We all love a hero, don’t we? Well, I don’t. I don’t see the point. One of the reasons why I read very few novels is because they don’t interest me. They’re boring. They’re all the same. But so many people advise writers to read. Well, that’s great if you want to learn how to write by numbers.
There’s a contradiction in the world of published writing. Agents and editors are constantly asking and looking for ‘fresh voices’ or some variation of that. But common advice tells writers to stick to certain rules usually concerning structure and character. Deviate from these rules at your peril, they say, unless you’re a) famous and/or b) know what you’re doing.
One of the conventions that particularly annoys me is the old protagonist – antagonist format. Put in simple terms, goodies versus baddies. The goody, we are told should be flawed; the baddy should have a modicum of humanity. Follow this rule and the reader will be able to root for the central character.
Let me say something that some might disagree with. Bollocks to what the reader wants. It’s none of their business what the writer writes. If the reader wants a certain thing let them write it themselves. Readers come to the novel to see what the writer has to say on a certain theme, not to have their own idiosyncracies and foibles massaged. The author is not your private therapist there to make you feel better when your supply of kitten photographs dries up.
Ah, but if you don’t provide what the audience expects you’ll never sell any books. Okay, that’s a fair point. But unless you write romances, what are you talking about? If you’re so concerned about selling books write romances (still the best-selling genre), not fantasy or crime or YA or whatever. If you’ve made a conscious choice to write in the second and third best-selling genres you’ve got no business banging on about reaching the widest possible audience. You’re contradicting yourself.
Article after article tells us what to do to maximise sales. Perfectly valid when it comes to shifting units, but marketing and sales come after the book is written, not before. If you write to a formula to maximise your sales potential you’ll end up with an adequate story that ticks all the boxes, lifts when it should lift, drops when it should drop, with wholesome toothy heroes tortured by booze or a failed marriage, and villains with a facial tic and a penchant for waffling just before shooting the hero’s dog.
I’m sure there’s a market for it. A vast market. There’s also a vast market for mobile phone cases and painted wellingtons. Maybe you’re in the wrong business. There seem to be a lot of very good wellington salespeople writing novels these days. And I for one have no interest in what they’re writing.
What do you think? Should authors stick to the rules or strive to find a unique voice?