Writing becomes a whole heck of a lot more complicated when you decide to publish. I learned this more by working behind the scenes than anything else. My dream has always been to have my work traditionally published, and I knew– or rather, I decided –that I would be published by the time I was twenty. I was. Over the years, I have learned a lot, and I continue to learn. What I love about the publishing industry is that it is constantly changing. And this is something we have to keep in mind when we discuss RULES. Yes, those pesky little things that sometimes get in the way of ART.
Perspective is everything. And bending the rules in fiction is one of the most fun things about writing. Some of us are more rigid, more strict, about following the rules than others.
Let’s examine the subject of disembodied parts. I have been thinking a lot about this lately, especially since I am a fan of classics, and older writings. I tend not to read recently published books, even though I am publishing my own novels, and seeing the writings I edit continually taking their places on Amazon.
Several years back, I wrote an article about disembodied parts for a publisher that has since closed its doors. Disembodied parts are hugely frowned upon in the romance genre, and for good reason; there’s usually physical interaction where a disembodied part can really jump out at you– no pun intended. But here is a very common example of a disembodied part: “Her eyes landed on the man sitting across from her.” Eww.
Now we come to the subject of bending the rules in favor of art. Recently, I have really fallen in love with the writings of the late Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960). I first discovered her during my studies of Florida history, when I was introduced to the poignant novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. She is also the author of Every Tongue Got to Confess.
As I read Their Eyes Were Watching God, which is an incredible novel about a woman seeking her true self during the 1920s, I noticed lots of bits that probably would have been frowned upon in today’s fiction market.
The book culminates with the horrendous destruction caused by the 1928 hurricane, which killed thousands in Florida, including many blacks who were buried in mass, unmarked graves.
Here is one of my favorite passages from the novel. Note the use of disembodied parts to illustrate such an incredible, intense scene:
“They huddled closer and stared at the door. They just didn’t use another part of their bodies, and they didn’t look at anything but the door. The time was past for asking the white folks what to look for through that door. Six eyes were questioning God.”
And another incredibly written line:
“They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.”
How beautiful, how lyrical. I absolutely love her writing; it’s almost as if body parts themselves become characters. There is passion in every word, every movement.
It makes me sad when I see authors trying so hard to emulate best-sellers. I understand why. They want to make money, they want to see their work sell. But in the end, you have to follow your heart and pen the words that course through your veins. Write what you are passionate about. Don’t stand in the book store paging through James Patterson novels and thinking, “If only I could…”
Zora Neale Hurston is an amazing example of an author who wrote from her heart and used every word to paint a picture so vivid that her work will last forever. Her words will continue to influence generations. Something tells me this gorgeous woman was a rule-breaker. If you want to sell your work, finding a good balance is key. There are good reasons we have rules, but the rules of the publishing industry morph every day. Go with the flow. Write from your heart. Words are healing.
Don’t let money be the only reason you write. Bend the rules in favor of art every once in a while– because art is your personal expression. Art is you being you.