Inspired somewhat by Lisabet’s post last week I’ve been thinking about the times I broke the established taboos of writing. There haven’t been that many, law-abiding soul that I am, but once or twice I have strayed from the path of writer righteousness
My sins are not so much in failing to deliver the happy ever after so stridently demanded in our romance genre, more that I invented a version of happy that the readers didn’t anticipate. Romance, erotic or otherwise, is fairly formulaic. A HEA means the two (or more) central characters find their happiness with each other. That’s the norm, readers expect it.
Her Noble Lords is a historical ménage, set in medieval England. The main characters are twin brothers, and their female partner. Towards the end of the book one of the twins is killed, the cause of much grieving for the remaining pair. But, as so many of us do when faced with immense tragedy and loss, they manage to pick themselves up and reinvent their relationship. They find a way to carry on, because they have to. A twin can’t be replaced, but people can move on.
I had emails from readers deploring this ending. It broke the rules. A ménage story couldn’t be reduced to a traditional pairing, they said. Perhaps they were right, but that ending was the one that seemed right to me. And it was my story.
Then of course there are the rules handed down by publishers. Often misleadingly described as guidelines, don’t be fooled. These are rules, as firmly set in stone as any commandment.
I first fell foul of these early in my writing career when I wrote a non-con/dub-con spanking scene. My publisher liked the book in general, but insisted that this particular scene be re-written to comply with their ‘guidelines’ regarding consent. In those early days I was far more malleable (for which read insecure). I felt I had no option but to do as the publisher asked or my book – and perhaps subsequent ones – wouldn’t see the light of day. I now work with multiple publishers, and have a few self-published books as well, so I would be a lot less easily swayed. I have options, I can shop around or go independent. I never really warmed to the re-written version. It took so much of the subsequent tension and angst out of the story to leave what seemed to me a more lukewarm plot.
I faced a similar dilemma just recently. Another historical I wrote included in the back story a marriage which took place when the girl was only about twelve, common enough back in the medieval period. Although the marriage wasn’t consummated until years later when she was eighteen, the publisher didn’t like it. It was counter to their guidelines and policy regarding under age characters. It had to be changed. A betrothal would do.
Except, it wouldn’t. The actions of most of the core characters in the first five chapters were driven by the fact of this marriage. It was historically accurate (though I wouldn’t die in a ditch over that, necessarily), and it was simply the bedrock upon which the story rested. I discussed my views with the publisher, naturally, but their policy was clear.
So was mine, by then. I politely withdrew my book and placed it elsewhere. Unchanged.