So, last time I talked about the basics of grammar and spelling, then went on to talk about how the pacing and structure of good stories tends to fall into a very recognisable pattern time and again. This week I'd like to begin by discussing some more stylistic "rules" that are present in various genres.
It might surprise you to know, but before I started publishing at the end of last year I didn't have much knowledge of romance or erotica as genres. I'd certainly read them in the past, but I'd never discussed them in depth with anyone, connected with serious fans of the genres, or looked into the various characteristics of these types of stories.
Anyone who's a serious fan of genre romance will know that one rule holds true across the board: your story must conclude with a Happy Ever After/Happy For Now, where the hero and heroine finally get together, overcome their problems, and settle down into their blissful new lives together. There's no other genre I'm aware of where fans will react as negatively to a story that breaks the rules than romance, to the extent of a HEA/HFN being a required element for the story to be classified as a romance.
What this boils down to is simply a case of readers knowing what they like; and a happy ending is what the vast majority of romance readers want out of their novels. It doesn't matter if you want to make a point or write a thoroughly realistic tale where things don't work out quite as the hero and heroine might have hoped -- that isn't what readers are looking for in your work.
This is an interesting phenomenon to think about in the literary world, and I think it's comparable to the issues I had with the Hunger Games ending, only expanded to cover an entire genre rather than an individual series. Readers like to know what they're getting, and I think this is something that some writers fail to appreciate in its entirety. There's a sweet spot to be found between pandering to your audience with simple, easy, by-the-numbers storytelling, and alienating them with something that challenges their expectations to an unpleasantly jarring degree.
I've always maintained that I prefer to think of myself as a practical storyteller rather than an artist; I'd much rather be known for entertaining people rather than challenging them. That isn't to say I want to spend my career writing bland and predictable stories, but I do believe very firmly in working within the boundaries of the rules to create something interesting and engaging rather than pushing the boundaries of what's considered acceptable for the genre.
I read a post over on kboards today about an author who'd finally given up after over half a decade of writing, citing his frustration with the indie publishing scene and the difficulty of getting his work recognised. But, by his own admission, this author was writing stories that were completely unpitchable to traditional publishers, difficult to market, and hard to classify. He just didn't seem to be writing with any particular audience in mind.
Maybe it makes me a horrible sellout, but I like to dial back my artistic vision to a level that's practical, realistic, and viable as a way of making my living in the self publishing business. What that means, the majority of the time, is working within the framework of the rules, giving your audience what they want, and trying to put your own spin on tried and true concepts rather than splurging your creative juices into the void and hoping they crystallise into gold.