I find some pretty meta references in my manuscript and it’s kind of fun to try and figure out how they a) made it in and b) how they stayed in despite ruthless revisions.)
Anyway, that reading scene? The one all about…reading? It was the first protagonist scene and it was just so boring. It just didn’t work because as awesome as reading is, reading about reading being awesome is actually boring reading. And while there’s plenty of “reading” happening in books, there’s other stuff happening – back story reveals and info dumps, self-reflection, espionage and spying under the guise of reading…you name it. It starts with a book, it ends with a book, but there’s a deeper layer in the middle. That’s what I had to find, and that’s what makes the scene “work” now.
What controversial writing advice have you encountered? Why did you find it controversial?