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Showing posts from July, 2015

The Art of Word-Painting, Part One

Photo by SuperFantastic , via Flickr We’ve all heard the phrase “taking a plunge”. It metaphorically denotes an action tantamount to falling/jumping off a cliff into deep water. The person who “takes a plunge” (voluntarily or involuntarily) ends up completely immersed (if only temporarily) in a new environment. Reading a book involves “taking a plunge” into the world the author has created. If you’re the author of the book, you want your reader to become immersed in your story asap. This holds true, regardless of genre. Whether you’re writing a crime thriller, a fantasy epic, or a piece of literary fiction, it’s important that you should give the reader a strong sense of place and time and atmosphere. Which brings us to the issue of descriptive technique. For your first draft, it’s perfectly fine simply to write whatever first pops into your head. For your next draft, however, you owe it to yourself to review your diction (word choice), figurative language (metaphors

Lessons in Story Structure in Unlikely Places

Over the Fourth of July weekend, like many Americans, I went on vacation and drove to my destination. A local radio station had recently played every number one hit from the 80s over a weekend, so I put together a playlist of all those totally awesome songs to keep me company on the long drive. So when one of my adolescent favorites—“Take On Me” by A-ha—started playing, I was instantly transported back to those carefree days. I particularly remember the music video for this song. In fact, here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKspel3BEog Not only is this one of my favorite music videos ever made, it’s more or less a romance novel. Within the space of three or so minutes, it condenses everything that the structure of a romance novel should have. Let’s take a closer look at that. We begin with backstory. Our hero is a cool racecar driver. He’s got some rivals too. The tension is set up and the antagonists are introduced. In comes the heroine. Of course, this is a paranorm

The Words

Photo by Cara Lopez Lee A word is not reality. It’s a metaphor for reality. So, in a way, every word is a story. Just open a dictionary and look up any word: pronunciation, part of speech, definitions, usage, origin, and whatever else your dictionary tells you. Let’s try it with “sentient” and the American Heritage Dictionary: Sentient (sĕn ’ shənt, -shē-ənt) adj. 1) Having sense perception; conscious: “The living knew themselves just sentient puppets on God’s stage” (T.E. Lawrence). 2) Experiencing sensation or feeling. [Latin sentiēns, sentient-, present participle of sentīre, to feel…] According to Merriam-Webster , the first known use of “sentient” was in 1632. Every word has a history. Each word we personally know also has a history within us. To me, “sentient” is the story of HAL 9000, the self-aware computer who killed astronaut Frank Poole and tried to kill David Bowman, in the book and movie 2001: A Space Odyssey . “Sentient” calls up the chilling momen

Does Genre Matter?

In my book, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict , I discuss the difference between premise (the story concept) and the promise you make by the genre you pick. I explored the theme further in an earlier post: Keeping Your Promise . Writers unleashed in the independent publishing arena might feel they can fire genre expectations entirely since they no longer have to tick boxes for agents or editors. They may feel they no longer need to write the dreaded synopsis. Not so. Why? Reader expectation still matters . Let's say you go to a new restaurant with friends. It isn't your usual chain restaurant. Unless you are a foodie and love to experiment, you hope to find something on the menu that is recognizable. Something you know you will enjoy, perhaps a good burger. When you order a burger you have certain basic expectations: a bun, some kind of meat patty, and condiments. There are millions of variations of burgers, from tofu and soy meat, to bunless burge

A Tale of Two Genres

I’ve been writing “genre fiction” for 36 years. I began with romance, then moved on to mystery. That’s the simple version. For a start, I wrote Regency romance, not just any old romance. It’s a very distinct genre, set in England in the early 1800s, when Jane Austen was published. The doyenne of the (sub)genre was Georgette Heyer, who set the standard for humour, well-developed characters, historical accuracy, and lively dialogue. Fans of regencies often don’t read any other kind of romance. Given the limits of the genre, I managed to write all sorts of stories, some set around historical events such as the Battle of Waterloo, some comedies of manners, some exploring serious subjects like the mistreatment of chimneysweeps ( Crossed Quills ). I also branched out into several sub-sub-genres: fantasy—fairytales rewritten with a Regency setting ( The Magic of Love ); time travel ( Byron’s Child ); and a ghost story ( The Actress and the Rake ). One of my regencies was classified

Seeking the Muse

By Jason P. Henry Throughout my life I have been an artist, a musician, and now a writer. Creativity runs thick in my blood. As a result, I have spent (perhaps wasted) a lot of time seeking the muse. She was such an elusive, fleeting, little tart. I always felt like I was three steps behind her, that I didn’t have what it took to catch up and drain her of the inspiration I desperately needed. I was a vampire, thirsty for that creative rich blood, and I was dehydrating. Then I learned a valuable lesson about her. She was there, within my grasp, the whole time. My muse , she’s a stalker. The whole time I was looking for her, she was standing right behind me, waiting for me to turn around so she could smack me and say, ‘Here I am, stupid, now sit your butt down and write.’ When I learned, better yet, when I accepted , how devious my muse truly is, I stopped looking for her. I simply started waiting for those subtle, sucker punches and her sultry, little voice seductively whispering

Polly Iyer Interviews Polly Iyer on Genres

Q . What genre do you write? A . I write cross-genre fiction. Q . What’s that? A . That’s the genre that agents and editors tell you they can’t place on the bookshelf when they reject you. Bookstores can’t find a place for your book either. Q . So, do you write either mystery, suspense, or thrillers? A . Yes, all three, sometimes in one book, but there’s also romance. Q . Then it’s romantic suspense? A . Not really. Q . Why not? A . Because I don’t follow the romantic-suspense formula. Sometimes the romances in my books don’t have a HEA, Happy Ever After. Romance Writers of America classifies Romantic Suspense this way: The love story is the main focus of the novel, a suspense/mystery/thriller plot is blended with the love story, and the resolution of the romance is emotionally satisfying and optimistic. Though my books have a romance, crime is the focus of the story. RWA has tempered their former explanation of a definite HEA to an ending that is emotionally satisfying an

Secrets of Genre Strategy

Today, I'd like to share some secrets for getting noticed in your genre. First, it's a step in the right direction to write a great book. However, these days that's not enough. Amidst the vast competition, somehow your gem must stand out and get noticed. Genre strategy is one way to do that. Here are some secrets to achieve that: Be specific. Narrow down your genre . For example, don't just say you've written a romance. The romance genre contains tons of categories. To help potential readers discover your romance buried amongst others, include another category, such as contemporary, historical, paranormal, Young Adult, etc. To further guide readers to your book, you can narrow the field by including an extra category to the first two, such as a  sweet contemporary romance, a Christian historical romance, an erotic paranormal romance. You get the drift. Amazon, for example, provides tons of romance categories from which to choose. I chose the reality show romance

Mystery, Suspense, or Romance

Although I write romantic suspense, I'm not happy with the moniker the industry gave to the genre. According to the publishing industry, romantic suspense includes all romance-themed mystery sub-genres, from cozy to thriller. There's the added hero/heroine story arc, with its requisite Happily Ever After. However, by tacking that 'suspense' term onto the genre, readers might be expecting an actual suspense, not a mystery, and be disappointed. Mystery isn't the same as suspense. I happen to think I write romantic mysteries, or, as I prefer to call them, "Mysteries with Relationships." According to the dictionary, suspense is a state of uncertainty, enjoyable tension, or anxiety. A mystery is something you cannot explain, or don't know anything about. It's easy to see how the two overlap. Often the major difference in writing a mystery as opposed to a suspense will boil down to Point of View. If there's a villain's POV, then the reade

Seated Back Stretch

All the book genre research this month might be putting your butt in the chair for lengthy periods of time. In this video, Esther Gokhale shows writers an excellent and easy back stretch to help with long hours at the desk. For more help with good posture and information about the Gokhale Method, connect with her on Facebook , Twitter , and YouTube .

An Author's Take on Genres

One of my favorite writers is Liz DeJesus ( Website | Fb | Tw | Publisher ). Why? Well, every story she's written--full of fantastical characters, situations, and themes--I have loved. Born on the tiny island of Puerto Rico, Liz is a novelist, freelance writer, writing coach, and a poet, and has been writing for as long as she was capable of holding a pen. She is the author of the novels Nina , The Jackets , First Frost , Glass Frost , Shattered Frost , and Morgan . Her stories have also appeared in anthologies, to include Night Gypsy: Journey Into Darkness and Twice Upon a Time . Currently, Liz is working on a new novel and a comic book series titled Zombie Ever After . Author Liz DeJesus I already know that one of Liz's favorite genres to write in is fantasy, but I wanted her take on why she chose that primary genre, what other genres she wrote in, and how difficult it is to maneuver through multiple genres... among other things, so I grabbed her up and asked a few

Playing the Genre Game

A shopper stops at a table in a bookstore where an author is having a book signing. Shopper picks up the book. “What’s your genre?” Author smiles. “It’s sort of a cozy, romantic, mysterious thriller for new adults.” Shopper frowns. “Excuse me?” Author continues smiling. “You know, something for everyone. Trust me, it’s a great story.” Shopper puts book down, shakes her head, and walks away. Bottom line: Many readers have expectations as well as definite genre preferences. We need to present our work in a way they can relate to. Some writers know their genre and write accordingly. Others incorporate the guidelines of a number of genres in their books, possibly in hopes of gaining readers from multiple genres who are willing to cross the line to read a “great” book. A few even try to create a new genre/sub-genre to accommodate their work. Has it always been this confusing? In the heyday of traditional publishing, publishers determined genre, as well as the guidelines req

A Beginner's Guide to Identifying Genres

If you’re a reader, you need to know which store bookshelf (I’m going old school here) is going to hold your newest treasure. If you’re a writer, you need to know which genre you write so that you can target the correct agent or publishing house (if you’re going old school). The trouble is that there are many, many genres - both distinct and fusions. Here is a beginner’s guide using my own twist: Fantasy: Dragons. Science Fiction: Dragons in space. Horror: A dragon-masked maniac terrorizes a small town. Adventure: Indiana Dragon hunts for lost treasures. Humour: Percy Dragon wants to be a firefighter. Comical mayhem ensues. Historical Fiction: Lord Percival Dragon goes on crusade with Richard the Lionhearted. Romance: Boy meets girl. Sparks ignite, then get snuffed out. Will they find a way to relight the flame? Romantic Comedy: Miss Dragon and her girl friends look for love and expensive shoes. Cozy Mystery: Kind Mrs Dragon solves crimes while knittin

Where do You Shelve Your Book?

“What is your genre?” they ask. Well, it’s a story of a dream, of heart and courage. It takes place in the West and it’s about old-time rodeo cowgirls, so it's also historical. It has a sweet romance and it’s suitable for Young Adult as well as grownup readers. So it could be “Women’s Fiction”, “Young Adult”, “Western” or "Historical". How do you decide? When I first started writing, I attended conferences and workshops and I kept hearing, “Write something different and new. I don’t want to see the same old thing.” So I did. I wrote what I called “Christian Fairytales.” But when I pitched it to agents or publishers, they would sigh and scrunch up their faces, and after a long pause, they’d say, “Well I really like the stories and your writing is very compelling. But…it doesn’t fit our niche.” Huh? But you said… I do understand that publishers need to know your audience so they’ll know to whom to market. I understand that bookstores need to know where to

Writing Memoir - Anne Kaier Guest Post

Memoir can get a bad rap. It’s been likened to reality shows, panned for TMI, pigeonholed as mere publicity for politicos. My favorite peeve is the ghostwritten celebrity memoir—or, worse, the simpleminded recovery story in which the protagonist falls into drink or illness and, inevitably, regains health by page 300. It’s the "inevitably" that bothers me. These memoirs, written according to formula, often gloss over the real difficulties of people trying to make and keep their lives better. The “my cat saved my life” story bugs me no end, as you can imagine. So why did I write a memoir about a feral cat who helped ground me emotionally in an uneasy period of my life? The most important answer is that Henry, the ginger cat I rescued one night after someone’s car had hit him on a busy road, turned out to be one of the sweetest creatures ever. Oh, he hissed and spat at the beginning and hid under my spare room bed for six months. But when he finally began to trust

Book Genres - What’s Your Game?

I’ve been thinking a lot about genres the past few years, and the concept gets more complicated by the day. Now that self-publishing has really gained a foothold, a lot of the old rules simply don’t apply anymore. Crossover fiction is becoming much more accepted, so labeling your book for potential readers is increasingly challenging. What’s your book genre? Romance? Thriller? Romantic Thriller? Mystery? Romantic Mystery? Noir Romance? Cozy Mystery with Innocent Romance? Ack! And what about age groups? Young Adult (YA) has a new sub-category called New Adult (NA) for a slightly older reader from 18-25. Why? Because the romance was too steamy, but not yet jaded like for older adults? Could be. A search at Wikipedia for more information leads to an exhaustive list of possible fiction genres . Excuse me while my head explodes. Is it any wonder I keep flip-flopping while writing my current romantic mystery novel that sometimes becomes an erotic thriller? What do you do whe