Many of us think of the new year as a time to reinvent ourselves, a chance to blossom forth and make our own, unique imprint on the world. And one of the best ways to do that is to dare to be different.
Scary words, right? You bet. But seriously, as a writer, what do you have to lose? If you stick to the same old tried-and-true—the butler did it; the head of the police investigation is in cahoots with the criminals; she thinks her new lover is poor like her, but it turns out he’s super rich—you may please your readers well enough, but you are unlikely to achieve greatness.
This is not to say that you should kill the heroine’s pet dog in a romance novel—please don’t!—but merely to point out that playing it safe offers more security than adventure, and what fun is life without adventure? How can we grow as individuals and as writers if we don’t test the boundaries and challenge the rules?
Did using run-on sentences in The Sound and the Fury prevent William Faulkner from winning the Nobel Prize? Did refusing to use quotation marks in his novel The Road prevent Cormac McCarthy from achieving literary acclaim, never mind a movie contract? And apparently, offering an alternative ending to his novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman didn’t hurt John Fowles, either.
When I wrote my novel A Bit of Sun, I used a point of view with the original idea that, except for the omniscient narrator, it would be restricted to the viewpoint of my protagonist, Britt MacFarlane. As the story developed, I found myself dipping occasionally into the viewpoints of supporting characters, but only for a very brief time and invariably related to Britt or his immediate home life. And then, when I reached Chapter 45 of the 53-chapter book, I suddenly delved deeply into the point of view of Britt’s younger son, Kevin, not just for one scene but for two whole chapters.
At first, I was quite pleased with the result. I really liked those chapters and thought they had much to add to the overall story of Britt’s life and to the reader’s understanding of that life as seen from a fresh point of view. But then reality caught up with me, and I thought: Oh, dear. What have I done? That’s against the rules of fiction, isn’t it? I’ll never get an agent if I include those chapters.
Nonetheless, after giving it serious thought, I swallowed hard and retained both chapters despite my misgivings.
And then, miracle of miracles, I got an agent who took me on after reading the entire manuscript. And you know what she said? She said, “I liked the little one.”
She was referring to Kevin, Britt’s five-year-old son, whose point of view took up 30 pages late in the book. And while Britt’s other two children also got some play in the book, it was seldom from their point of view and never for long. I think they, too, are likable characters, but the reader never gets to know them very well, doesn’t get to feel their joy or pain or to see the world through their eyes. And I am firmly convinced that the reason my agent liked “the little one” so much is because, with Kevin, she did.
Does that make me a great writer? No, of course, not. But I like to think it helps make me a good writer, one whom my readers think highly of and appreciate. And I do believe that such forays out of the ordinary provide one of the reasons so many readers treasure my stories.
So, don’t be afraid. Dare to be different in 2018.
I wish you great success!
© 2017 Ann Henry, all rights reserved.
Photo: Be the Pink © 2011 Ann Henry, all rights reserved.