Finding Your Genres #IWSG

It’s not enough to aspire to be a real writer— you have to be a writer OF something. That’s where genres come in.

A genre is a book-selling category. If you go into a real-world bookstore, there may be a section of science fiction and fantasy, a section of mysteries, a section of romance. In a big bookstore there may even be a bit of literary fiction around somewhere. 

Genres are the way most of us find stuff to read. We learn that certain genres reliably give us a good reading experience and other genres do not. We pick up Westerns or mysteries or thrillers or military SF or gothic romance or whatever other kind of book we have learned delivers the kind of story we want.

When you are becoming a writer, part of the job is developing a self-identity as a writer. And writers are known by the genres they work in— there are romance writers and horror writers and Western writers and science fiction writers. 

Of course there are writers who write in multiple genres, or who write a book in one genre but then write in a different genre— as in the case of Louis L’Amour, whose first published book was poetry and wrote many many Western novels, which are still in print today. 

But your writer-identity ought to have one or more genres connected to it. It’s not a limiting thing— you are still free to write and publish what you like— but it helps you think of which playing-field you will likely be working in. But how do you figure out what genre(s) to pick?

What Genres do you Read?

When you are reading for your own pleasure, what genres are you most likely to pick? Don’t be ashamed of what you like— even if your English prof told you that intelligent people only read literary fiction, that doesn’t mean you should feel bad for reading things you actually enjoy. Learning to be a good writer— of ANY genre— means a lot of reading since if you are a Regency romance writer you need to learn what current writers are doing IN THAT GENRE. It’s easier to do that reading if you don’t hate the genre!

What Genres do you get ideas in?

Some well-known writers enjoy READING in certain genres, but they don’t really THINK in that genre. They may read every science fiction novel that comes out, but their brains don’t come up with valid science-fiction story ideas. Or they may love historical fiction but not be able to do the massive amount of research involved. (I might want to set a story in the Roman empire but I don’t speak Latin well, and don’t have access to a library that would have the books I’d need for research or the money to buy a library’s worth of books about Roman history, so any mystery novel ideas I have where the Emperor Claudius solves crimes will have to remain unwritten.)

What Genres currently sell well?

This is where many aspiring writers go astray. They think the genre they love doesn’t sell or is too competitive so they randomly pick a genre that’s currently ‘hot.’ But if you think Amish romance or Dystopian YA is utter dreck, you will likely not be able to write in that genre in a way that fans of that genre will appreciate. 

But there is room for writing in popular genres in the world of writing. The top Gothic romance authors, when the genre tanked, called their books Romantic Suspense and kept on writing. Fantasy writers might try writing some ‘paranormal romance’ if that category is selling. Science fiction writers might try a ‘dystopian YA’ novel, especially of some of their science fiction novels have been described under that term. 

Even when you are a mere unpublished— not even indie published— writer, picking your genre(s,) reading in your genre(s,) and thinking of yourself as a future writer in those genre(s) is a good step towards becoming a writer for real. And that’s always a good thing.

What genres do you read? Get ideas in? Write? Publish? Are there other genres you might like to try someday? Share about it in a comment!

Yours in genre-identity,

Nissa Annakindt

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This was a post in the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop: https://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

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Fiat Currency in SciFi Worldbuilding

One problem many authors have in building a logical science fiction (or fantasy) world is that they don’t know *stuff about economics. And so they come up with worlds that readers cannot believe in— like a fantasy-world I once read, in which a nation existed that had absolutely no agriculture and got their food by trade alone. (Why would their trading partners send them food when they could starve them out and just take stuff?)

A core item to think about in building a fictional economic/trade system is that of money/currency. In the Star Trek universe we have ‘credits’ in the Federation which we are to suppose are just like dollars, but more futuristic. But what is the dollar, anyway?

The US dollar is an example of fiat currency. That is, it’s money because the government says it’s money. Right now, the dollar works as money. Our government is fairly stable and does not print vast amounts of paper money to get itself out of debt. So the dollar is a solid currency at the moment. In the Weimar Republic in Germany after World War One, the socialist government went wild printing money— to the point there was massive inflation, people had to bring wheelbarrows of paper money to buy a loaf of bread, and in fact some of the German inflation money my grandparents brought over actual were lower-amount bills that had ‘One Million Marks’ overprinted on it.

Now, imagine space travel into that. A Terran space ship goes to planet Arleroshi and wants to buy some goods, and brings out a sheaf of US dollar bills. Will the Arleroshi people accept that? Will they know the difference between the US dollar and Weimar Republic inflation money? The US government, stuck on Terra, can’t exactly arrest people on other planets for not accepting dollars the way they would arrest a US grocery for refusing US dollars and making customers pay in yen or euros or gold or silver coins. 

The US dollar will only become useful off-world if off-world people can trade it for goods they want. If there is a regular interplanetary currency exchange so that the Arleroshi people can trade the US dollars they receive in trade for Arleroshi money or some other currency they can use, they will accept US dollars. If the US dollars mainly remain pretty pieces of paper to them, they won’t want them.

I think all trade, both in primitive or advanced societies, comes down to barter. One person has fine cows and wants a metal plowshare, another one has several metal plowshares but needs a good milch cow. A swap is arranged. 

The original money was coins stamped out of silver or gold, and it ‘worked’ because silver and gold were popular and valued commodities than many people wanted. The cow-seller, would swap cows for gold and silver coins even if he didn’t particularly want silver or gold, because he knew he could swap the silver and gold for stuff he did want. 

A futuristic society may trade on multiple worlds and trade in robots and starship parts, but the basic principle is the same— a currency, whether a fiat currency or a gold-backed one, only works if you can use it to get the stuff you want.  A complex modern economic kind of hides the ‘barter’ aspect of our economic life from us. We don’t think that we go to work to swap our labor for the US fiat currency, which we then swap at the grocer’s for grass-fed beef, cauliflower, cacao nibs, coffee and Kerrygold butter. We get hung up on ‘money’ and don’t think of it as a barter-assistance device to keep us from having to find a Kerrygold butter seller that wants our labor in accounting or flower-arranging.

In our worldbuilding work, we need to keep that barter factor in mind. If we have a fiat currency in our worlds, people have to have confidence in its buying power, and not suddenly suspect that the currency is no more useful than German inflation money. (A sudden loss of faith in a fiat currency, tragic as it is for people when it happens in real-world countries, is a nifty plot device for dystopian or apocalyptic fiction.)

May your trades be in non-inflated currency,

Nissa Annakindt

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Key to the Star Trek Aliens

Are the alien species of Star Trek (original Trek) symbols of something else? I suspected so— before there even was a Next Generation. They are of course more than that. But the symbols are a key thing to understand, especially if you are making your own aliens. Or if Star Trek and its aliens are one of your Asperger ‘Special Interests.’

Klingons 

Klingons are the major ‘enemy’ in the original Star Trek universe. So it’s only natural that they are a symbol of the USA’s real-world biggest enemy of the time, the Soviet Union. Klingons are quite plainly presented as cruder, more aggressive, and more direct than Terrans (‘Americans.’)

Klingons remind me of a story my high-school German teacher told us illustrating the difference between Germans and Russians. Seems a small boy’s village was taken over by German soldiers during the war. Since they boy had the good luck not to be Jewish, the German soldiers were kind to him, and let him fire off one of their machine guns. The gun jammed. The German soldiers were all upset, since now they would have to send the gun back to the manufacturer to get it fixed.

As the war went on, the Germans left, and Russian soldiers marched into the village. The boy made friends with these soldiers as well, and they let him shoot one of their machine guns. The gun jammed. A Russian soldier took the gun, smacked it against a big rock, and the gun worked just fine again.

I can totally see Klingons smacking one of their disruptors against a rock to fix it, instead of sending it back to a factory into the hands of whiny, not properly Klingon eggheads.

Romulans and Vulcans

Though Romulans were an enemy race and Vulcans an ally, it was also made quite clear that they were somehow related. Romulans were more aggressive, because they were more emotional. Vulcans traditionally controlled their emotions, and were more peaceful. 

I believed that both Romulans and Vulcans were symbols of Asian peoples. The Romulans were symbols of the Chinese— a mysterious people who had gone communist and assisted the North Koreans in killing Americans during the Korean War.

The Romulans in Star Trek were a mysterious enemy— the Federation had fought a war against them before without ever seeing a Romulan, living or dead, and so they didn’t know Romulans looked like Vulcans. Like the Klingons/Soviets, the Romulans/ChiComs were an aggressive empire likely to conquer planets and never give them back. 

The Vulcans were symbols of the Japanese people— not the WW2 enemies that attacked Pearl Harbor and committed atrocities against civilians in Nanking, but the later, allied-to-us Japanese that we perceived as good, possessing an ancient culture, and friendly. The Vulcans were a more mature species, but we Terrans had a thing or two to teach them. Starfleet only had one Vulcan officer, Spock— and he was not only half Terran, but half AMERICAN. 

Andorians

They were the blue-skinned guys with an antenna and white hair. They required enough make-up that there were no Andorians on the Enterprise crew. The very little we saw of them mainly made me think they were a symbol of race/skin-color issues, especially of the more exotic races/skin-colors.

Terrans/The Federation

The United Federation of Planets seems to be a knockoff of a bad Terran idea, the United Nations, but with less vampires (This is a reference to Declan Finn’s vampire novels in which we learn how to get the vampires out of the UN building. Nice to know.) Even the flag of the UFP is nearly the same as the UN flag.

Both Terrans and the Federation are symbols of Americans. Because Star Trek was an American TV show with an American audience, see? Americans are a fairly useful ‘type’ of the population of planet Earth, anyway, because Americans come from all over the planet. And you can’t say that Navaho Americans aren’t ‘real’ Americans because they aren’t Scottish Americans, or African Americans are not ‘real’ Americans because they are not Japanese Americans. 

Because Gene Roddenberry did not have time to invent dozens of alien races for the Federation and introduce them all before the storytelling got started, and because it was cheaper to have regular human actors without a ton of expensive time in the makeup chair, most people in the Federation seemed to either be Terrans or an alien species who looked exactly like Terrans.  The few exotics we saw (Andorians, Tellerites, Horta, Organians) spiced up the rest without scaring off too much of the American audience.

Or maybe the aliens of the original Star Trek WERE too much. The show was cancelled after 3 seasons, and never made it back to network television except for the cartoon Trek which also didn’t last long.

Hoping you had a happy Divine Mercy Sunday or Orthodox Easter,

Whether you celebrated or not (everyone should have a happy once in a while)

Nissa Annakindt

So, what do YOU think of my ‘key’ to the Star Trek aliens? Feel free to rant about how I’m all wrong and you, with your theory, are 100% correct. What do/did the Star Trek aliens mean to you? Or do you hate Star Trek and are ‘wrong’ enough to like other SF series better? 

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Matter Replicators in Science Fiction

They had them on the Starship Enterprise— machines that could give you whatever you wanted, from a cup of hot tea to a new uniform to a violin. But the idea goes back even further, to science fiction stories from the pulp fiction days.

The usual idea is this: a machine is invented that can turn energy into ‘stuff.’ Food items, manufactured goods, whatever. And since the cost of energy in these stories is significantly less than the cost of getting items through agriculture, mining and manufacturing, it ushers forth an age of prosperity and plenty.

Unless of course you are a farmer or factory worker, in which case your job is not only gone, but it is obsolete and won’t come back. And since the energy to work the replicators may be cheap but won’t be free, the unemployed won’t be able to eat, except through the charity of the employed. 

But who can be employed in the brave new replicator age? Almost everyone’s job will be gone. Of course some jobs will hang on due to tradition or politics. Public school teachers could easily be replaced by computer programs that won’t leave any child behind because each child will be treated as an individual— which public schools can’t or won’t do— but public school teachers unions are an important political force and source of campaign donations. So schools stay. They don’t even computerize instruction so that the actual school facilities would be only about the schools’ babysitting function. Because unionized teachers, no matter how dreadful, are sacrosanct. At least to the politicians that get money from teachers unions.

But when the vast majority of jobs are obsolete due to replicators, fewer jobs, even union ones, will be sacrosanct enough to hang on long. It’s like horse harness manufacturers once cars were invented and in use. Very few people are employed in that job today.

The jobs that will be booming are in replicator technology. There will be no replicator factories, just a big replicator replicating more replicators and replicator parts. But someone will need to take the newly replicated replicators and put them in boxes to ship to wherever replicators are needed/wanted. There will have to be replicator installers and repairmen. 

Craftsmen will become obsolete. Who will want a custom-made violin when every grade-school kid taking violin lessons can have a replicated Stradivarius? Even the most fashionable artist will have a hard time selling paintings when the customers could buy a replicated Rembrandt or Van Gogh for less. 

When writing a story in which replicator technology appears, you must decide on what the limitations of the technology are. Could you use a replicator to replicate people— perhaps make yourself an army of replicated trained soldiers? Or could you use a replicator to feed all the people of a starving Third World country? Or is replicator food not a true duplicate of the food it is intended to replicate. Maybe a replicated steak is high in carbs and low in protein and fat.

Who controls the replicators in your story world? If you have to be a member of a certain political party or faction in order to have access to replicators, what will that do to society? To democracy? And what happens to people who are on the outside and can’t get replicator access or replicated goods?

What are the social rules limiting what you can do with a replicator? Are there things you CAN do which are not allowed? Perhaps you COULD make an exact replica of the Mona Lisa with a replicator but there are laws and social taboos that would make it unthinkable. Or perhaps the replicator-owning caste doesn’t allow certain rich-people foods, like caviar or exotic mushrooms, to be replicated for the common people.

In the old Soviet Union, the saying among workers was ‘We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.’ If a socialist (or National Socialist) party had control of replicator technology, could they fulfill the broken promise of socialism and bring prosperity to the workers— or at least the ones that were loyal party members?

And what about working? Replicator technology might mean there were few people who actually needed to work. Would the non-working majority look down on the replicator repairmen? Or would there be an effort to allow the non-working ‘caste’ to die out— either through enforced ‘birth control’ or through more gruesome methods?

How would YOU write a story with replicator technology? What factors do you think are most important? Do you think replicator technology would be more of a blessing or more of a curse? Share your opinion in a comment!


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Should Your Author Blog be a Genre Blog?

So you have an author blog…. Maybe you are not even quite a published author yet. Maybe you started your blog to get a head start on that platform-building thing. But what do you blog about right now, when you don’t have any current book news of your own to crow about?

You might do a mitzvah for your new/just-starting-out writer friends by mentioning their stuff. That’s the right thing to do and it is kind, but just as there are not droves of readers panting for news about your upcoming book yet, other new writers have the same situation.

The solution for many is making a blog that is at least partly a genre blog. If you write Christian romance, you can review the most popular Christian romance books, interview the authors perhaps, talk about what is going on in that genre and subgenre, and build a platform that is right for your own books as well.

The same goes if you write atheist Westerns or cozy mysteries or ‘Young Adult’ dystopian novels. If you have nothing new to say about your own writing at the moment, put your own spin on the rest of the genre. Some people even create a multi-authored genre blog which will serve to help promote all the authors’ works (assuming someone involved in the project can actually get all of the authors involved to post regularly.)

One thing to watch out for— if your take on your own genre is largely negative, a genre blog is not right for you. I have encountered would-be authors of Christian fiction who proclaim that ALL Christian fiction is bad— too ‘edgy’ or not edgy enough, too preachy or not preachy enough, or just plain boring and tame. But if they had a blog and ran their genre down that way, they may convince their readers to give up on ALL Christian fiction, even that written by the blogger!

You need to have a mostly positive view of your genre. You can be against some works in your genre— I hate science fiction works where the story takes second place to collecting politically correct diversity points— but if you don’t have a lot of positive stuff to say about a genre, don’t think you can blog about it and win an audience.

Genre blogs are one choice for you when you have an author blog and are not quite sure what to do about it. Blogging frequently is important if you want to win new readers for your blog; genre blogging can help you build up a readership that is likely to enjoy your actual books when they come out. It’s not the only possible choice, though, so if you have something that works for you, stick with it.

Lenten greetings from,

Nissa Annakindt & her cats & critters


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Christian Writers and Christian Ignorance

One of the challenges for Christian writers (Catholic, Evangelical, Lutheran, all kinds) is that today’s Christians can be very ignorant of their own faith. And they are not doing anything to change that.

My mom (born in 1927) went to an Evangelical and Reformed church in Brillion, Wisconsin. When she got to a certain age, she had to take a catechism class. They had to memorize the (Reformed/Calvinist) catechism in order to learn the basics of Christianity, before they were allowed to be confirmed and to join the church.

Other Christian children went to Catholic or Lutheran schools instead of the public schools, where they had religious instruction every single day.

Contrast that to today in which many people become Christians after watching an evangelist on television. They ask Jesus into their heart, but they don’t know what to do next. They may try going to a church, but if they haven’t been to a church before it may just seem too weird. Or they may pick a church based on the type of church music used, or prefer one where the sermons sound like they were taken from a New Age self-help book.

Christian writers, people like that are a part of your audience. And it’s your mission, whether you like it or not, whether you feel qualified or not, to plant ‘seeds’ of Christian knowledge in your readers. (It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to make those seeds grow.)

One seed you could plant is the idea that it’s the norm for a Christian to have a daily Bible reading time. At least, it’s the norm today. In the early Church, Christians got their ‘dose’ of Bible at the church service when Bible passages were read. That’s why even today we have the custom of having set Bible readings each Sunday (and at daily Mass for Catholics) and many churches have united in using the same Bible readings— so that my mother at a Presbyterian church and I at a Catholic church would hear the same Bible readings.

Of course, it’s easier to plant this particular seed if you write contemporary fiction. In fantasy, things are different. Imagine if C. S. Lewis had wanted to plant a seed about Bible reading in the Narnia books. In Narnia, Christianity is represented largely by the Person of Aslan, the Jesus-like Lion. There is no holy book or holy scroll mentioned in the story. I suppose Lewis could have mentioned his characters regularly talking to one another about their memories of encounters with Aslan. Well, we’re writers. I suppose we are creative enough to find ways to plant this seed in any type of fiction.

There are three major methods that people use for their daily Bible readings. One, popular among Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans, is to read the assigned daily Mass readings for the day every day. Since these readings are read in daily Mass all over the world, people who do this are a part of the biggest Bible reading group in the world.

Another way is to follow a Bible reading plan which helps you to read through the whole Bible in a year. This is popular with Protestants— I know I had a guide to doing this printed in the back of a Bible I used during my Presbyterian childhood. There is also a Catholic guide to reading the Bible and Catechism in a year, put out by The Coming Home Network International. This is also good for Protestants who want to read the Deuterocanonical books also. (Both the King James Version translators and Martin Luther translated these books. These ‘Apocryphal’ books were not removed from English Bibles until much later. German Protestant Bibles still have them, tucked away between the Testaments.)

The third way of managing daily Bible reading is just picking and choosing passages. Some Christians are led astray by this: they may read the same few books over and over because they are familiar, or they may get into obscure Bible passages which they misunderstand. (This problem is why I encourage folks to read Bible commentaries by qualified Bible scholars, and why we attend churches with trained pastors who can help us through the difficult bits.)

Writers who are Christians may write ‘Christian fiction’ or may write for the mainstream market. But in either case, when you get known as a Christian writer, people will look up to you as a Christian leader. So we need to do our own Bible reading so we can pass on what we’ve learned through our fiction— or at least not lead people astray. (I must now end this post since I haven’t done my daily Bible reading yet today. I’m doing Genesis and Psalms with a commentary, as well as reading the Catechism passages from the Coming Home Network guide. You don’t want to know how many years it’s taking me to ‘read the Bible and Catechism in a year!)

Mediums, Psychics and other Fantasy Creatures

Recently I’ve been buying and reading some of the books in Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters series, and have read ‘A Study in Sable,’ which features Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson (& Mrs. Watson) as characters. But what the book also features is Sarah Lyon-White, a medium, and Nan Killian, a psychic.

The disturbing part is that in the real world when we encounter someone who is labelled a medium or a psychic, we are encountering a con artist. Some of the ‘information’ provided by these con artists is the result of secret research— they know Mrs. Smith’s only son recently died, or that Mr. Terry has certain financial woes. Other information comes from the process of ‘cold reading.’ The psychic/medium guesses, ‘I see an older male spirit who wishes to speak to you,’ and they can tell by the subject’s reaction whether that’s what they are looking for. If the cold reader guesses wrong, he’ll say ‘No, not a older male, it’s a female.’ The subjects tend to forget the wrong initial guesses and say ‘that psychic was so great, she knew is was my great-aunt Felicity I wanted to contact and that she was an embalmer and had four children and a pet orangutan.’ Even though the cold reader guessed wrong two dozen times to come up with that info.

The medium character is used to place tired old Spiritualist ideas into the story, like the idea that ghosts surround us and can communicate, using the proper medium, that some of the dead stay because they don’t know they are dead or that they fear the ‘false’ idea of hellfire, and that other disembodied spirits have unfinished business like hidden finances they want to tell their widow about or solving their own murders.

These Spiritualist ideas are not backed by any scientific research. They also go against what Judaism and Christianity have taught about what comes after death. The problem with embedding these ideas in fantasy fiction is that some readers think that the author is endorsing the real-world Spiritualist viewpoint as true.

The medium and psychic characters are also referred to as having ‘gifts’— clairvoyance and telepathy, respectively. There is nothing in Judeo-Christian teaching which says having clairvoyance and telepathy are sins, but there is nothing in the Bible or in the Church Fathers to indicate that clairvoyance or telepathy were even known to the Biblical authors or the Fathers. And science has examined the ideas of telepathy and clairvoyance and not had any great success in finding people with these gifts.

‘A Study in Sable’ and books like it bring with it a moral problem. If some readers might be led astray into accepting mediums and psychics as real, we can’t honestly recommend the books to others. We probably shouldn’t be reading books like this too often even if we DO know better. Both from a scientific and a Judeo-Christian perspective, this book and those like it present a problem.

Now, I have been reading Mercedes Lackey books obsessively for years and I just presumed that Lackey was a neopagan or Wiccan  of some flavor, and had a low opinion of Christians that might be termed ‘hate’ if Christian-hate were considered bad like antisemitism and Muslim-hate are. But I have heard from a Christian writer that she met Mrs Lackey at a writing conference and that she says she is a Christian. Given the viewpoints in her books, however, one can’t term them ‘Christian fiction’ in any sense, and I don’t know if Mrs Lackey goes to a church that teaches historic Christianity or a ‘post-Christian’ church like the Presbyterian denomination I grew up in, the PC-USA (which is ‘post-Christian’ because it no longer requires members or clergy to believe/teach anything specific about Jesus Christ, like He is part of the Holy Trinity and the Son of God.)

I still enjoy reading Mercedes Lackey books in spite of content concerns, but I do not recommend them to teenagers, people in their twenties, or Christians who have not learned their catechism yet. You need a bunch of knowledge and discernment under your belt first, if you don’t want to be led astray.

 

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How To Dispose of a Dead Body

I must point out right away that’s I’m talking about fictional bodies here— if you have a real-world corpse around, the only solution is to summon the police immediately. Yes, even if you were the one that caused the corpse to be a corpse. Immediate police summoning is for the best. Imagine how much easier O. J. Simpson’s life would have been if he’d called the police as soon as he got done murdering Nicole and Ron. He’d have had to do a little time for manslaughter, they would have written it off as a crime of passion, and when he got out no one would have been mad at him but Nicole and Ron’s families.

Fictional dead bodies are a fact of the writing life. If you go in for writing murder mysteries, they are your bread and butter. (Or steak and salad, if you are doing Keto.) But almost any other type of fiction might have a murder or a murder mystery in it.

There are three basic methods murderers have used to deal with the corpses they make. I suppose there are a few other methods but they are for the most part a variant on one of the three themes. Except for that fellow who killed his mistress, stripped her corpse to the bones, and sold her skeleton to a medical school (H. H. Holmes.) Different types of murderer do different things with the body, depending on their personalities and what situations they are living in. Here are the main methods of body disposal.

Leave the corpse where it falls. This is the method famously used by Jack the Ripper. It served him well in the Victorian era when the police knew next to nothing about forensics. Modern let-‘em-lie killers have to worry about leaving any evidence behind with the corpse. In the modern age, it’s best for those killers who use a gun or who are efficient users of a knife or machete. You want as little contact with the victim as you can so you leave little to no evidence.

The problem for many types of murderer is that they want to do something to the victim that would lead to evidence. Murderers who sexually assault their victims before or after the murder risk leaving a sample of their DNA around where it will do the police the most good.

Keep the corpse around the house or yard. John Wayne Gacy famously hid his victims in the crawl space under his house. Christie left his backlog of corpses all over 10 Rillington Place. The advantage of this method is that you have the corpse someplace that you have control over. If you have a corpse in the downstairs loo, you needn’t allow your guests to use that particular facility.

The disadvantage, though, is that once the police take a look at your place, it’s hard to deny responsibility for the corpses they find. They are on your property (or your rented home) in any case. Who else could have done it? Mind you, Christie managed to blame a dead woman, her dead unborn baby, and her dead toddler on the woman’s husband, who was executed for it since the police didn’t do a thorough search and find the other bodies Christie had around the place.

Dump the corpse somewhere remote. This gets the corpse far away from the murderer and gives the body time to decompose before discovery. It’s the method used by Casey Anthony in getting rid of her daughter’s body— by the time it was discovered, the coroner could no longer say what the exact method of murder was.

The problem is that most of us don’t know of properly remote locations that are not connected to us. We may think of that wooded area we found on a deer-hunting trip, but not realize that it’s pretty close to the parking lot of a busy tavern, or that the dirt road that leads there is someone’s driveway.

Some people have used city parks as body dump locations. Thousands of people have access to these city parks, and so the location doesn’t point to any one person as murderer. If the park has some remote spots, you can even hope to not have the body discovered for some time.

Remotely dumped bodies can remain undiscovered for months or years, or can be found almost immediately— perhaps soon enough that witnesses can describe the murderer and his vehicle which were parked near the body-dump site. It’s a crap shoot, but even the most dim-bulb type of murderer usually thinks he can be clever in finding a good body dump site.

As a writer, it is up to you to decide how soon your fictional corpse gets discovered and what evidence may be found along with it. It all depends on what works in your story. For the main murder in a murder mystery, you are expected to make it a little more clever that real-life murders usually are. For example, don’t have your murderer dump the corpse right next to where his dad’s deer hunting cabin is. Fictional murderers need to be smarter than that.

Nominal Christians in Fiction and Real Life

Particularly for authors who are Christians of one sort or another, or authors who write for the Christian fiction markets, it is important to distinguish between Christians and nominal Christians.

In the United States, a person can follow any religion he likes, or no religion. And he can call himself a Christian whether or not that is particularly true. So there are a lot of people walking around with the ‘Christian’ tag on them who do not meet the normative definition of ‘Christian.’

Some Christians say that real Christians are ones that have had a ‘born again’ experience that they remember, or that have gone forward at a ‘altar call’ in Evangelical churches that have that practice. Other Christians say that being an active Christian can start at the sacrament of baptism, even an infant baptism, and can continue as a child is raised in a Christian home where prayer and church attendance are the norm.

A nominal Christian is a Christian ‘in name only.’ Why does he take the name of Christian? For some people, claiming Christianity as a religion is just another way of saying ‘my family is not Jewish.’ If they have parents, grandparents or great-grandparents who were raised as Christians, they feel they are Christian enough— they are just not ‘fanatics’ about it.

Other people honestly think that if they believe in God and sometimes ask this God for stuff, like help in an emergency or a winning lottery ticket, that makes them Christian, unless their family was Jewish or they have taken up Buddhist meditation.

It does not help that in addition to the faithful Christians— Protestant and Catholic— who believe something that a Christian from 200 years ago would recognize as Christian, there are also very progressive Christians who make headlines. For example, some progressive Christians have blessed abortion centers and said that committing abortions is what Jesus would do. That reinforces a perception that in Christianity, anything goes and you can believe any old thing and it can be part of Christianity.

Nominal Christianity is not the same thing as progressive Christianity. Progressive Christians, as far off from the New Testament as their faith can be, are living a faith that they believe is the modern version of Christianity. Nominal Christians aren’t actively practicing any faith at all. They don’t usually know enough about Christianity to know there is something missing in their faith life.

In fiction, nominal Christians play a role in Christian fiction often by being an obstacle or a challenge to active Christians. In the ‘Left Behind’ series, the main characters included nominal Christians who became real Christians after the shock of the ‘rapture’ event.

In secular fiction, nominal Christians are often seen as sensible and non-fanatic Christians by those writers who know little. Though I’ve never read a book in which a man who doesn’t own a Koran, has never fasted for Ramadan, and who has never been to a mosque or said even one of the five daily Muslim prayers is named as a ‘non-fanatic Muslim.’ Muslims are expected to have some hints of their faith in their lives, both in fiction and in real life. Christians should have that as well. If they don’t, but still say they are Christians, we may suspect that perhaps they are nominal Christians.

Authors who know better should never present nominal Christians as ‘better’ Christians, any more than the no-mosque, no-prayer guy is a ‘better’ Muslim. Religions, both in the real world and our fictional worlds, have content. Nominal Christians, or nominal Muslims, or nominal Buddhists lack that content and so should not be representative of those faiths.

Is That Dragon Really Necessary?

One problem writers sometimes have is when they toss in a story element— such as a dragon in fantasy fiction— that isn’t really integrated with the rest of the story. It’s just something the writer happens to like in fiction, so he throws it in.

But story elements— whether dragons or robots or foreign spies— can’t just stand around looking genre-specific. They must be a part of the story. A dragon may be part of a hero’s quest— he might have to slay the dragon, or trick the dragon, or get the dragon to fall in love with his pet donkey (Shrek reference.)

Sometimes dragons are more than an obstacle for a hero. Think of the Dragon Jousters series by Mercedes Lackey, or the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik, or the Pern series by Anne McCaffrey and son— in all of these, dragons are central to the story. Without dragons, you couldn’t have these stories. Or, at least, they would be utterly different stories.

By now I’m sure I have some writers saying ‘that blogger wants me to take the dragon out and I won’t! I won’t.’ Well, you don’t have to. You just have to know how the dragon fits in to your story and your story’s world.

In some fantasy novels, facing a dragon can be part of a quest. The reader may go through chapters of the quest without knowing for sure there is a dragon in the book— authors don’t have to mention ‘here be dragons’ when they start a fantasy novel in a fantasy world. Now, if the dragon is in contemporary Green Bay, Wisconsin, I’d want to know why. Or if the dragon is a Packers fan. Or something.

Dragons can be central to some stories, as in the three series I mentioned above. Think of these stories as an endless ‘what if’ game. If they had dragons in the Napoleonic wars, how would the dragons be raised? How would they be trained? How would a nation have enough meat to feed hungry war dragons? And so on. Answering all the dragon-questions is almost like a game between author and reader.

Fictional dragons can come in many sorts. The dragons in the Dragon Jouster series are animals, and so cannot speak. Dragons in the Temeraire and Pern series do speak— the Pern dragons telepathically, the Temeraire dragons verbally. The dragons can have different abilities, be different colors, and be at different intelligence levels.

Christian fiction can have a problem with dragons. I have read that some Christians— both Evangelical and Catholic— look on a dragon as a symbol of evil as in the Biblical book of Revelation. But if that is a restriction on a Christian’s ability to write non-evil dragons, then what about writing about nice goats (as in Heidi?) The Bible does speak of the sin goat and separating the sheep from the goats. As a person who has kept actual sheep and actual goats, yeah, sometimes the goats are more ‘sinful,’ or harder to handle. But sheep can be that way, too. And I’ve never heard yet that the Serpent in the Garden of Eden means that a Christian author can’t write a character whose son has a pet snake. So, even though I am a Christian I feel perfectly free to include nice dragons, goats or snakes in a story.

I love dragons. I love stories with dragons. But if the dragon in your fiction doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the story, you may have to make a choice— either lose the dragon, or change the story so the dragon bit of it fits in better with the rest. You are the author— it’s up to you to decide how that will happen.  Happy dragoning!