How to Research a Genre #writing #genre

Whether a writer is trying a new genre or continuing in an old genre, genre research is a good idea. Lawrence Block, who wrote ‘Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print’ gives some instruction on how to do this research.

Block gave the example of how he did research for writing mystery short stories for various mystery magazines that in those long-ago days were plentiful. He admits voraciously reading through every magazine of that type he could get.

Since Block encouraged young writers to start with a novel since the short story markets had almost vanished, he suggested reading 8-12 books in the genre. But when he got more specific he suggested starting with six books by six different writers, some established writers in the field and some newer ones.

I would suggest a little more organized approach. Step One: Google the name of the genre. You want to find out: are there alternate names for the genre? Who are the big name writers in the genre right now? Who were the classic writers that were active earlier in the genre history? Can you find any current list of the best-selling books in the genre?

Don’t skip this step if you have been writing in the genre, have been reading the genre since age 8. You need to expand your knowledge and can’t do that sticking to the same old websites and same old writers.

After the research, pick some books. Pick 2-3 books from the current best-seller list, 2-3 books from current authors in the genre, and 2-3 from newer, less known authors.

In the book, Block gives as his example gothic novels. This was a sub-genre of romance. When I was a girl, there were whole sections of just gothic novels in shops. Then the genre pretty much died. The top writers of gothics started calling their books ‘romantic suspense’ or some such thing. I thought it was kind of interesting that Block just randomly picked a doomed genre as his example genre. It shows that a writer needs to be flexible in genre matters.

If you chose ‘science fiction’ as your genre, and you are a Christian, should you limit your reading to just Christian science fiction? Not really. Christian fiction in its broader sense— including not just Evangelicals but Catholic, Lutheran, and even Mormon authors— is still a limited group. Most Christians read more secular novels than specifically Christian ones.

Of course in the science fiction genre we are plagued by a lot of ‘award-winning’ authors that have no interesting ideas but are filled with Social Justice Warrior (SJW) conformity, and just the right kind of non-diverse left-wing diversity with a touch of fashionable hatred for ‘religious people’, mainly Christians and Jews.  If you are picking random books by random authors you may get stuck with one of these books. If the author is a newbie in the field, feel free not to finish the book, but if he/she/they/zie are well-established and actually make the genre best-seller lists, you may feel the need to force your way through it for educational purposes. I’d suggest rationing the poison, and reading a bit of something you actually LIKE after to get the stupidness purged from your mind.

Block suggests in the book that you don’t just read the books, but you write outlines of them This helps you see the structure of the book.

How do you write outlines for a book you are reading? Keep a notepad nearby. When you finish a chapter, write the main things that happen in the chapter. Page back so that you get all the character names right. Make sure that your chapter notes run to several sentences so that you get the main points covered.

When you finish the book, go through your chapter notes. If you have written a longish paragraph for each chapter, try to condense it down to two sentences covering the most important things. The desire is to end up with a tighter outline.

Now, read your draft 2 outline. Can you detect the three acts of the three act structure? Or the doorway of no return and the mirror moment that James Scott Bell speaks of in his how-to-write books?

After you have read through several books in this way, answer some questions. What do the books have in common? What is the minimum that readers of the genre expect, to show that the book IS in the genre? What are some plot elements that are so common in the genre that they might be stereotypes?

If you are trying a genre for the first time, genre research is essential so that you are able to actually know the genre requirements and expectations, and meet them. A more practiced writer in a genre may do research in order to renew their enthusiasm, and to detect changes in the genre. This is important if you tend to read the same authors over and over for years, and are reluctant to try new authors.

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Celebrate the Small Things: Short Story Finished

Celebrate blog hopThis is my first time with a new blog hop, Celebrate the Small Things, and what could be smaller than a short story? Once there were so many short story magazines that many writers made a full time living at them. Then the magazines disappeared, and the few who were left didn’t raise their pay rates in decades.

Author and writing-coach Lawrence Block in 1979 wrote in ‘Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print’ that young writers ought not to bother writing even one short story. They should go straight to the novel.

I followed that advice with the result that I’ve written a large number of novel-beginnings with no endings. Not surprising. As a poet I mostly write short poems. I’ve even started writing haiku in the past couple of years. And so for many years the only thing I’ve published were poems and I felt like a failure.

Recently I was sick and a kindly doctor actually prescribed some hardcore pain pills for the accompanying pain. In the drug-fog I watched television reports of the race riots in Baltimore and I thought that the color of people’s skin was about as significant as the color of their shirts. There might as well be headlines: ‘Green-shirted Man Dies in Custody of Red-shirted Police Officers’.

Which in my drug-altered state led me to a weird idea of a city with people in all sorts of exotic skin colors, blue, violet, aqua, orange, red…. and the people change their skin color by means of skin shirts. I wrote the story and have now got with it to the point that I put it up as notes on my Facebook page, so a few friends of mine could read it and perhaps give me reactions before I do the final edits before e-book publication.

You are welcome to read it also (and more than welcome to ‘like’ my author page): https://www.facebook.com/notes/nissa-annakindt-poet-aspie-cat-person/the-skin-shirt-a-short-story-thats-not-about-race/449762488528479 As of this moment the first two parts of the story are up, and the third and final part will be published tomorrow. I also have a book cover— simple, but functional.

I’m wondering if perhaps the new publishing age we live in will create a renaissance for the short story. We can self-publish them as e-books, and even make them available for free (on Smashwords at least, Kindle insists on 99 cent minimum.) And writers of novels can write a short story in the same world as their novel, and make the story a ‘free sample’ for their full-length book.

Do you read short stories? Have you written one? How do you feel about short stories, as a reader or as a writer?

Find the other ‘Celebrate the Small Things’ blogs here: http://lexacain.blogspot.com/2015/01/celebrate-small-things.html


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Are you a writer, and do you feel your author blog could be better, or have more traffic? I feel the same way. And so I’ve started on a massive blog-improvement project which I am documenting in my blog post series Antimatter Blogs: How to Make your Blog Explode.

Each week (or so) I will post about something practical in relation to blog improvement. For example, next time I think I will cover how to use Twitter to get more blog readers.

‘Antimatter Blogs’ also has a linky list, which is at: http://linalamont2.blogspot.com/p/antimatter-blogs-linky-list.html It’s on a Blogger blog since WordPress.com is notoriously uncool about making these type of lists appear in posts. Once we get a few ‘Antimatter Bloggers’ on the list, it will be a great place to consult if you are looking for blogs to comment on.

To participate in the Antimatter Blogs blog improvement project:

  1. Follow this blog, using whatever method you use to follow blogs.
  2. Sign up on the linky list.
  3. Begin to follow the suggestions to help your blog improve and get more traffic.
  4. Suggestion One: Comment on other people’s blogs daily
  5. Hashtag #AntimatterBlogs

 

 

IWSG: Insecure? Because We’re Writers….

InsecureWritersSupportGroup2This is a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group bloghop. It is scheduled for the first Wednesday of the month. TODAY is the first Wednesday of the month. So it’s not too late to join up— unless you are reading this tomorrow.

Why are writers insecure? Because we’re writers! Writing is a lonely business, from the day when you bat out your first, poorly-thought-out short story attempt until you reach the Stephen King level of success. And in our culture, we’re taught that doing things by ourselves is bad.

Schools have taught us that everything, even going to the bathroom, must be done as a group project. When teachers assigned us something in the creative-writing realm— if they ever did— they try to turn it into something more compatible with group activity. They don’t ask us to write a poem, they instruct us to count out 5-7-5 syllables and call the result a ‘haiku’. Because that way the bulk of our class time is spent in a group— having the syllable-counting explained to us, showing us examples of syllable-counted ‘haiku’, and after comparing the student-written ‘haiku’ and condemning those examples which strayed overly far from the models given.

Real writing is nothing like that. No one gives you the assignment. Something that starts out as a historical romance trilogy might end up as a Western novella— but since you are working on your own, no one will care, since it’s only the finished product that counts. And so by identifying yourself as a writer, you are identifying yourself as something scary— a loner, one of those quiet types, no one ever suspected….

The amateur writing world has plenty of chances to ease your insecurity by making your writing efforts more ‘groupish’. You are urged to sign up for NaNoWriMo where, in addition to writing to someone else’s word count goals, you are encouraged to use part of your writing time discussing all your plot points on the forum— and abandoning those that fail the group-think test. And then when you are finished with your NaNo novel, you are told that you are now required to hire an editor-for-hire, and then create a rewrite incorporating the editor-for-hire’s suggestions. And then you self-publish it and it’s OK that it doesn’t sell because the writing isn’t really yours any more, after all.

I find that any attempt to make my writing ‘groupish’ causes writing failure. Lawrence Block once refused to give many details about a current writing project of his, saying he didn’t want to ‘leave his fight in the gym’.

I don’t know much about the boxing metaphor but I do know that the more I talk over my story idea, the less likely it is that I will gather the strength and creativity to get that story idea down on paper. I can TALK about a story, or WRITE it, but not both.

And so I am a lonely and therefore insecure writer, putting in months of toil on writing ideas I haven’t laid out before a suitable group to gain their criticism, praise and permission-to-proceed. Only after I have committed a great deal of effort to making my fiction the best, it can be will any people be allowed to see it, and by then any criticism or praise will hurt all the more since at that point there will be limits to what I am able to change.

But that’s the writer’s life— my life, your life, Stephen King’s life before he was killed by his evil pen name and replaced…. So if you are feeling lonely and insecure today, congratulations. You may be a REAL writer!

Big Goals, Little Goals (Yes, I Forgot the Goals Bloghop)

Do You Have Goals bannerThis ought to have been my post for the Do You Have Goals/Five Year Project Bloghop. And I was really gonna do it on time this past Friday. But, well…. stuff.

Sometimes it’s easier to set a big goal: ‘I’m going to be an NFL quarterback’, or ‘I’m going to be a rock star’ or ‘I’m going to be a best-selling author like Stephen King or Lawrence Block or St. Luke’. Because when you set a big goal like that you don’t always think about all the little goals you will have to complete to get to where the big goal is even a remote possibility.

And it’s not always easy to find out what YOU will have to do to meet your goal. I mean, I can read about what Lawrence Block and Stephen King did in their early writing days. Only things have changed in the writing world since then. Lawrence Block made a decent living for a number of years writing short stories for the many magazines that were paying markets for such things in those years. Nearly all of those magazines are gone now, and even a great short story writer can’t pay the bills by writing short stories for the one-or-two magazines that are left.

Orson Scott Card won the Hugo and Nebula awards two years in a row, and people knew he was a Mormon who hadn’t rejected his faith. But these days, I doubt a writer who was not fully on board with gay marriage and abortion would have a shot at major awards— even Orson Scott Card is routinely cursed as a ‘homophobe’ and a ‘hater’ in spite of the fact that he’s written a highly sympathetic gay male character in one of his novel series.

Looking at the big goal too much can make us crazy. Or make us believe the writing scams out there that the current way to writing success is to pay big bucks to the latest iteration of the vanity press.

I think for now I’m going to look at my little goals— the little things I have to do RIGHT NOW to take a step forward in my writing. At the moment it’s a short story/novella called ‘Rigord Trails’, a story set on a distant planet, but a story with a bit of a western feel— it’s set on a cattle drive, only the role of cattle is being played by lizardy things called ‘rigords’. And my next step is to find some names for my main characters, and some place names and odd words. So that’s my little goal— for today.