Listen To The Don’t’s – Then Do If You Must

Notebook and pen on the black keyboard

One of the things you hear a lot as a writer is well-intentioned advice that’s mostly true.  Don’t tell, show. Don’t make it easy for your protagonist. Don’t be predictable, don’t start slow, don’t dump too much backstory all at once.

Then there are the things that are generally good advice – except for when they’re not.

Like: “Don’t use a love triangle.” Except, sometimes, they work if they’re done right. Put a fresh spin on it, if you can. Make it really tortured. Or resolve it in a way no one will see coming. If it adds to the story, moves the plot forward and helps a character (or characters) evolve – and you’re not just writing it in so you can have a love triangle – then use it.

Or how about “Don’t have your characters fall instantly in love.” Except what if it’s important that they do? What if it’s magic? Or fated? Or starts out giddy and then falls apart because falling instantly in love is a silly thing and the maturation of that starting premise is really the bones of your book?

What I’m getting at here is that in general, tropes work when they’re not cliches, and cliches work when they’re being held up under the glaring light of truth to unravel in front of us. This is your book. Write it true.

I say all this because I’ve been struggling with the opening of my next book. I really want it to open in a dream. This is a classic newbie writer move, having someone start out in this action-packed beginning and having it all be a dream, but I really, really need the book to get right to it and that’s the best way to do it. In my case, the dreams are a key plot point in the book.

I think I’ve found a way to make it work without having to resort to the “oh, it was all a dream,” moment, but I’m not ruling it out. It’s a first draft, so it feels clunky. That’s what first drafts are for. The book will find its own way, and if it says I need to open on a dream, that’s where I’ll go.

And I’ll write it true.

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