Monday, February 19, 2018

Cross-genre Worldbuilding

Cross-genre books mix elements of two genre. The paranormal romance is really a romance with fantasy or horror worldbuilding.  The sf romance is science fiction worldbuilding in a romance, etc., etc.

I'm a firm believer that you have to understand, read, and respect the genres you are mixing, or you shouldn't write it.

In recent paranormals romances I've read, the author didn't have a clue about fantasy or that you shouldn’t steal a prominent writer’s worldbuilding because it is blatantly obvious and annoying.  One had a magic system that was a generic mishmash mixed with a complete HIGHLANDER TV show rip-off with swords, decapitations, and magic being transferred.

Another took the Harry Potter universe with its magic system and world, then tossed in her characters.

I've read futuristics that were really Klingons in love with the alien and STAR TREK names changed, or the science was so bad a third grader could have spotted the errors.

The danger of not understanding one of the genres is writers lose parts of their audience. Cross-genre is not only supposed to mix the two genre, they are supposed to mix the two audiences. Insult half that audience by not knowing your stuff, and there goes sales.

By ignoring the basics of the other genre, these writers are destroying “the dream" of the books, and that bothers me a great deal as a writer and a reader.

NEXT WEEK:  Which genre in a cross-genre novel defines the plot and book type.


Monday, February 12, 2018

The One Conversation Conflict

A common flaw in a story is the one-conversation conflict.  That's a problem that can be solved with one honest conversation between the characters.

Some novels, particularly romances, are driven by this conflict through the whole story because the two main characters simply won't ask questions or tell each other the truth.  

This kind of conflict is based on misunderstanding, not on important emotional issues.  It reflects badly on characters by making them appear immature, and, for most readers,  the promised happily ever after appears unlikely with two such shallow characters.

It also reflects badly on the writer who hasn't bothered to work on the plot and conflict.  

A one conversation conflict can work well in a scene, or as a means to hold back a valuable clue in a mystery for a short period, but it should only be used judiciously and not as a major part of the conflict structure of the novel.  

Examples of a bad one conversation conflict: 

"Oh, she's your younger sister, and that's why you were hugging her."

"So you were taking dance lessons for our wedding, not dating someone else."

"You're a vampire, and you were out getting a snack?  That's a relief.  I thought you weren't home at night because you were sleeping with someone else!"

Monday, February 5, 2018

Changing Religious and Mythic Elements

QUESTION:  How much can I change about a myth or mythic creature or monster?  I’m using Navaho stories to create my creatures.

That’s a tricky question for an even trickier situation.  If you are particularly referring to a legend or myth, you will annoy some readers if you stray too far.  However, if you take that myth or legend and change it enough so that it's harder to tell what your original source is, you're less likely to get in trouble.

Using Navaho religion as a basis for your story is another kind of problem because the Navaho religion is still practiced so you're risking stomping all over someone's beliefs.  You have to ask yourself how you'd feel if someone did the same thing with your beliefs.

Some famous authors have used their own version of a skinwalker story in their urban fantasy universes, but I've never heard of any backlash from this.  However, Tony Hillerman got in trouble with some Indian groups for his mystery novels, and he was being respectful.  

From my own experience, I don't like reading urban fantasy that plays fast and loose with Christian belief because I feel it insults so many people.  Why insult many of your readers' beliefs?  

I guess it comes down to how much flak you are willing to take by being slightly controversial.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Creating a Fresh Version of a Paranormal Creature

QUESTION:  I write vampire novels.  It seems like creating a paranormal or fantasy race is almost like a catch 22. If you stray too far from the norm, readers dislike it, but if you stay too close to the norm, it is seen as a been-there, read that type of thing. What is the best advice you can give for making your race of creatures/humans/ etc. something believable, yet fresh?  


Study what other writers have done in fiction and media that is similar to what you want to do.

If you want an intelligent alien, think about the signature aliens in our popular culture.  What is it about Spock that attracts and fascinates us?  Or Dr. Who?  How about ET if you're looking for cute and cuddly?  

Or, if you want a scary alien, analyze the ones that scared you to death.  The alien in the movie of the same name?  The Daleks?  The Borg?  Why are they so scary?

When you find the core elements that push your and other readers' emotional buttons, then you have the key elements for your own race of beings.  That's far more important than building an extremely different race for your book.  The outer elements are only window dressing.

When you write one of these creatures as a viewpoint character, you must remember that the reader connects with the human elements of that character, not its difference.  Spock, for example, became so wildly popular because he was the outsider, the misunderstood one on the Enterprise. Viewers, many of whom considered themselves the outsider, connected with that element of Spock even though Spock never complained about being the outsider.

In other words, when your creature is the viewpoint character, write it as a person, not a monster.  Write visceral emotion when you are writing about monsters who aren’t viewpoint characters.  

For vampire novels, your biggest selling points are the voice of your main character, the intensity of your storytelling, and the level of your craft. Difference is further down on the importance scale so don’t let that be your only guide to what you write.  

Monday, January 22, 2018

Worldbuilding in Dialogue

QUESTION:  How do I use dialogue to explain worldbuilding?

If you want to use dialogue, you can sprinkle the information through a series of scenes so the reader gradually gets the information.

The method most writers use is what I call "inform the outsider.”  The outsider can be a newly turned vampire, the human love interest or ally, etc., and one of the vampires tells him/her about their history. 

Or one character can disagree with another one's version of the story so they argue about it while informing the reader. 

Or you could have one of the characters find a written history or story that's inserted into the story via dialogue.  That's the most awkward method.  

Or you can sprinkle in tiny bits of information in relation to what the characters are talking about so that the reader can add together the information to get the bigger picture.  Having the reader figure it out himself is far more enjoyable to him than having an info dump.  

One thing you need to consider is how important that element of worldbuilding is to the reader.  You may have a clever new form of vampire, but unless the reader absolutely must know how that came about or the story won't make sense, the reader needn't be told all that information.

Monday, January 15, 2018

How Different Should Your World Be?

QUESTION:  Here’s what I'm wondering as I'm setting up my “alternate earth.” If the reader’s suspension of disbelief is necessary to enjoy your writing, how do you know what kinds of things might be too much for your readers? Might pull them out of the story as they puzzle over why someplace that’s earth-yet-not-earth has *that*?


If your world has internal consistency and follows its own logic, most readers will accept that world.  Readers want to believe your world.  That's why they buy your story.

Things like dogs and cats and pine trees are just simple shorthand to make that world comfortable for the reader as well as making it easier for him to connect with it.  

If the reader has to learn everything from the names of the trees to the five different kinds of six-legged beasts of burden, and they really have nothing important to do with the story, he will be seriously put off.  Readers like comfortable, shorthand things like pine trees and horses.

Touches of the strange will liven up a scene to give it a sense of elsewhere, but there need only be touches.  In a scene where the hero and his friends stop at a staging inn to rest their horses and get a meal, you can have the usual things like the tavern, the stablehand, and the horses, but you can also mention a corral filled with hippogriffs who are fluttering their wings and snapping their beaks as one of the servants tosses them dead rabbits.

But detail for the sake of detail will delay the action and cause the problem you mention.  For example, the hero is walking through the woods, and a tree of living flame stops him in his tracks because of its beauty.  It begins to sing of the glory of the wind and the majesty of the rain.

The hero finally moves away and promptly forgets it, and it has nothing else to do with the story.

The reader will wait the whole novel for that scene to make some sense with the plot, but it never does so the reader gets angry.

If, however, that singing tree gives the hero a riddle he must understand to achieve his victory, then the scene is very important, indeed.  

Somewhere along the way, it would probably be best if the reader learns why the tree gave him that clue so the plot has some internal logic.

You also need to decide what your story is really about.  If it’s about the unusual political situation in this world, then most of the extra details and information should help focus on that.  If it’s about the world’s magic and how it is failing, then that’s where the details and the weirdness should be focused.  

Most of this boils down to not overwhelming your reader and avoiding info dumping to show off your incredlbie worldbuilding skills.  


Monday, January 8, 2018

Interlocking Questions

A work of fiction should be a series of interlocking questions.  Think of these questions as links in a chain that pulls the reader through each scene and through the novel.  

The questions within the book should be ongoing.  Before you answer one question the reader has, you should have several more set up so the reader doesn't say "oh, now I understand" and put down the book never to finish it.  

The questions can be action questions-- Will the heroine rescue the baby before it crawls into the well?  Will the hero kiss her now?

The questions can be character questions--  What happened to Mary that makes her so nervous around men?  Why does Jim hate Bill?

The questions can be setting questions-- What is beyond the next bend in the road?  Where is the dragon hiding?  Why does the lab have smoke in it?

The questions can be plot questions-- Will Tom rescue Pam from the burning building?  How will he do it?  What did the robber steal from the safety deposit box that the Mafia wants so much?

The questions can be minor questions which can be answered in a few pages-- Will Mary say yes when Jim asks her out?  

The questions can be major questions that take the whole book to answer-- Who killed Bill and why?  

Writing interlocking questions is a complicated dance between the writer and the reader.  The writer wants to give just enough information to involve the reader and urge her forward in the narrative, but not so much information that the reader becomes bored.

The reader sees the questions and their answers as clues and reading the story is a mystery she wants to solve for herself.  The reader not only wants to know what happens next, she also wants to make guesses at what will happen next and why.    

To see the power of interlocking questions, just consider the Harry Potter series.  These books were not only good individual reads full of interlocking questions, the interlocking questions extended through the series.  People talked about these questions, they puzzled over these questions, and they argued over these questions as each book came out.  

If JK Rowling had explained everything early on, the series would not have been so popular, and the readers would not have been so invested in the characters.  

How do you write interlocking questions?  

One trick is to think of yourself as the reader.  What will the reader want to know at that moment in the narrative?  What questions can you answer and what answers can be held back?  

When you are plotting your story out, you will be thinking about the who, what, when, where, and why of each event.  Decide what information from the Five W's the reader needs immediately, and what information can be seeded through the narrative as questions and answers.  

Every answer you give to an important narrative question should lead to more questions-- Jim couldn't possibly have killed Bill, but why has he confessed to the murder?  Could he be protecting someone else?  Who and why? (NOTE: The answers to these questions are in the examples above.)  

An excellent way to see how interlocking questions work is to study how a good author uses them.  

Pick a favorite author who really sucks you into their books and keeps you flipping the pages.  Go to the author's website and find the sample chapter or chapters of one of their books.  Print those pages, get the highlighter out, and mark every narrative question you find.  Notice how the small questions and the larger questions work together.  

Or you can pull out a favorite book from your keeper shelf and read it while paying attention to the interlocking questions.

During all this, remember that the writer and the reader have one important question foremost in their heads as they write and read-- What happens next?