BREAK THE RULES!
“You can’t have a cow in the kitchen,” they said. “Who would believe that?”
My friend said, “It’s not there all the time. It comes and goes.”
No matter. They unanimously opined no agent would take on the novel, and if by some fluke she found one who would, the book would never sell. Unfortunately, my friend was cowed (sorry, I couldn’t resist).
Fiction writing is filled with rules and warnings.
1. Your character must be sympathetic.
I guess the originator of that rule didn’t read Gone with the Wind. Scarlett O’Hara was stubborn, narcissistic and downright nasty at times. Who would want her for a sister-in-law? But she was fascinating and unpredictable.
2. Agents and editors don’t like first person point of view.
When I was working on The Starlite Drive-in, my first published novel, a writing teacher told me that first person POV was self-indulgent. She also said I’d never be able to sell a novel narrated by a twelve-year-old girl. The Starlite Drive-in sold in seven countries, came out in hardcover and three paperback editions, won a few awards and was optioned for film. It received praise in The New York Times, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist as well as in numerous other newspapers and publications.That writing teacher was wrong.
3. Write what you know.
Tell that to Diana Gabaldon, author of the outlandishly popular novels set in Scotland. Diana said, “I didn’t really know anything whatever about Scotland at the time, save that men wore kilts, which seemed plenty to be going on with. When I began writing, I had no plot, no outline, no characters, and knew nothing about Scotland and the 18th century. All I had were the rather vague images conjured up by a man in a kilt. Which is, of course, a very powerful and compelling image! Scotland grew on me quickly, as I did research and began to sense the personality of the place and its people.”
4. You must outline your novel.
Diana Gabaldon and a plethora of other authors, including Stephen King, shot down that rule.
5. You cannot write a novel from the point of view of an animal.
Tell that to Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain. The narrator is a retriever-terrier mix named Enzo. After Stein’s agent read the manuscript, he called Stein and said, “You can’t tell a story from the POV of a dog. No publisher will want it. No reader will buy it. It's unsellable.” Stein promptly fired his agent, a gutsy move. Later, at a literary dinner in Seattle, Stein described his plight to his fellow writers around the table. Layne Maheu, author of Song of the Crow, mentioned the narrator of his book was a bird and suggested Stein contact his agent, Jeff Kleinman. The Art of Racing in the Rain as told by Enzo remained on The New York Times bestseller list one hundred weeks.
The point is there are no rules.
Oh, and by the way, a year or two after my friend removed the cow from Aunt Idey’s kitchen, I saw a TV reality program about people who kept horses, pigs, llamas and other assorted large animals in their homes. However, as far as I know, none of them talked.