Perusing various writing groups nearly every day, I come across a lot of “newbie” writers who ask whether they are allowed to write certain things. I’m tempted to respond like an English teacher: “I don’t know, can you?”

Other than the ongoing problem of confusing “can” with “may,” the answer is simple: yes. Yes, you may write whatever your heart desires. Yes, you may write what you need or want to express yourself. Yes.

I write romantic fiction. Some people have seen fit to inform me they do not read fiction. One stated that he read the truth. There’s no good response to that. I could have explained that Jesus used parables (stories) to impart truth, but that the stories He told were not, in essence, factual. Truth does not alway mean fact. Unfortunately, such explanations don’t go over well. Anyway, the folks who decline the pleasure of reading fiction aren’t interested in what I write and aren’t my customers.

That’s fine. I don’t feel the need to justify my literary preferences in reading or writing to make them happy. They have no obligation to justify theirs to me. We vote with our wallets. He who sells the most books wins.

I’ve spoken with even more people who tell me they don’t read romance. It’s trashy. It’s unrealistic. It’s … insert whatever pejorative you want. I’ve pointed out to some that every fiction genre has romance. The greatest literature in the world encompasses romance. I’m not referring to romance as the big, commercial genre, but romance as the story of a developing romantic interest. The big difference between those other books and romance is that romance (as a genre) focuses on the developing romantic relationship.

Consider The Odyssey. It has Jason doing his best to return home to his beloved wife, Penelope, despite indulging in a few affaris along the way. What about Shakespeare? It’s hard to find one of his plays that doesn’t involve romance, especially when they end in tragedy. Do you like mystery? Detective novels? Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series weaves in the romance between Spenser and Susan. How about science fiction? You’ll find plenty of romantic subplots there, too. Urban fantasy and super hero stories? Check out the romance between Peter Parker and Mary Jane, or Peter Parker and Felicia.

Even villains get romance. In the GI Joe movies and the old cartoons, Destro and the Baroness can’t keep their hands off one another. Okay, that’s probably more lust than love, but still …

Write what you want and understand that writing what you want isn’t the same as writing to market. Writing to market is writing to cater to the expectations of the genre’s devoted readers. This entails using the genre’s familiar tropes, character archetypes, and standard plot devices. Writing to market follows the genre’s formula.

Consider the cozy mystery. The progatonist, usually a quirky personality, introduces himself or herself. The protagonist stumbles upon a dead body and somehow becomes embroiled in solving the whodunit. After clues, a few red herrings, some conflict with local law enforcement and perhaps a neighborhood influencer, and a spot of danger to ramp up the tension, the truth comes out, the crime is solved, and the protagonist survives a little worse for wear to go on and solve the next crime.

Writing to market or formulaic writing need not be castigated as poor storytelling. Truth be told, there really aren’t any new or original plots. They’ve all been done before. What makes a tired old plot fresh is how the author treats it. An author’s spin on the old plot introduces new aspects, interesting personalities, and fresh details. There’s a lot to be said for writing to market, because readers like to know what they’re getting when they buy your book.

So, write what you want. That’s not to say that someone will want to read what you write. There’s no guarantee that what you write won’t offend others: it probably will, especially these days when people are looking for triggers to offend them. This, I think, is what will separate the dilettantes from the diehards: those who continue to write despite the pearl-clutching exclamations of offense. If you can’t handle the critics whose delicate sensibilities you offend, you won’t last long as a storyteller.

Just make sure that, regardless of what you write, you pursue excellence.

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