Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, June 21, 2014


Fathers' Day 2014 - watching Argentina vs Bosnia Herzogovina - note all the blue & white Argentine colors - two native-born Argentines, four second generation, at table


I would like to suggest that the so-called Rules for Writing Romance be confined to (1) a Happily-Ever-After ending and (2) Professional Presentation, with a caution about not writing anything over 100,000 words in an era where a "fast read" seems to fit our lifestyle better than the lengthy, convoluted reads of previous centuries.

When I gave a workshop in Atlanta last fall, a young woman came up to me afterwards and said with considerable emphasis, "Thank you for giving me permission to edit chapter by chapter!" I hope I responded politely, even though my initial reaction was horror that anyone could have given her the impression that she should not edit chapter by chapter. Books or workshops offering help to authors are great. But books and workshops that tell authors "it's my way or the highway" should be banished to the deepest, darkest depths we can find.

Another young woman who came up to me after the workshop had tears in her eyes as she thanked me for a passing remark I made about romances that were "Girl meets Girl" or "Boy meets Boy." And yes, I'm sure there were "rules" about that too until the e-book market broke that taboo. But this particular author's strong emotions on the subject amply demonstrated that barriers still exist in many people's minds.

And I myself experienced the swat of a presenter in another workshop (not in Atlanta, I hasten to add). We were told that only detailed plotting could result in a good book. Authors who did not plot in detail actually had to "go back and add the missing details to their stories." This might not have been so awful as it's true - I am constantly adding fresh details to my books - but it was said in a tone of voice that indicated this was the height of poor story writing. Needless to say, I was incensed. 

To those of us whose creativity doesn't fit the "mold," I would like to say, "Smile! You are not alone." 

To those who want rules, need rules, think they cannot function without rules, I say, "Fine, use all the rules you like. But ease up on proselytizing. Not all brains run on the same track."

My concern in this particular blog is with the author-artists out there - the ones, like me, to whom rules are anathema. We "feel" our way through our stories, layering in details as we go back and edit every chapter or so. We maneuver our characters - or are maneuvered by them - only after we have spent time with them, learned their sterling qualities and their foibles, and can at last move forward knowing what they would do in any given situation. (Or possibly be surprised by them because they absolutely refuse to do what we expected them to.) How sad to be so tied to an initial plot synopsis that we never experience a character revolt, never find our fingers typing a scene totally different from the one we had formed in our heads when we sat down at the keyboard. 

As an example of the above - which you may applaud or find horrifying, according to your thoughts on plotting - I recently reached the three-quarter mark in the Regency Gothic I'm writing and still had no idea who the killer was! Of course, this adds a good deal of mystery to the book, for if I don't know, I defy my readers to guess the name of the villain! I was finally forced to make a list of all the "possibles" and decide which one would have the most dramatic impact if he turned out to be the bad guy. To me, this is the fun of writing - the spontaneity, the juggling, the "what ifs." As I have repeated so frequently: I can hardly wait to get up each morning and find out what is going to happen next.

Below is the first installment of a list of "rules" you should question. And I hasten to add that if you love those rules, then they are likely right for you. I never knock another person's thought processes. I only want to liberate the people for whom "rules" do not work. If, for example, you are writing Category for Harlequin/Silhouette, you have no choice. Those companies have rules and you jolly well better follow them. The rest of us, however, have more flexibility.

As an example - Tarleton's Wife, a book I wrote before I ever heard about any "rules" for romance, is my most successful novel. It came out as an e-book in December 1999, won RWA's Golden Heart in July 2000. It also received a "Best Romance" award from the Florida Writers' Association. It is currently on its fourth incarnation (two print versions, two e-versions) - and still going strong. On each royalty statement from Ellora's Cave Blush, I see Tarleton's Wife has sold the most copies of all my books. And yet when I wrote it, I didn't even know what a "hook" was!

How did I learn? By reading, I suppose. I just absorbed how other authors did it and sat down and wrote a book. Was this my first book? No, but The Sometime Bride was 140,000 words and was not e-published until after Tarleton's Wife. Both were books of the heart, written with only years of reading romance (mostly historical) to guide me on my way. I still consider them my best books. Yes, I'm proud of the books I wrote after I tried to "conform," but they simply cannot compare to Tarleton's Wife and The Sometime Bride, books written without the constraint of "rules."

Some "rules" that could stand a bit of skepticism:

1. Write a Draft straight through without stopping. Do not pause for any reason, including editing.

Unless you are a person without any self-motivation - you just can't finish a project even if your life depends on it - this is an abominable "rule." At the end of the book you are faced with editing the WHOLE thing at once, a seemingly insurmountable task. It's likely the book gets little more copy editing (typos, etc.). Any in-depth editing, a major revision for example, could result in changes to every following chapter (the domino effect), and the likelihood of missing some important revisions altogether.  That wonderful secondary character you might have added in Chapter 3 never gets born. The relationship scene in Chapter 5 skims the surface, never getting the in-depth treatment it deserves. That beautiful description of a landscape, castle, soccer game, faraway planet never gets written because slogging through those many, many pages is just too much, you're sick of the whole thing and just want to get it over with!

To reiterate: if your want to add a new character or new event, say, in Chapter 2, there is a ripple effect that spreads out to every chapter after that. If you edit directly after Chapter 2, adding this character or event, there is no problem incorporating the change into the remaining chapters. If, however, you plow straight through to the end, adding that new character or event in Chapter 2 can be daunting, as you must find and revise every single place affected by that change and make the added information fit. A chore that is likely going to cause great time and anguish or force you to give up that excellent addition altogether.

Basically, if you edit chapter by chapter, you only have to cope with a mere 8-20 pages of additions, deletions, typos and missing words, not be intimidated by 350-400 unedited pages all at once. But as noted before, if the full-draft-then-edit method works for you, producing a book you feel is the best you can do, then by all means stick to that approach. Just don't tell the rest of us that is the only way to write! 

Special Note: Am I saying you must edit chapter by chapter? Absolutely not. The whole point is that each author must find what works best for him or her. If I'm "on a roll," I may charge through two or more chapters before stopping to edit. You must find your own rhythm. I am merely asking that you not be intimidated by didactic voices that scream: "Get through that draft, don't stop to edit 'til you're done."

2. The 20- to 30-page Synopsis.

I heard a Harlequin/Silhouette author say she once wrote a 30-page synopsis for a 65,000-word word. (If I did that, I'd feel I had already written the book and lost interest in doing anything more!) But if you write for H/S, that is what you have to do - or at least 15-20 pages of synopsis! Yet keep in mind most editors would turn pale at the thought. They are far too busy for such nonsense. Three to five pages is the norm - and all an editor or agent has time to read. (I think I wrote a paragraph each for the proposal for Books 2 and 3 of my Blue Moon Rising series for Ellora's Cave.) So don't panic. If you want to write Category for H/S, then you must follow their way of doing things to the T. If you are not writing Category, then forgetaboutit. I once got all 140,000 words of The Sometime Bride down to a one page synopsis - with a log line of two sentences! Reducing your book to a few choice words is a great way to clarify your thinking, by the way. You may find the major point that comes to mind is quite different from what you thought was most important when you started.  

Keep in mind that most agents and publishers have guidelines that tell you how they want your submission presented, including the length of the Synopsis. So take the time to do your homework and give them what they want. 

~ * ~

 RULE-BREAKING 101 will be continued next week.

Thanks for stopping by.


For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.



  1. I really enjoyed this, Grace, although I haven't done a longer-than-five-page synopsis in years, including on books for H/S. I think that's definitely old school. I am a rules person, to a certain degree, but I always feel free to choose the ones I want to follow. :-)

  2. Liz, I'm delighted to hear that not all editors at H/S are still requiring lengthy synopses, but the author I mentioned who wrote the 30-page synopsis did so just last year. Nonetheless, it's great to hear that breaths of fresh air are wafting through the corridors of the world's two largest romance publishers.

  3. Grace, Thanks for a thoughtful post. I can't agree more with your emphasis that a writer should follow whatever process works for him or her. I try to write a complete draft before revising, so I do face that monster you describe, but since I know I'll have a dozen more revisions of the novel, adding or deleting threads via the ripple effect isn't a disadvantage. It's an accepted creative part of my process.
    All best,

  4. Once again an out-of-the-box author has made my day!
    I agree with every point and I will add one: H/H can be "older". Please. Not all of us need romances of the twenty-somethings.
    Good blog.

  5. Good point, Mitzi! Thanks for contributing.