When Are Things ‘Supposed to Happen’?

One of my writing coach clients was working on the first few chapters of her novel and was struggling with knowing when things were supposed to happen?

What should be in the prologue? Should there even be a prologue? When does the action start? Is there a “thing” that’s supposed to happen in the first chapter?

As far as I’m concerned, there really are no rules to fiction writing. I know there are lots of books out there that say otherwise, but for me it’s about just getting the story down — even in a loose, rough form — which is hard enough without worrying about all that other stuff.

A writer-friend of mine keeps changing her manuscript to whatever folks tell her will make it sell. “You can’t just write for yourself,” she told me.

I disagree. I think, in the beginning, you really do need to write for yourself in order to tell the story you want to tell. I’ve shown early manuscripts of Baby Grand to enough editors to know that everyone — even editors who work for the same publisher — have different opinions, and if I changed Baby Grand every time someone had a criticism I wouldn’t be writing the book I wanted to write. That is not to say that I didn’t change the manuscript at all. I did, but only when I felt the criticism was valid regarding the story, not the book’s marketability. I really believe readers are open to more kinds of stories than publishers give them credit for.

It’s true, though, that you should know who your audience is — adult fiction, women’s fiction, romance, YA, children’s books. If you really, really want to write a horror novel, good for you but you shouldn’t expect to be selling it to middle schoolers.

But as far as formatting your book for an audience, or employing literary devices, and all that stuff you’re “supposed to” do? You’ve got plenty of time to worry about that. For now, just write.

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