Pushing Boundaries, Shedding Preconceptions

As a writer, we’re taught to think in labels: “I write Regency romances,” “I write alpha heroes,” “I write dark and angsty,” etc. It makes it easy to market our books–and ourselves–to readers so that those in search of alpha heroes or angsty romances know to whom they can turn for that type of book. The labels I’ve always proudly worn were those proclaiming “I write heroine-centric romances” and “I write Edwardian/WWI historicals”, and I’ve done my best not to deviate from them. This past year has wrung me through the wringer, writing-wise, and I feel as though each and every preconception and boundary I set myself has been squeezed from the fabric of my being.

It’s been painful and bewildering because labels are useful things, they let you know where you stand, they push you into a “tribe” so to speak, they don’t offer any surprises that will catch you off guard. As a writer seeking traditional publication, labels act as a tourniquet against your publisher experiencing unexpected hemorrhages of money. Yet, clinging tightly to my preconceptions end up choking the life from my writing before it’s even had a chance to poke its first buds from the soil. And the 800+ pages I’ve written on the same book is proof of my not wanting to relinquish my labels.

As I began to outline my NaNo novel, the instinctive reaction to whip out my labels and attach them to this MS was strong even though the story kept shifting away from them. I spent a few hours trying to whip the outline in the shape I wanted it to make, and then it was like a light bulb went off in my head: the characters create the story, not my own preconceptions, and the primary protagonist is the character who a) has the most at stake and b) will experience the most growth. So here I am trying to make this story about my heroine, when it is really about my hero! For a brief moment I felt bereft–was I all wrong about myself? Did I just assume I was a heroine-centric writer? But then the other book I have planned popped in my head–that’s heroine-centric.

Duh!

So the moral of the story kids, is that my sole purpose is to tell a damn good story and not to try to force them to fit me.

Author: Evangeline Holland

Evangeline is a public historian who brings her academic skills to fiction, in order to fill in the gaps in the historical record. Her love for history permeates just about everything she does, going so far as to "suffer" for this love--as the bruises and stuck fingers from fencing and sewing costumes to understand life in the past firsthand can attest.

1 thought on “Pushing Boundaries, Shedding Preconceptions”

  1. Thanks so much. I’m going to do NaNo too, for the first time, and I’ve been getting a bit freaked out as the great day draws closer. Your advice to yourself to let the story out rather than to use the story to bolster your notions of who you are really rings true. I know I’ll go off outline after five pages of writing, I know my characters will take over and ride roughshod over my plans, then pick me up and carry me off and abandon me somewhere cold and lonely (then hopefully return and save me). I just have to remember that that is a fun, wild, ride, and that too much preparation for it might get in the way. Scary! Good luck with your hero-centered story and your November!

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