Should you break conventions to fit your story?

I don’t typically read traditional romance novels, but I do typically read reverse harem (#whychoose) novels. I clarify that because reverse harem and queer harem stories are what I want to write, but resources on how to write the sub-genre(s) are still very sparse. As a result, I have to utilize traditional romance resources for guidance on structure, conventions, etc. - which is fine, because many aspects carry over!

But there are some conventions listed that I don’t want to follow, even though they’re found in the broader genre and carry over into the sub-genre. These are things like, “The protagonist or primary POV character should be the one being pursued.” Typically in the heterosexual romance this ends up being the heroine of the story no matter how many heroes there are. You do see a singular hero fill the role in the traditional harem, though, but those don’t often get marketed as romance.

The thing is, conventions like these completely break my story. My leading lady is the pursuer and an active one at that. The men she ends in a relationship with aren’t her first choices - she’s actually rejected by her first choices - but they do end up being the right choices for her. It’s led me to question if this means she isn’t the right lead for this story (but if not her, who?) or if I’m not writing romance at all.

I know conventions can be broken, but should you break conventions to fit your story or should you break your story to fit conventions?

1 Like

Personally, I’m a firm believer in writing what you want to read. Ultimately, there are no rules, as much as we rely on them. There’s enough of the stuff that follows convention, anyway. Keep doing what you’re doing. Take the guidance that works for you, and quietly skirt around the stuff that doesn’t.

1 Like

As long as you understand that you are breaking the ‘rules’ and how the rules work I think it’s fine.

I know Romance is a lot stricter with it’s ‘rules’, but it’s also the largest genre out there so having something that breaks the rules might be a good thing.

I believe that writing “rules” are more like guidelines. They often are helpful - but not every rule is helpful for every story and not for every writer. Especially in your case, where it lies in the nature of the plot that some of the rules do not apply.

So, I’d definitely vote for “break the rules, not your story”. Use those writing tips that are helpful for you, discard the ones that aren’t.

As for “whose perspective to choose / whose story is it to tell”: maybe multiple point of view characters could work? It’s probably a bit unusual in romance, but I do like dual (or multi) perspective romance a lot. In the few romances I wrote I always used both partners as POV (haven’t written poly romances so far, but should I ever do that, I’ll probably use multiple perspectives, too).


I think as long as you understand the rules and conventions and why they’re there/why they work, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to break them successfully! There’s often a reason why something became a genre “rule”, but that doesn’t mean you can’t step around them, as long as you have an idea of what you’re doing.

Perspective-wise, I agree that multiple POVs could be worth considering. Don’t lose track of your protagonist, but stepping outside to see from someone else’s point of view can make romance even more interesting, especially (to me) when it adds a layer of dramatic irony - now we know something the protagonist doesn’t, and get more excited to see how she’ll deal with that when she finds out, or we get to see how her actions look to someone else, who might be misunderstanding or misinterpreting her and we can’t wait to see how that’ll catch up with her.

Story-wise, it’s more traditional for the harem-center (or romance protagonist in general) be pursued, but I think that has a lot to do with power fantasies: a lot of romance readers want that proxy experience of being pursued and wooed and wanted. But there’s nothing to say there aren’t plenty of romance readers who’d also enjoy the other side of thrill of the chase, culminating in finally getting what they really wanted/needed in the end, perhaps even the person/people they least expected. I, for one, would be really excited to read such a story, particularly being queer and polyamorous myself!

I think you should go on and write the story that feels right, and subvert those conventions with confidence! It’s better to break a rule than to sacrifice a good story that wouldn’t work under it, as long as you understand the rule and how to break it in the best ways possible to make the story better for it. :smile:


Breaking rules intentionally is generally fine as long as you know why you are doing it. Although genre breaking is considered less acceptable romance (as @Xander_Writes said), that seems to mostly apply to just romance rather it’s sub-genres; I’ve certainly encountered examples within harem (both reverse and normal) that break the being the persued convention that have done relatively well.

This, one hundred percent. If we all followed the “rules”, I think our books would be too similar and then become uninteresting. The diversity and what we do with the rules (breaking them or not) is what gives us readers such interesting things to read!

If you break the rules, you should do it knowingly. I can remember a rule that you should not have complicated names. Hmmm. Does that make Iain M. Banks’ Culture books bad?
Rules like “romance must be told from this wievpoint” or “there must be a space battle” sound more like rules given to writers of “dime-a-dozen” -fiction (don’t know the what is the name for those books you can find at market counter beside candy and lottery…).
Of course there are rules like having correct orthography and grammar, which very rarely need to questioned. Or not breaking the laws of physics at random…

I feel like if someone breaks the rules, they should do so consistently. If physics are different, then make sure they are always different and let them remain as such.