Thanks everyone for your comments! Using the Random Number Generator, I came up with #6, which is Amber! Amber, you can send your 5 pages to me at Lynn AT LynnRayeHarris DOT com.
Okay, maybe there's one: Thou shalt not bore thy reader.
Aside from that, all rules are rather like Captain Barbosa's view of the pirate code: they're guidelines. Guidelines exist for good reason. They are meant to keep you from making the kind of mistakes that others have made before you. They are a set of guide posts to help you along the way.
But they aren't set in stone. They can be flouted if you feel the need. (But make sure you know why you need to flout them.)
Why did this post come about? Because yesterday, under the hashtag #pubtips, someone on Twitter said that you must not ever change point of view during a scene because you wouldn't *ever* sell your book if you did. That's a pretty intense statement.
And it's simply not true. Many authors jumped in to say how they'd sold 10, 20, 30 books to their publishers without following that particular “rule.” Now, on the other hand, I think I know what the person who said it meant. She was judging contest entries and POV was all over the place. It was jarring for her.
That is a problem. If you are jarring the reader with your guideline flouting, then maybe you need to take another look at the guideline and try to see why it is one. People don't make these things up just to give you a hard time. They do exist for a reason.
And maybe you should learn how to control POV with one per scene until you've got that down so pat that you can then make deliberate choices on when to exercise the option of switching to another character's head. Merely a suggestion.
Me, I'm pretty much a purist. I believe, for me, that POV is best done one character and one scene at a time. It's just the way I roll. I think it makes for a more cohesive story, and for a better bonding experience with the viewpoint character. It's hard for me to care about someone whose head I leave after a paragraph.
However, even I, the purist, have been known to make a mid-scene switch. I can't remember which book I first did it in, but it might be my 3rd or 4th. The scene started in one POV. It needed to continue in the other. Usually, I have no problem with a scene break in the middle and then continuing right on. But this time, the scene break was jarring. This time, the scene was so highly charged that the only way to keep the tension up and make the switch was to simply make the switch.
I have, to this day, not gotten ONE piece of mail or one review that claims I did it all wrong, or tells me I'm an idiot who doesn't know how to write. Not one. Remember that. (And if I get one after this, I'll know one of you is messing with me.) 😉
Unfortunately, when we are still unpublished, we are searching, searching, searching for what might be holding us back from obtaining the brass ring. It's really, really hard to take a good look at your work and realize that maybe the problem is your story. So we search for reasons why we were rejected without realizing the story isn't quite right. Having a story rejected doesn't make you a bad writer. Not at all!
When I go back and look at some of the things I did before I was published, I see it now. I see what was wrong that I couldn't see then. Yes, I was a POV purist and yes, my book was written in Courier New 12 point font with exactly 25 lines per page, and yes I kept the backstory to a minimum and didn't dump it into the first chapter.
But that isn't always enough! I wrote some technically perfect things. But they are lacking in life and spark. They lack what I've learned since, which is that good story is far more than technical perfection. You must know who your characters are and what they want. You must know why not getting what they want is a very bad thing. And you must know why you won't give them what they want but will make it all work out anyway.
Do not write with rules in mind. Write with the story in mind. Write with the goal of creating something compelling and uniquely yours. Yes, in my line there are a zillion marriages of convenience. Yours won't be like any of the others because yours will be in your voice. Right? You won't imitate, and you won't slavishly follow a set of rules someone gave you.
There is no secret handshake, friends. There is only hard work and growing your craft. You can write your story in Arial or Times New Roman. (It should really still be double spaced when you submit it, but it doesn't have to be when you're writing if that's what you prefer.) You can let Word figure out where to break the page (I do turn off Widows and Orphans, however). You should still put a header up there with your title, name, and the page numbers. Just in case someone prints it out and gets things out of order somehow.
You can change POV in a scene, even multiple times (though I'd be careful — do not jar). You can make your heroine a CEO and your hero a construction worker (though probably not in Presents, I gotta tell you). You can do just about anything so long as you do NOT bore the reader. You don't have to start your story with dialogue. You don't even have to have both characters on the first page together. But there are certain conventions in a category romance, and you really should know what they are if that's what you want to write.
A hero and heroine who don't meet for 3 chapters just isn't going to work in a category romance. Though I'll bet there's a published author out there who did it so well that she sold the book and never looked back. It's entirely possible. I still don't recommend you do it, however. 🙂
Now go forth and write compelling stories with characters readers will care about. If you need to switch POV, switch it. If you need to drop some backstory in, do it. But know WHY you do these things and make sure you couldn't do them better by doing them another way. Just don't ever say that you absolutely must do something a certain way or you won't publish. I can promise you no editor is going to read your story, be super excited by your characters and premise, and then get to a POV change and drop the book in disgust. “Too bad, we would have loved to publish this if only she hadn't made that switch.” Not gonna happen.
In my March book, Strangers in the Desert, the hero and heroine aren't in the same room together until page six. There might even be POV changes somewhere in the book, though I can't remember. And talk about taking the usual theme and twisting it? There's a secret baby — but it's the heroine who doesn't know the baby is hers. You can do anything so long as you motivate it well and tell it compellingly. (This book is an RT Book Reviews Top Pick for March, so something worked!)
Now tell me, what rules have you been told are absolute? I'm going to award a prize to one lucky aspiring author. I will read and critique your first scene, no more than five pages. Simply leave a comment on this post. I don't ordinarily read uncontracted work, for various reasons, but I really believe in helping people so I'm going to break that rule today. I'll choose a winner sometime this weekend, and you'll have 24 hours to submit your pages. Must be a romance, though can be any subgenre. My expertise is category and contemporary, so remember that. 🙂