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Now Write! Exercise Two – Genre Breakdown

  • Posted on June 16, 2016 at 4:03 pm

In Jule Selbo’s article “Choosing your Speculative Genre”, We learn how to pick apart and use genre and subgenre in order to build up and expand our plot-points and characters. She gives a few examples of how an overarching genre is good to have as a standing foundation, but that keeping in mind subgenres as well is  important for the overall structure of the story and the narratives contained within. One such example that she gives is Pixar’s Toy Story.

TOY STORY lives in a fantastical world where toys have full lives outside of humans’ interaction with them as objects of play. TOY STORY employs:

  • comedy (based in incongruity);
  • buddy (the ar of Woody and Buzz Lightyear as they go from adversaries to friends);
  • adventure (Woody’s goal of geting Buzz back into the fold before moving day is over); and
  • action.

Jule Selbo, “Choosing Your Speculative Genre”, Now Write

Her chosen exercise, after that, has four parts.

1)Decide your overarching narrative genre. Is it based in science or solely the author’s imagination? Is there a truly EVIL component to it, or is it a “scary” story that builds anxiety? These questions will help decide your main genre.

2) Construct a scene or situation set in the overarching genre so that the audience realizes they’re ‘getting what they paid for’. At the same time, weave in one or two of the main characters. People like to get to know characters.

3) List possible supporting genres. Consider how each genre would affect the story and characters. Which ones would ramp the plot up and which would make it fall flat on it’s face?

4)Frame the story in the overarchng genre. Build that scene at the beginning, and then Book End  it with a scene at the end, closing out that overarching theme. Do the same for each scene in the story. Make sure the audience feels connected with the genre they chose to experience.

For example, the build of my first novel, A Knight of Kuryle would go something like this:

  • Overarching genre: Fantasy (Magic is possible, creatures exist that don’t in our world, and the Moon God grants all wishes his followers pray for.)
  • Side Genres:
    • Coming of Age (Dirk’s journey from farmer’s son/child of immigrants to respected knight)
    • Adventure (Dirk has to find the murderer who burnt his village, and avenge the people of his village)
    • Buddy (Dirk has to win the trust of Jorgan, an orphan from his village, while the boy works through the emotions the destruction caused.)
    • Action (Dirk must confront and fight the enemy when they come for his new home as well.)

The first chapter of the novel introduces magic in an evil sorcerer who slays all the adults of his village, and then burns the village to the ground. Likewise, it is bookended by that sorcerer attacking Dirk’s new home, the capital of his country, and Dirk’s desperate fight against the powerful magic this sorcerer wields. Fantasy is woven throughout the rest of the story as well. From the always-prosperous city of Theon’s “Starlight Road”, to the matriarchal royalty of Kuryle’s religion-saturated nobility, fantasy lays in every part of the novel, and it’s subsequent sequels.

It’s easily applied to stories as-yet unwritten, too. My most recent labor of love, which has been tentatively named A Deeper Love, is a historical era regency  novel that I’m basing (loosely) after my own life. If I were to break it down, it would go like this:

  • Overarching Genre: Historical Fantasy (Regency Era specifically)
  • Side Genres:
    • Coming of Age (The main character, Dinah, leaves her small family, and the influence of her off-putting mother, for the bustling high life of london, and in so-doing, learns more about herself, and settles into a woman.)
    • Romance (I haven’t quite figured this particular subplot out, but it’s important, as I want to write the first asexual regency romance novel)
    • Slice of Life (Showing the lifestyles in Regency London)

Sadly, there aren’t many more genres in there. I might add in a comedy subgenre, but I’m not sure how yet. So there’s that. However, playing with the subgenres definitely helps define how the story is meant to go, and with what sort of inclination. I really do enjoy this particular assignment, so it’s definitely something I’m going to be doing more and more often.

Genre Shift – IWSG 06/01/16

  • Posted on June 1, 2016 at 4:51 pm

We're here for you. It’s that time again, the time when we put ourselves out there, all our worries, fears and anxieties so that others may comfort us, and we, in turn, can comfort them. Theres nothing wrong with seeking comfort. In fact, it can be exceedingly useful, especially when one needs it.

In this case, however, the cause of my anxieties and fears come from within my own mind, and as my therapist continues to tell me, what FEELS true, often isn’t. Speaking words outloud, or in this case typing them down, often helps to change that mental and emotional lock.

So here goes.

I’m going to change genres. That’s it. That’s the source of my issue. You see, there’s quite a bit built up behind it, but that decision alone is what is causing a lot of my anxieties as a writer right now. It, of course, comes with a lot of caveats and changes and reprisals on all thoughts and functions of my mind, but in the most basic of senses, that’s it.

I’ll attempt to break it down for you, and for myself, so that I can work through the various issues I’m having. You see, I’ve always been a fantasy writer. My best works have always been fantasy. I’ve tried my hand at writing short horror stories, and found myself wanting. I’ve tried my hand at writing teen fiction, which kind of fell flat. The only thing other than straight, epic fantasy that I’ve written is fanfiction. And even that, well… Let’s just put it this way, I’m never going to give those accounts up. Over my dead body!

So when I say that I want to break out into Regency Era romance of the Asexual variety… Well, it’s a bit like saying, “Oh, I’m a fish and now I want to fly.” Technically it can be done. However, can it be done well?

Lookit this little guy. He tries so hard…

First of all, there’s the issue of the fact that I’m leaving a huge project, my nearly finished Kurylian Knight novel in the lurch by devoting time and energy to this other work instead. Then, on top of that, there’s the energy that will be taken away from managing this blog as well, and making sure it’s up and running. With my recent bouts of anxiety and depression, I’ve been having trouble with getting the basic energy just to apply to cleaning the house and caring for the children in my care. How am I ever supposed to split my energy even further to give this idea the time and care it needs to flourish?

Secondly, all of MY romances have fallen flat on their face and died, usually due to a disconnect over sex. So what am I supposed to do when writing it? What kind of romance author has literally NO successful relationships? Surely there’s someone more qualified out there to write these stories, right? But then again, this particular project has a tinge to it that’s entirely self serving that I can’t just leave to someone else. I plan on basing the first one off of myself, specifically, my life story. I can hear you now, “Really? You’re going to write self-insert fiction? Ugh. Those are the worst.” Yeah, I know. But… honestly, there’s just something about the idea that makes me want to do it. That and I watched Vanity Fair one too many times.

My third issue stems from the research required in order to try and even come close to tackling this particular genre with any sort of class or joy. Recently, it has come to my attention that I might have undiagnosed Adult ADHD. I came to this conclusion due to a sudden, and quite annoying, inability to focus on a book long enough to actually READ it. It’s part of why I’ve been having so much trouble in the first place. But the only way I’ve found to actually be able to WRITE a genre, is to READ said genre. It’s painful, but necessary. Which means reading a lot of really torrid romance novels for me. Again, where am I supposed to get the energy and time to devote to this?

The fourth problem stems from my inability to find a narrative link throughout this new project. All I really want to do is tell my biography, except set in the 1800s england that stood out so much when I watched Vanity Fair and Downton Abbey. Is that so much to ask? To set my ill-fated story in somewhere beautiful and tawdry? Possibly. But worse still, how do I break down 27 years of experiences into a novel, and have a point to it, a conclusion, when there ISN’T a conclusion to my life yet? There isn’t a narrative focus in my life, really, except perhaps finding balance where there is none, but even that’s speculation brought on by fortune telling. I could risk taking it aside, and just using bits and peices of my personal story, and not having it based entirely in my life, but then, I feel, it would lose it’s meaning to me. However, I fear that if I don’t, it won’t hold any meaning to anyone else, either. What to do, what to do…?

As you can see, genre switches, and starting new projects in general, are not fun, nor do they come lightly. It’s something I still have to muddle over and make a decision on. It’s something that will probably haunt me for the entirety of the time I write the book. I know that worries like this still plague me for my kurylian saga too. But what are we supposed to do with these worries?

Write through them. Push them to the side and tell the story that needs telling. Of course, that’s easier said than done, most often. Some writers I know have six or seven projects all open at once, and I find that if I so much as consider it, I become paralyzed with indecision. Which should I work on, which should I wait on, what should I be doing? But at the same time, the ideas come like a waterfall, no matter what. My therapist says that often times, what we can handle is more than we think it is, and then, even a little more than that. He’s encouraging me to take on more, emotionally and mentally, so that maybe, just maybe, I can grow stronger under the weight. So I think that’s what I’ll do here as well.

After all, if I don’t write the asexual regency era romance novel, who will?

Researching Mystery

  • Posted on August 11, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Today, I have a guest blog published over on Cindy Grigg’s website. We’ve swapped guestblogs, and her post, 9 ways to fix your Stereotyped Character is informative and fun to read! Go take a look at it! Also, take a look at the article, Researching mystery which you can find here:

If you’re curious, here’s the first two paragraphs of the article, for your perusal.

To begin with, I’m not normally a mystery author. To be specific, when I was younger, I only ever wrote fantasy novels, or romance. Now, however, I’m trying my hand at mystery novels, which means quite a bit of strife. I have a natural instinct when it comes to fantasy, so I find it easy to fall into. With Romance, I have my years as a fanfiction writer and fandom roleplayer to fall back on, which can both enhance and detract from my writing. (No one likes reading author’s notes, I’ve since learned.)

I came to mystery as a genre because I love the tense atmosphere. Maybe it’s less mystery and more suspense that I enjoy. But recently, I’ve found that I want a challenge. And the best way to challenge yourself is to write something you’ve never in a million years written before. But how can you write something you’ve never written before? How can you make sure that you don’t slip back into writing what you know? And worst of all, how do you manage to make it a GOOD manuscript when you know nothing about your genre?

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9 Ways to Fix your Stereotyped Character – A guestpost by Cindy Grigg

  • Posted on August 11, 2014 at 2:08 pm

So You Wrote a Stereotyped Character…9 Ways to Fix Your Story

 

I’ve recently been doing a blog post series on How to Write Well-Rounded Female Characters, which included a list of 19 Female Character Stereotypes to Avoid.

Since Nicohle and I are swapping blog posts today, I would love to take that list one step further and show how I would fix a stereotyped female character (but the same concepts apply to any character).

Why You Don’t Have to Start Over

If your female character falls into a stereotype, it’s not so much that you’ve written her wrong as that you’re just not done writing her.

Writers revert to stereotypes or tropes rather than fully articulating what makes a character unique. It’s tricky because you may not feel lazy as you write a stereotypical character. You’re still sitting in the writer’s chair fulfilling your daily word count or time quota, but essentially you’re being creatively lazy about who you are writing about.

1. Rearrange what you’ve got. A lot of creativity is a matter of how you arrange the disparate parts of something to make a whole. Which aspect of your character is the focal point? By restructuring which personality traits are pivotal, you could create a more fresh character.

2. Add something to the character that scares, stretches, or otherwise challenges you. If writing about a certain characteristic your character possesses makes you think about the world in a new way, it likely will do the same for many readers.

3. Change how long your character stays a stereotype. Maybe your character can start out as a character but be changed by a new event. Maybe reveal they were hiding their true nature for some good reason. Think: Scarlet Pimpernel.

4. Look around you. Think of the most unique people you know and add some part of their personality to your character.

Rarity gives you an example reaction.

5. Add more weaknesses, flaws,  fears, and losses! I like the trick of thinking, What is the worst thing that could happen to my character? Then consider adding that to your plot so your character has to really solve and struggle.

6. Put your character in strange situations. Brainstorm several seemingly unrelated scenes and put your character in them. Consider crossing genres with this exercise. Put your fantasy heroine in a murder mystery and see how she behaves, etc. You may stumble upon an interesting nuance to add to your story.

7. Change your character’s past or future. If the character seems flat or one-dimensional, hook the audience into caring based on something terrible or wonderful they went through or will go through.

8. Give your character a unique motivation. Most of humanity is motivated to some degree by love of family, romance, personal gain, or moral/spiritual paradigms, for example. But what if you made your character also motivated by something kooky like a love of snails, and wanting to save those snails from extinction, for example?

9. Create personality contradictions. I love giving a character two characteristics that seem paradoxical or at odds with one another, then showing why they are this way.

Both fixing characters or scrapping them will require a lot of editing, so I figure you might as well refurbish your stereotyped character rather than starting from square one.

While it takes more effort, it’s more fun and interesting to write well-rounded characters. For me, this comes down to asking, But who else is she/he?! By consciously steering clear of stereotypes, writing becomes more adventure. More fun.

Cindy Grigg

Cindy Grigg writes speculative fiction and instructional non-fiction. She is the author of the HULDUSNOOPS series, a middle grade mystery and fantasy adventure about Icelandic Huldufolk or “hidden people”. As About.com’s Office Software Expert, Cindy also writes about technology and productivity (www.Office.About.com). Find her writing advice, blog, and other projects she’s working on at www.CindyGrigg.com.

Recent Affairs

  • Posted on May 21, 2014 at 8:39 pm

I have been considering a change in genre. Although to be honest, I can’t help but feel like maybe I should write everything and anything. It makes me feel better to think that I can switch. However, the styles of writing and the rules of different genres requires consideration.

Such as with High Fantasy. Much is allowed, but you can’t do too much with it, or it becomes something else. Like Lord of the Rings. Change the horses to golems, and suddenly, it’s scifi, not fantasy. Okay, that was a bit of a stretch, but seriously, I worry about these things.

I’ve been considering the idea of taking my main characters from one of my books, and recreating them as characters in an urban fantasy environment, and while the story isn’t as… overarching, it seems like it would be fun to write. I’ve always liked urban fantasy. It’s always been a favorite of mine, the intertwining of things too unreal for reality into the every day lives of characters whom really have no purpose other than to live with our expectations.

But the thing about Urban Fantasy is, it can quickly become something annoying. I personally really hated some of Holly Black’s books, but her other books were amazing. And the only difference was the level of fantasy in her books. Then there are the novels that you really aren’t sure are urban fantasy at all. All sorts of writers do this, they tag it urban fantasy, but it’s not really all that… urban. Twilight, I suppose, counts. Not to open that can of worms again, however, as I rather loathe that entire series, after reading the first and half of the second books.

I wish this had a pathway, however. Something solid I could follow. I’m worried about failing, and having teens hate my work, and I’m also very worried about people thinking of me like the author of the Anita Blake series, who really jumped off the bandwagon. Ah well. I suppose I should consider myself lucky that I can write at all. I do love telling stories so, although I’m often afraid no one will want to read what I write. It’s difficult, judging what’s worth writing and what’s worth giving up.

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