Monday, March 12, 2018

Across a Crowded Room

QUESTION: I have a scene in a restaurant where staff is coming and going. How do I describe that? Do I mention all the movement?

This is really about viewpoint. You are describing the scene from your viewpoint character's perspective. What will she see?

Imagine this. You are in your favorite romantic restaurant. Across from you is your special someone or your favorite sexy actor. You are eating your meal, flirting, and talking. Would you be aware of who is coming in and out of the room?

Your character in a similar situation would do the same thing.

Imagine this. You are in that restaurant with that sexy lover, but someone wants to kill you.

You would be very aware of who is coming and going in the room, and so would your viewpoint character.

If it's a situation that's emotionally neutral like a banquet meal with servants coming and going to bring food, you can say something like "A steady stream of servants, each with a large tray of food or an empty bowl, moved through the room tending the tables.”

Then, unless there's a reason to mention the servants again, or a servant again, you don't mention them. The reader will fill in the visual blanks.

Monday, March 5, 2018

What Genre Is My Book?

Many writers, particularly those who self-publish, believe that genre has nothing to do with them.  They write what they write and refuse to follow the “rules.”

What most don’t realize is that genre is not so much about following a particular formula as it is about finding the right market and readers.  Publishers and Amazon want the writer to know the correct genre to insert their book in to because they know that that’s how the readers find the books they will enjoy.  

Nothing makes a reader madder than reading a book labeled as a romance where one of the romantic pair dies instead of offering a possibility of a “happily ever after.”  Or a mystery where the bad guys win or the murder isn’t solved.  This fails the promise made by the genre label.  

How do you determine your genre or decide what genre you want to write? 

One of the first things you do is consider the books that are similar to what you are writing.  What genre are they listed as?  Pick books that are from traditional publishers since some self-pubs haven't a clue about their genre or they slap on a popular genre to attract more readers.  

Once you have some clue about the genre or genres to look at, do some searching of terms.  If you think you may be writing urban fantasy but several searches and reading of articles on urban fantasy tell you that you aren't, do some more searching for terms like "contemporary fantasy."

As a starting place for finding good writers to read in a particular genre, go to a site like RTBookReviews and read a bunch of reviews to find books similar to yours.  Pick the writers who are recommended reads.  It's best to pick writers who aren't "names."  Nora Roberts can do what she wants because she's Nora Roberts so she's not the best example for the books you want to emulate.  Neither is Stephen King or James Patterson.  

If you discover that you have done very little to no reading in a particular genre, you need to rethink your book because you will open yourself up to writing cliches, annoying readers, and making massive mistakes that will destroy the book's market value.

Genre distinctions are a particular interest of mine so I have a number of articles on the subject.  Click on the "genre" label on the right side of this blog.  If you are writing a mix of genres (cross-genre) or a subgenre of a popular genre like romance, click on the label "cross genre."   

Monday, February 26, 2018

Classifying Your Cross-Genre Novel's Genre

If a novel is cross-genre, one of the genres must be the strongest and its genre tropes and plot must drive the novel throughout.

A sf romance is first and foremost a romance.  Linnea Sinclair's sf romance novels are driven forward by the romance. Catherine Asaro's novels are science fiction novels with a romantic element. The science fiction plot and worldbuilding drive the novel forward, not the romance.

A werewolf novel that is driven forward by the worldbuilding and various werewolf political/pack struggles is urban fantasy.  A werewolf novel where boy wolf meets girl vampire, and they fall in love during various werewolf political/pack struggles is a paranormal romance.

The important thing to pull out of this is that you must understand what the central genre of your novel is so your novel doesn't fail by genre standards which are really reader expectation standards.  

When you are writing your book, staying within genre or subgenre expectations makes the book much easier to market to the correct readers.  

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.