What is it you love most about writing? For me, it’s about the freedom: freedom to create characters, to remove characters, to make them good, to make them evil. The worlds we build have no boundaries. They are limitless and moldable.
“…though it may seem like the boundaries of your universe are limitless, it’s actually an illusion.”
Just like the plots we write for our characters, if something seems too good to be true, it usually is. The freedom you’re experiencing as a writer is limited. Sure we’re aloud to design spectacular worlds that could never exist, use words that will never be found in the dictionary and wield the power to give life and take it away, but there ARE rules.
“…the more I submerge myself into the world of writing, the more familiar I become with these rules.”
Somehow, first-time writers seem to gravitate toward breaking all of these rules. I did anyway. Sometimes, I think agents and editors develop the rules as a literary litmus to filter out the inexperienced. However, the more I submerge myself into the world of writing, the more familiar I become with these rules. If you want to be published, particularly if you want to be published traditionally, it is important to pay attention to the rules. Agents are the filter through which our work flows, so we want to make sure we know what they are looking for. Here are some things many agents agree they don’t want to see in the first chapter of your manuscript.
- A first chapter where your main character finds themselves conveniently paired up with a hunky lab partner who will eventually become their love interest.
- A first page that includes the main character looking in the mirror.
- A first page that includes the main character waking up.
- Try to avoid prologues.
- A manuscript in which the first scene is a dream.
- A manuscript in which the first scene is a flashback.
- Introduction of too many characters in the first chapter.
- Descriptions of the weather.
- Flowery prose.
I know what you’re thinking. Picky-Picky. As artists, we don’t like boundaries, rules or restrictions but agents aren’t waiting with a ruler to smack our hands when we break them. There are actually some pretty good reasons for the guidelines they create.
Have you ever made the mistake of laughing at one of your kid’s jokes. It was funny the first time. You even did that that gosh awful inverted snort thing you do when you laugh too hard. Then, because little Sammy got your attention the first time, he told the joke again, and again and after the 7th time, you finally had to break his heart and tell him he murdered it. This is what agents endure. Twilight was great. It was EPIC for it’s time. But after Twilight, agents were flooded with thousands of submissions about girls on their first day of school in new communities who just happen to become the lab partner of Mr. Right.
Rules are a good thing. They apply to nature, we impose them on our children and on society as a whole. So why shouldn’t our writing have to abide by a few rules as well?
What about you? Ever break a rule? Do you have a story where you bent the rules and it actually worked for you?