On LITERARY FICTION and breaking the rules

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It’s Tuesday morning and I’m supposed to be making some revisions to a manuscript under contract with a small publisher that doesn’t mind getting neck deep in literary fiction titles. I am procrastinating. Why?

It’s because I sent the manuscript out to freelance beta readers before submitting it to the publisher for their feedback on pace, story arch, character development, etc., and have gotten mixed results regarding the “rules” of writing fiction.

Everyone of them likes the story (it’s plot, people, places, and themes) but a few point out areas where I stray from the Commandments.

They’re right. I do.

Sometimes due to getting too deep into the writing zone—not paying attention to the proper way of doing things. Sometimes not even knowing what’s proper or not because I’m self-taught, winging this writing thing I’m doing now. Picking it up after a bad injury required I set other things down.

This morning I’m looking at comments in the margin pointing out what laws I’ve broken and exactly where. This puts me paused at a crossroads not unlike the one where blues musician Robert Johnson stood early on in his career. Do I go this way? Or that way?

The problem with showing me what I’ve done wrong and exactly where is that the WHY factor isn’t asked. Why do I break some rules but not others?

Good question. I found the answer, or at least part of it, in an article by Temim Fruchter on LitHub. I don’t know much about her other than she feels as I do, that some rules are meant to be broken, that unleashing the creative process to all its wonderful potential means not only jumping onto the curb at times but perhaps taking out a few mailboxes too.

I’m on my third cup of coffee now, getting ready to go through the manuscript, deciding where to zig and where to zag. Literary fiction appears to be my sweet spot. Things are allowed to happen there that wouldn’t fly anyplace else. But will my readers know that? Will they be patient enough? Open minded enough? Will the story engage them enough to trust me, follow me all the way to where I want them to go?

I wonder.

—Tim Bryant
Author of Blue Rubber Pool and The Bird in Your Heart
in which rules lay cracked and missing