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The Problem With Following Advice, and Writing Your Novel Your Way

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How good are you at following advice? For me, there is no single answer to this question. It depends on where the said advice comes from (reliability), and whether or not it can match my personality traits and some very rooted habits. Meaning I won’t (and can’t) fool myself into thinking I can take the “get up early” tip of some writers, because before 9 o’clock, I’m cranky, useless, sleepy and yes, unproductive. So instead of having a staring contest with the blank sheets or screen, I get up a little later and get the most out of my awake self.

For instance, I adore John Grisham’s legal thrillers and dramas, but the fact that he got up two hours before work (as in before he headed to the law firm) while working on his first novel makes me think he is an (awesome) alien.

I’m sure you can relate. Maybe not to my sleeping habits, but to how I analyze and decide to internalize or chuck tips from successful people. I can work with “be organized”, because that’s sane advice. I might not be able to keep the tidiest house, but I will clean up the mess before I start working.

Where’s this coming from? I’ve been reading about agents and publishing since I started working on my novel, and while some of the tips make me say “Of course!”, some make me scratch my head and get a bit pessimistic. The latest collection of tips that inspired this post can be read here.

(Some of the tips I couldn’t agree more with are about “dream” starts, verbose paragraphs, laundry lists… Please refer to this post for these to make sense )

The good news is, following some viable advice, combined with a good story and hard work, can get you published. Bad news is, it might kill diversity.

I’m working on a romantic/drama comedy which will probably appeal more to women than man on the basis of its genre. Let’s assume I get published (I haven’t started pitching yet,) and a reader picked it up. Here’s what he/she won’t see:

–       A main female character picking all her physical flaws and insecurities apart in several different places.

I read this sensible tip that says no one wants to read about physically perfect characters. They’re boring and/or hard to relate to. I agree.

But when I mentioned the “beauty” of my characters in this story, I referred to how other people perceived them. For instance one character is confident, playful, free-spirited and cute. She has no problem flirting with men, and this is observed by her friends. Maybe she has crooked teeth, or eyes that are too small for her face or she doesn’t like her nose much. Who cares? Her insecurities are irrelevant to her storyline, so I don’t mention them.

Or let’s take my leading male character. He’s described as handsome in a manly and outdoorsy way. He’s also smart, nice and extremely altruistic. So even before my female lead meets him, she is very intrigued. And because she finds his personality sexy too, she is drawn to him. While their chemistry dominates the scene, I don’t talk about if he is too tall or she’s too short or they’re going through a bad hair day. They might not be everybody’s type. They are certainly not perfect, whether physically or personally. No one is. But as far as their looks are concerned, they are perfect according to each other.

–       First person present tense narrative from this main female character.

I love romance and comedy, and I read a lot of fiction with a female leading character, told from her perspective and in present simple. I like this type of narrative. It’s fun, captivating and quite addictive. But the problem is, as I identify with this 20-something, physically-not-perfect but-can-be- quite-alluring-with-the-right-style character who has some problems at work and her romantic life, I keep wondering what the other characters are like. I get how the lead sees them, but I never get to see what they truly think. You can show and not tell as much as you want, but you are still showing one character’s point of view.

I wanted to study from published and well-received romance novels so I could get an idea of how to tell a romantic drama/comedy using past tense, and with an omniscient narrative. I failed to find such books…There are many thrillers and dramas like this, but romantic comedies? Not really. (If you can think of some, please recommend away!)

So I fumbled through my first novel. I tried to use what worked for me as a reader, and what didn’t. I left out what bored me. I tried to produce the type of story that I’d like to read.

I’m not saying it reinvents the wheel. It doesn’t. I’m not saying it’s not unpredictable, or as catchy as the first-person narratives I’m a big fan of.

But this is the story I wanted to tell. I’m open to critiques, rewrites and notes on it. But since there are numerous authors who have been doing this so well for so long, maybe I can find an agent that will take a shot with me, because it’s a bit different.

I realize that some of the advice I don’t apply might work against me. But for the sake of this story being its own (and mine), I have to reject certain tips, and cross fingers that I made the right call.


As always, I welcome all your tips, experiences and opinions.


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2 Responses to “The Problem With Following Advice, and Writing Your Novel Your Way”

  • Yvette Carol says:

    For me, Pinar, I find that when reading the screes of advice, some just naturally sticks and the rest falls away so like many autumn leaves from the tree. Don’t try to hold onto what falls, let it fall. But sometimes, if you get the chance to revisit certain ideas then study them a second time. With some things, it takes a couple of exposures, for it to really sink in!

    • Pinar Tarhan says:

      Hi Yvette,
      Thanks for the comment! Sorry, it has taken me a while to reply – it has been a hectic week.
      You are right, sometimes visiting ideas with a fresh outlook might change how you see them. Like you said, it’s important to recognise which ones to keep in mind. Only some will work for your genre and own voice.

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