Tuesday, December 18, 2012


I hope you all are enjoying the holidays!
As the year draws to a close, I usually take stock: How did I do with my goals for the year, in particular with my writing goals? Some of these goals included polishing my query and synopsis for my MFA novel and querying it; finishing up my time-travel novel, writing a query letter and synopsis, and querying; writing/polishing various short stories and submitting them; querying my favorite novel as opportunities arise, keep writing the three new novels I'm working on. So, the good news is: I achieved all my goals! I actually even had one pro sale, a short story. W00t!

However, I received at least 100 rejections this year. Ugh. Intellectually, I know querying and being rejected is part of the authors job but... Ugh. So, in case you received some rejections in 2012 there are some tales of woe that should make you feel better at the awesome website: http://www.literaryrejections.com/best-sellers-initially-rejected/

Keep on trying! Good luck to all of us in 2013!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

lab lit?

There's been some hubbub around cyberspace lately about a new genre of fiction called "lab lit", short for laboratory literature. For example, last week Katherine Bouton discussed it in The New York Times: "In Lab Lit, Fiction Meets Science of the Real World". Bouton says Lab lit is not science fiction, and in my opinion it’s not historical fiction about actual scientists.... Bouton also refers to LabLit.com, 'the culture of science in fiction & fact,' and quotes, lab lit "depicts realistic scientists as central characters and portrays fairly realistic scientific practice or concepts, typically taking place in a realistic — as opposed to speculative or future — world."

There's even a wikipedia entry: Lab lit, which states Lab lit is a genre of fiction that centres on realistic portrayals of scientists, and science as a profession.

Let's take a step back. What exactly is science fiction? I interviewed one of the world's foremost experts on this in 2007. James E. Gunn said, Science fiction is the literature of change; science fiction is the literature of the human species; science fiction is a (note not "the") literature of ideas. If I had to choose one, slightly longer, it would be: Science fiction is the literature of the human condition experiencing meaningful change.
So, does lab lit fit into this definition? Yes?

As a speculative fiction editor, the question of a story's genre does come up from time to time. I must admit if a story could all be true, I reject it as not speculative fiction. Of course, truth in science is a moving target. Faster-than-light neutrinos would be science fiction. Higgs bosons would not be science fiction.

So, what do you think? Is lab lit a genre? Is it separate from science fiction? I'm undecided...

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


I've been procrastinating horribly for the last few days and not doing my writing. Today, I decided enough is enough, put on my ipod, and forced myself to get busy. Suffice it to say, I got some stuff done I needed to get done. W00t! As a reward, I goofed around cyberspace a bit and came across: "The Complete American Gods Mix Tape" by Bridget McGovern over at tor.com . W00t! This combines a plethora of neat things including Gaiman, American Gods, TOR, music, and HBO. Check it out. :)

McGovern begins with If you’re familiar with Neil Gaiman’s work, then you know that music tends to play an important part in his writing, both on and off the page. This raises the question, does music play an important part in your writing?
I believe music makes me more productive. It shuts out the world's distractions and enables my creative juices to flow more easily. And, yes, I'm listening right now. :)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I hope many of you are finishing up NanoWriMo with successful results. I know it's a tough slog but it can teach us something about persistence. Of course, there are other ways to learn about persistence, too. IMHO, persistence is one of the most important qualities for an author. We have to keep going, keep writing, to finish our stories and novels. Then, we have to keep editing and revising. When we finally finish our WIP, we have to send out submission after submission, query after query. Even after achieving some success, we have to keep writing, keep trying. It goes on an on.

Personally, I had some near misses this year with editors and agents. They're almost worse than outright rejections, because you do get your hopes up--and then dashed. Ugh.
So, as I force myself to keep trying, to be persistent, I hope I can encourage you to do the same. Good luck, keep writing, and keep the faith!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Story Endings

I get the chance to read a lot of short fiction, both published and un-published. The most crucial part of a story is the ending. It's the payoff. Readers read until the end to get this payoff. What happens if your story doesn't have this payoff? I'll tell you: trouble. Readers are not satisfied and editors are not buying. Please make sure your story has a payoff. I concede for every rule there's an exception. A few authors make a good living not including endings (Kelly Link comes to mind).
Here are some tips for satisfying story payoffs:
  • allude to, and resolve--one way or another--the story's major conflict. Notice this means your story must have a major conflict. Actually, this also means your protagonist must have a goal and motivation (and the reader needs to know these). The conflict is what stops him/her from achieving this goal.
  • are a consequence of the protagonist's actions. Notice this means your protagonist must act. Note, too, the protag can succeed or fail, but it must be because of what he/she does.
  • are integrated with the story elements. All the parts of the story should be intertwined, should mesh together. Even surprise endings should utilize story elements--they're a surprise because they alter our perception of existing elements.
  • evoke an emotional reaction in the reader. I admit this is tricky. The idea here is readers become the characters when reading fiction. Authors want the reader to empathize with the characters, to feel what they feel, and to understand them.
  • speaks to the beginning. I like to look at my first page and my last page, and make sure they have some theme, phrase, or other element in common. Some people call this circularity. Some people call it bookending. This works great with novels, too.
  • Your tip here. What do you think?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Review: The Signal

I recently had the opportunity to read The Signal by Rebecca S.W. Bates, a short speculative fiction novel published in 2012. The blurb says,
A warning signal or an offer of peace?

The signal arrives from deepest space. Landon Walker--Earth's radical expert in communication--refuses to believe it's a warning. Called back to headquarters in Brazil, he reluctantly teams up with other top scientists to decode the message.

At the same time, shamans in primitive societies around the world seem to know what the signal means. But they are all dying for their effort. Decoding the signal may lead Landon to the same fate.

Then the signal targets Landon's baby daughter, and suddenly its message becomes crystal clear. He must act to save her--and all of Earth

This was a rip-roaring adventure in the classic science fiction style. There are space ships and a mysterious signal, neat tech, colorful characters, disasters, and even possibly...aliens.

The future world Bates creates is familiar and yet very different from our present, with a myriad of environmental and cultural changes. What differentiates this story from classic science fiction, however, is the inclusion of Brazilian culture and mythology. Bates clearly has a good understanding of what, to many Americans, is an exotic culture in itself, Brazil. In addition, one of the pivotal characters is the daughter/niece of two of the main characters--which is also unusual.

While the main plot lines of the book are resolved, I suspect most reader will be left asking for more. Luckily, this is the first book of a trilogy, so readers will get more. I can't wait!

Get more info about the book, including the free first chapter, at the publisher's website: DM Kreg Publishing.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

literary tension

Some of my writer friends and I have been discussing literary tension. What the heck is this, anyway? Recall, in general, tension is mental, emotional, or nervous strain. I think the thing to keep in mind, however, is we want to evoke tension in the reader. Tension is the mechanism we employ to make the reader want to keep reading. We want the reader to wonder, "What happens next?"

Often in critique groups, it seems like tension gets a bit mixed up with conflict. Literary conflict is something different. Conflict is when something or someone stops a character in a story from reaching his/her goal; it can be an external or internal obstacle. The reader has to know what the goal is for this to work. I would say tension, then, is a result of conflict. The reader wonders, "Will the character overcome this conflict?"

How, then, do writers create tension? In a nutshell, the author has to evoke questions for the reader and not answer them right away.
how-to-evoke-tension suggestions from around cyberspace include utilizing:

  • a mystery or puzzle--The classic here is, of course, a dead body or other committed crime that must be solved. But an author could also have a secret, a magic ring, locked treasure chest, etc. that the reader wants to find the answer to.
  • a solution--The author tells the reader the end of the story and the reader wants to find out how the story gets there. A lot of thrillers utilize this, e.g. bad guys are going to blow up the world unless... Come to think of it, romances use this method as well: the reader knows the boy and girl (or whatever) will get together at the end, but how does it happen?
  • Related to the solution is the author actually telling the reader things. I see this a lot in the beginning of (successful!) books. Recall my Begin with telling post.
  • present hints and possibilities--Savvy readers know when an author spends time on a character or object it's important, e.g. gun on the mantle, suspicious janitor, etc. Readers wonder, "What's up with that? What's up with him?" This method could also encompass multiple plot lines or protagonists. Readers want to know how they all fit together. Plus, as an added bonus, when you change point-of-view it evokes tension in the reader: "Wait. What happens next with this first guy?"
  • knowledgable reader--Here, the reader knows more than the characters, often because of multiple points-of-view. The reader gets to see them all, but the characters do not. "Oh, no! That guy she's dating is the guy that killed her sister. " :) Horror stories often utilize this. Readers know the character should not go into the basement. Alone. At night. Bare foot. In her negligee. With a killer on the loose. In the house...
What do you think? What's a good way to evoke tension?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

publishing news

My author friends are all a-twitter about Penguin and Random House combining to form the world’s largest book publisher. Of course, any deal that big will be subject to regulatory approval. The deal should close in the second half of 2013, and the new firm will be called Penguin Random House.
There's a really nice article over at www.digitalbookworld.com as well as several related articles such as What the Random/Penguin Merger Means to You. Certainly, some employees of these two companies will lose their jobs. But probably if you're a writer with one of these publishers--and you're selling--the merger won't affect you. Why? Because authors produce the product, and there is no publishing business without them. Also, frankly, authors aren't that expensive. It's not like they give us health insurance or anything like that.

This deal is a symptom of the chaotic publishing industry and I'm sure it won't be the last big change we see. As a bibliophile, I really, really hope publishers and paper books continue for a long time.

What do you think? Are big publishers an endangered species?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

dialogue tips from a master

I went to a fun conference this past weekend: MileHiCon, the annual Denver science fiction conference. A highlight was the dialogue workshop taught by Grand Master Connie Willis. Here are some of her tips (in no particular order):
  • Dialogue is not like real-life conversation. It's more concise. Omit all those 'hellos' and 'goodbyes' and 'ums.'
  • Don't use too many dialogue tags. Use as few tags as possible, without confusing the reader.
  • Authors shouldn't write more than about four lines of uninterrupted dialogue. No soliloquies unless your name happens to end in Shakespeare.
  • Characters should never talk about things they both already know. For example, a character should never say, "As you know, Bob, we've been married forty years."
  • The exception to the above rule is: unless it's in a fight. For example, in an argument you could say something like, "Bob! We've been married forty years and you've never once picked up your socks!"
  • Dialogue should serve a purpose such as moving the story forward, giving information, and/or contributing to characterization. The more it accomplishes, the better!
  • Create subtext in your dialogue. How? Use non-verbal communication to suggest something different from what the characters are actually saying. Willis used some movie clips as examples. In the 1966 film Walk, Don't Run a couple sits in the back of a cab. The woman talks about how wonderful her fiancee is, all the while gazing in infatuation at the man sitting next to her (not her fiancee). The man starts kissing her and she kisses back and talks about wonderful fiancee "Mr." Haversack. It's a fun and effective scene.
That's all I remember for now.
What are your dialogue tips?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

author discovery

I discovered a new author recently: K.A. Bedford.
K.A. Bedford has a very good series which starts with Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait. I know, how could it not be good with a title like that? The hero is Aloysius "Spider" Webb, a disgraced police officer, who fixes time machines and hates his job. The story really begins with Spider finding a time machine hidden within another broken time machine containing a dead body. What starts as a simple curiosity that his former police training can't ignore, grows to encompass alternate time-lines, future versions of himself... Well, I don't want to give too much away. Suffice it to say, the plotting, world-building, and characterization will have you hooked.
Paradox Resolution continues the adventure. The blurb says, Aloysius ‘Spider’ Webb fixes time machines for a living. He’s a hard working ­Australian bloke — a good man in a bad ­situation who is willing to do almost anything to regain his self-respect and the affection of his nearly ­ex-wife, Molly; a mad sculptress on her way to international fame and fortune. Spider’s new boss at the Time ­Machines Repaired While-U-Wait franchise needs help: his ­secretly built, totally ­illegal, ­radically over-clocked, hotrod time ­machine has been stolen, and Spider is the right man to get it back before it falls into the wrong hands, or worse, inadvertently destroys the entire universe.
You can even read chapter one here.
Have you discovered any new authors lately?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

quantum fiction

I have a confession: I love quantum physics. So, as you might imagine I'm pretty jazzed that a scientist from one of my alma maters just won the Nobel Prize in Physics. The Nobel Prize in Physics 2012 was awarded jointly to Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland "for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems". Read all about it on The Novel Prize in Physics site.

So, of course, I also love quantum fiction and often write it and read it. In case you aren't familiar with the term, Wikipedia says Quantum fiction is a literary genre that reflects modern experience of the material world and reality as influenced by quantum theory and new principles in quantum physics.

Last week I discovered author Paul Melko. His novel The Walls of the universe is quintessential quantum fiction and so good. John Rayburn, an Ohio farmboy, is tricked by his own doppelganger into using a broken universe-hopping device, sending him on a one-way trip to a dozen other, bizarre universes. He must use his wits to find his way back to his home universe, without running afoul of the mysterious forces afoot in the multiverse.
His novel Broken Universe is also very good. John and his friends have been trapped in a parallel universe while they try to build dimension-hopping transfer device, and when they finally get back to their home universe, they find that the Alarians have exploited the homemade transfer device john left behind. John and his team have got to stop them before they use the transfer device to unleash themselves upon the multiverse. Along the way, John and friends recruit an army of their doppelgangers to help them build a transdimensional company.
Besides the awesome plotting and really cool quantum physics ideas, these novels work because the protagonist John is extremely likeable. The novels also address the whole nature versus nurture paradigm. Do we all contain good and evil? Exactly what would it take for evil to win out?

What good books have you read recently?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

invisible intentions

I had a funny thing happen recently. I finished the first draft of a story and followed my own advice: I asked several critique partners what happened in the story. I got several totally different interpretations!
You either have to laugh or cry. I choose to laugh. :)
A couple people did interpret the story the way I intended it. A lot of people went off on weird tangents, taking small story details and running with them. So, yes, I will be working on that story today and I will be removing all those apparently intriguing details.

This experience relates to Verlyn Klinkenborg's blog at The New York Times from earlier this week: The Trouble With Intentions. Among other things he says,
Your opinion of what your sentence means is always overruled by what your sentence literally says. and This means you’ll need to write, and revise, as if your intentions were invisible and your sentences will be doing all the talking, all on their own. This may be the hardest thing a writer has to learn.

I agree. This is one of the hardest thing a writer has to learn. The hardest thing for me, however, is divorcing my intentions from the literal sentences, seeing what is really on the page. Klinkenborg also says,
Seeing what your sentences actually say is never easy, but it gets easier with practice.

Good luck to all of us!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


I saw an interesting movie this past weekend The Words.
This is a metafiction film. Here, by metafiction, I mean fiction about fiction, or more specifically, fiction which refers to or takes as its subject fictional writing and its conventions.

In a nutshell, here's the plot: a famous author, Hammond, reads portions of his novel to the public. Hammond's novel is about an author, Jansen, publishing a novel via a circuitous route. Jansen's novel is the story of yet another author, referred to as "the old man."
Are you confused yet? :) Actually, the levels within levels aspect of it really reminded me of the 2010 movie Inception, which had dreams within dreams within dreams.

Suffice it to say, I enjoyed this. Of course, writers are predisposed to like movies about writers. One of the neatest aspects of it was the concept that writers might prefer their fictions to their reality. I know I like some of my fictional characters better than some of the real characters I know. :)

Can reality ever live up to our imagination?

Or, put another way, are the sacrifices an author makes for their art worth it? At what point has a writer given up too much of his/her real life?

What do you choose: fiction or reality?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

optimism or pessimism in fiction

I just finished an awesome book This Shared Dream by Kathleen Ann Goonan in which the characters tried to eliminate war and suffering on Earth.

It reminded me of fascinating comments made by Robert J. Sawyer in reference to his WWW Trilogy in an interview. I asked about the idea of a moral arrow through time: "the same force-complexity-that produces consciousness also naturally generates morality, and that as interdependence increases, both intelligence and morality will increase."

He said, You may say I'm a dreamer-but I'm not the only one. My own thinking on these issues has been informed by many other people, including the Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and nonfiction author Robert Wright, who wrote Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny and more recently The Evolution of God. Bob and I were recently both speaking at a public-policy conference in Washington, DC., sponsored by the New America Foundation; it was the first time we'd met, and we've become friends. But, yes, I'm a dreamer, and an optimist, but I'm also a realist, I think-and I don't think those are contradictory things to be.
This fiction is uplifting and optimistic! Optimism in fiction can be very effective.

At the other extreme, I just started reading The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi. This book is very dark and dramatic. The teaser copy says Soldier boys emerged from the darkness. Guns gleamed dully. Bullet bandoliers and scars draped their bare chests. Ugly brands scored their faces. She knew why these soldier boys had come. She knew what they sought, and she knew, too, that if they found it, her best friend would surely die.

This reminds me of fascinating comments made by Warren Hammond in reference to his KOP Trilogy in an interview. I asked: SF academic Edward James has said "the ability of the writer to imagine a better place in which to live died in the course of the twentieth century, extinguished by the horrors of total war, of genocide and of totalitarianism." Do you agree? Disagree?

He said, I've never heard that before, but I have to agree. I don't think it's true for all writers, but it is for me. I've seen the ovens of Auchwitz and toured S-21, the Khmer Rouge's infamous prison that held an estimated 17,000 prisoners between 1975 and 1979. Of the 17,000 prisoners who went in, there were only seven survivors. Seven.

The truly horrifying thing is knowing these atrocities were committed by regular people. Not all Nazis were monsters. And not all Khmer Rouge were monsters. Many were patriots. Many were idealists. Many were just scared to stand up to authority.

Knowing how easy it is for humans to kill each other, I find it impossible to imagine a future where our problems will all be solved.
Very dramatic! Clearly, pessimism can also be very effective in fiction.

What's your preference in reading and writing? Optimism or pessimism?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

keep learning

This week is exciting. Starting Friday Sept. 7, I'll all be at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer's annual conference: Colorado Gold. I can't recommend this conference enough. There will be lots of special speakers and guests including Jodi Thomas, Debra Dixon, Beth Miller, Jennifer Unter, Katharine Sands, Anita Mumm, Carlie Webber, Nephele Tempest, James Minz, Erika Imranyl, Peter Senftleben, Liz Pelletier, Libby Murphy, and Terri Bischoff.
There will tons of panels and workshops. In short there will be many, many opportunities for learning about writing. If you've signed up already: Great! See you there! If not, there are a few spots still available, or consider it for next year.

The point I'm trying to make, however is, writers need to keep learning and improving their craft. How? Well, I'll tell you. :)

  • Write! This is the most important thing. Your writing can't evolve if you don't write.
  • Get feedback and consider it. This can be a critique group or beta reader or whatever, but it needs to be honest feedback. As a writer, then, you need to consider this. I'm absolutely not saying you need to do what readers or critiquers tell you to do.
  • Read and study fiction. Try to decipher what works and what doesn't work. Think about it. Write it down. Talk it over with your significant other or writer friend.
  • Read and study writing about writing. There are a lot of good books, articles, and blog entries out there about writing. What are my favorites? That's a tough choice, but some good books include: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon, On Writing by Stephen King, Story by Robert McKee, and Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. I'm sure you have your own favorites. If not, find some. :)
  • Your learning suggestion here.
Happy learning!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

the publishing process

Even though this is making the rounds I can't resist... Former awesome agent, and current awesome author Nathan Bransford has a hilarious blog post: The Publishing Process in GIF Form. Check it out!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Phew! The End!

I just sent off the last chapters of my most recent novel. Phew! This was a tough one. I think I've been working on it for about three years (along with several other projects). What took so freaking long? Well, I'll tell you...I didn't know where I was going when I started out. I ended up having to do a lot of rewriting regarding plot. It's a kind of thriller and it has a lot of twists and turns. I also decided I needed an antagonist, so I added an entire other pov character.
Suffice, to say, I don't recommend this process. BUT I do recommend doing whatever works for you. My methods are inefficient, but they work for me.

So now, I can rest on my laurels, right? Nope. I have to work on the synopsis and query for this project and update my webpage.

And then there are those other projects I've been working on...

Good luck with your WIPs!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

lay and lie

For some reason, I still struggle with the whole lay versus lie thing.
The most common verb forms of lay are:
lay (present), laid (past), laid (past participle) and laying (present participle).
While the most common verb forms of lie are:
lie (present), lay (past), lain (past participle) and lying (present participle).

Furthermore, lay means to place something or to put something on something, while lie means to recline. In other words, "lay" means the subject is acting on something or someone else, and so must take a direct object. But, "lie" means the actor is doing something to herself, and so is a complete verb.
So, as someone who usually writes in past tense, and often has her characters recline, I need to remember lay! How about you? Do you lie? lay? get laid? :)

Why do I have so much trouble remembering this? It's a mystery.
Good luck with your own grammatical conundrums. :)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

writers emotions

I went to a two-day writers conference recently. It was busy. We had various workshops in which we had to do a bunch of writers exercises, and there was a panel, and a performance.

I've never seen so many tears at a conference! A lot of the tears were from the authors themselves when they shared their pieces--several of which were inspired by real life experiences. I myself wasn't immune. Of course, when writing is emotional and when writers are emotional, it does tend to be a bit contagious. Also, there were some tears during the panel when the question was raised if writing is "worth it" when success is so elusive. All writers wrestle with this question. I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to define "success" in way that enables him/her to keep writing.

But bigger picture... It's imperative for writers to bring emotion to their work. It's difficult to evoke emotion in the reader if there's no emotion on the page. I know for my part, the pieces I got emotional while writing were the ones that sold.

So, good luck being emotional!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

critique is rough

I've posted on this before but somehow it keeps coming up. In this day and age it is very difficult to get published without some kind of critique group or beta readers who give you feedback on your writing. This is because writers often have trouble separating what's in their mind from what's on the page. I know I do. There are some solid tips on how to critique here:Critique 101.

Generally, I think I do a good job following these rules. However, you can't always be positive, IMHO. When there's something not working in a piece I think it's important to point it out. It can be challenging to express these issues in a sensitive and polite way. I do not always succeed in being sensitive and polite but I do always mean well. Mea culpa. I am working on this.
I sincerely want the author to write their best story and sell it!

On the other side of the coin, getting critique is rough. Often a writer's first novel is quite autobiographical but critique of writing is always just that, critique of writing--not critique of the author. I hate to say it but getting published is tough and most authors get many rejections before their successes. A thick skin is as important to an author as a word processor!

Do you have any tips for giving or getting critique?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

pay to write?

Not all writers groups are created equal...

I live in a metro-area with about 2.5 million residents. We have two long-standing writing organizations, let's call them Group1 and Group2. Group1 originated over thirty years ago, I believe as a chapter of Romance Writers of America and has well over two hundred members. Group2 originated in 1997 as "an independent creative writing center operated by working writers and university-level teachers of writing" and also has at least a couple hundred members. Obviously, the two groups have a lot of members in common but they have a lot of differences as well. Group1 is run on an all-volunteer basis and focuses on novel-length genre fiction. Group2 pays its teachers and focuses on pretty much everything except novel-length genre fiction; this means poetry, short stories, literary fiction, etc. A lot of the teachers and students associated with Group2 have M.F.A.s.

I have been a member of Group1 for at least thirteen years continuously and have volunteered at various events. My (free!) critique groups have been invaluable over the years. The writers I've met in Group1--some of whom have many excellent genre novels published by New York publishers or smaller houses--have been extremely supportive. Through Group1 I've gotten to pitch various novels to literary agents and editors (for free! because I volunteered at the events). I can't recommend this group enough.

I have been a member of Group2 sporadically over the last ten years. I admit I'm about to let my current membership lapse. I decided my major dissatisfaction with the group is: you have to "pay" to be a writer in this group. Every critique session or workshop costs $$$ and this is after you've already paid your yearly dues! Some of you are no doubt thinking: 'But their teachers have MFAs!' Unfortunately, few of these teachers have written anything I've ever heard of. I myself have an MFA and I can tell you the critique I get via Group2's paid teachers is no better than the free critique I get from my Group1 peers. In fact, it pretty much breaks my heart to see my fellow students paying hundreds of dollars for two chapters of critique per semester in Group2. :( They're not making any progress.

So here's my advice for what it's worth: You should be in a writers group that supports you and doesn't make you pay to write. Writing is, and should be, free.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Begin with telling

Some of my writer friends and I have been discussing novel beginnings. Over the years, fiction has gone through certain trends and conventions. I thought the current convention was to emphasize showing more than telling. Out of curiosity, I went ahead and looked at the beginnings of some of my favorite novels. Incidentally, these are all very successful series.
  • In my business, we not only understand chaos theory, we totally abide by it. Chaos happens. Always plan for speed.

    Either the Djinn was putting me on, which would be seriously unfunny, or the spell was coming from Elsewhere. I hoped not an Elsewhere that began with the letter Hell.--Ill Wind Rachel Caine.

  • I heard the mailman approach my office door, half an hour earlier than usual. He didn't sound right. His footsteps fell more heavily, jauntily, and he whistled. A new guy. He whistled his way to my office door, then fell silent for a moment. Then he laughed.--Storm Front Jim Butcher
  • There are some men who enter a woman's life and screw it up forever. Joseph Morelli did this to me--not forever, but periodically.--One for the Money Janet Evanovich
  • I'd been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar.--Dead Until Dark Charlaine Harris
Oh dear. In this brief unscientific survey of hugely successful novels, 100% start with telling. I can take a hint. :)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

facts in fiction

I've been having some interesting discussions with some of my writer friends. We apparently have some differences of opinion. (But isn't that part of what makes life interesting?) To boil their argument down to one idea, they say in fiction: anything goes. I don't agree.

Obviously, everything in fiction is made up; it is fiction after all. I enjoy speculative fiction, in particular, and it always has made-up stuff in it. For example, we cannot travel at faster than the speed of light. This is not a technical barrier; this is a law of nature. It is impossible to travel faster than the speed of light. So, when a novel has this: it's totally fine. Readers suspend their disbelief.

However, I strongly believe there are only so many disbelief-suspensions allowed in a novel. When authors write about facts, they need to get them right. For example, if an author says the War of 1812 was fought between the U.S.A. and Mexico, I say, "No." (If the novel is an alternate history, this could work.) If an author writes humans have 12 pairs of chromosomes, I say, "No." (Unless it's some kind of super-duper weird mutation.) You get the idea.

Some people call this external consistency. The fictional world should be consistent with reality--unless noted (see speed of light, above). There are other kinds of consistency in fiction: genre consistency. The fictional world should behave like other works in its genre--unless noted. Any fictional characters, settings, concepts, etc. borrowed from other works need to behave as they do in those works. And there's also internal consistency. Any fictional world should be consistent with itself. Characters, settings, concepts, etc. established in a fictional world need to continue to function and exist as they did previously--unless noted. IMHO, writers need to utilize all three kinds of consistency.

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

torturing your characters

A common piece of advice for writers is: torture your characters. I thought I was pretty good but I'm reading a novel right now that puts my efforts to shame: Thin Air by Rachel Caine.

It starts out very dramatically:
There were worse things than being naked, freezing and alone in a forest. For instance, there was being naked, freezing, not alone, and not sure of who the hell you were. And having people depending on you.

But the plot developments are practically killing me. I don't want to give too much away and, frankly, I haven't finished it yet, but Caine has killed off Joanne's daughter (who is now 'haunting' her!) and put Joanne together with a horrific human psychopath who previously tortured her--and her sister. To make things worse, Joanne has lost all her memories, her whole identity. Making Joanne forget the psychopath so that she's nice to him after he tortured her extensively with sharp, pointy objects is pretty much the creepiest stuff I've ever read. Ugh!

I'm in awe of Ms. Caine. I couldn't even imagine such stuff much less torture my characters with it. I like my characters! I don't want to put them through worse than hell.
But... I should.

What do you think? Can a writer torture a character too much?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

showing versus telling

It's curious but there seem to be different "levels" in the art of writing. As kids we all start out telling stories. Think about those scary stories told around the campfire: "...and then the couple slammed the gas pedal and zoomed out of the woods. But when they got home they found a hook hanging on the door handle."

When a person has been writing for a while and started to go to workshops and critiques they're taught they should show, not tell in their writing. One of the excellent Seton Hill University Writing Popular Fiction teachers, Maria V. Snyder has a really nice discussion of Show Vs. Tell on her website. According to Maria, there are five techniques a fiction writer can use to avoid telling the reader:

  • Using Point of View (POV)
  • Using dialogue
  • Using all the senses
  • Using picture nouns and action verbs
  • Writing in scenes
Go read the article; it's great. I'll wait.
Wasn't that good? I agree with Maria that it is extremely important to show the story in fiction. This is because fiction is the only medium in which the reader becomes the character(s). And you can't do that without showing.

However, once you learn the writing rules, once you learn how to show, I think it's okay to do a little telling.
Some of my critique partners disagree. They say you should never tell. I think they're still stuck on the "Show, don't tell." rule.

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


This past weekend I had fun at RomCon in Denver. It's been a long time since I went to conference where I didn't present anything or sit on any panels. But I do love reading. The theme of RomCon is "Where Readers Rule"--which sounds great. I went to a lot of fun panels including "The Jury's Out with Rebecca Forster & CJ Snyder", "Romantic Suspense Q&A panel" and "Paranormal Romance Q&A panel". They also gave out a lot of free books at the con. Score!
Interestingly, it was like the hottest weekend of the year (so far) in Denver and the hotel was like an icebox.

However...there were a lot of events you had to pay extra for, like a "Titantic Tea Party", "Monte Carlo Night", "Chocolate Mangasm II", and on and on. Most attendees seemed to feel like the organizers were nickel-and-diming readers and authors. And several of the events were quite disorganized--Monte Carlo Night comes to mind.

So, I'm sorry to say, romance readers and authors would probably be better served saving their money for a Romantic Times convention.

How about you? Have you ever been to RomCon? Romantic Times? Other cons?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

start your engines

Students, start your engines! Seton Hill University's MFA June residency is about to kick off. This is an intense week filled with critiquing workshops, lectures, classes, and everything else you can think of writing related. I blogged last summer about the residency schedule: here. Check it out if you're interested in the nitty-gritty. Author and agent extraordinaire Donald Maass "The Fire in Fiction Workshop" is the special guest this year. Exciting!

The summer residencies also have an alumni writing conference associated with them including special guests. This summer the "11th Annual Writing Popular Fiction Workshop: In Your Write Mind" takes place June 21-24.
Among other events, there's a book reading/signing on June 22 from 7-10:00pm on campus featuring authors Michael Arnzen, Shelley Bates, Sally Bosco, Lawrence Connolly, Gary Frank, Geoffrey Fuller, Sheldon Higdon, William Horner, Scott Johnson, Michael Knost, Patrice Lyle, Kate Martin, Heidi Ruby Miller, Meg Mims, Rachael Pruitt, Maria Snyder, Victoria Thompson and Jessica Warman. In addition, six publishers, Leap Books, Dark Quest Books, Fantasist Enterprises, Headline Books, Raw Dog Screaming Press and Grit City Publications, will be represented. Also exciting!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


The issue of likeability has some up several times in my critique groups in the last month or or so. One of my critique partners has said repeatedly that he doesn't like one of my novel pov characters. Since this is the antagonist (unbeknownst to him) I'm totally fine with this. :) Note, too, this is a multiple pov book. Thus, it is not necessary to like all pov characters.

Another critique partner doesn't like the love interest for my protagonist. She says he's too mean/jerky. Although he isn't a pov character,this is more worrisome because I want him to stick around for multiple books. I went back to revise and de-jerkify him. I found I didn't change that much. I deliberately made the protagonist and her love interest have a lot of misunderstandings and arguments because they want different things at this point in the book. And it opened the door for another man, aka a love triangle, which I also wanted. Thus, it's definitely okay to have less likable non-pov characters.

I, myself, am having trouble liking the protagonist of one of my critique partners' books. This is a one pov book and it's in first person. Thus, a not-likeable main character seems to be more problematic here, IMHO. Obviously, a flawed character works great for the internal character arc of the book--which we want. The danger is: the reader might stop reading the book before the arc is complete. I'm still pondering this one.

What do you think? Should all characters be likeable? Should all protagonists at least be likeable?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

R.I.P. Ray Bradbury

As most of everyone has heard by now, author Ray Bradbury passed away last night in L.A. This is a significant loss to world culture. Of course, some of his most famous works include The Martian Chronicles, and Fahrenheit 451. I think Fahrenheit 451 is one of the most prophetic novels ever written. It's also the most scientific. Bradbury himself said Fahrenheit 451 was his only true science-fiction work; the others were fantasies despite their settings (such as Mars!). There's no question Bradbury liked to tell stories, but also like to make readers think.

As Clifton Fadiman says in one edition of The Martian Chronicles Prefatory Note: "Mr. Bradbury has caught hold of a simple, obvious but overwhelmingly important moral idea... That idea--highlighted as every passing month produces a new terrifying lunacy: sputniks,super-sputniks, projected assaults on the moon, projected manned satellites--is that we are in the grip of a psychosis, a technology-mania, the final consequence of which can only be universal murder and quite conceivably the destruction of our planet." Bradbury's paradigm was very different from those of his science 'fictioneer' peers. Since humanity has not heeded his warnings, let's hope his dire prophesies do not come to pass.

There's a fascinating interview about Bradbury posted at The Paris Review: Ray Bradbury, The Art of Fiction No. 203. Check it out!

Rest in peace, Mr. Bradbury.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


I belong to an awesome writers group, with hundreds of members. It's called Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Among other activities, like critique groups, we have free writing programs at least once a month. For example I just went to one called "Instant Plot: How to Plan Out Your Novel the Easy Way" by author Laurence MacNaughton (he has lots of helpful info on his website). As you can imagine, a short-cut for plotting a novel sounded great so I had to check it out. Laurence had some solid (if basic) info and I forced myself to work on the plot of my newest book. "Ouch!" said the pantser.

One of the best things about RMFW is knowing or even just chatting with other writers for the first time. I have to say, in chatting with at least dozens of other writers over the years: there is a direct relationship to writing-as-a-priority-in-your-life and success as a writer. No question. It is blatant and obvious. Invariably, when I talk to a writer and they say something like, "Oh, yeah, I'm writing a novel, but I had to put it on hold for the summer because my teenager is home from school." warning bells go off. It's difficult to be a successful writer if you don't write! On the other hand, when a writer friend with a challenging day job with long hours, small children, volunteer duties, etc., says, "Yeah, I had to cut down my writing time to thirty minutes a day because the kids are home from school for the summer." bells peal in anticipation of his victory. This writer will succeed because writing is a priority to him.

Of course, not everyone needs to be a published writer. And writing success looks different to different folks. But, if you want to be a writer, you need to make writing a priority, IMHO. This has to mean some kind of regular writing.

How about you? Is writing a priority?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

getting critique is tough

I had a frustrating critique group meeting last week. We had agreed that every critiquer could talk without interruption on their turn and the author would wait until the end to talk. Suffice to say, it was chaos: questions, interruptions, discussions, etc. And we ran over our allotted time frame. :( Recall my tips for critiquing: Critique 101.

I also got the impression that some of the authors did not totally grasp concepts such as point of view or genre. That's fine. We all have to start somewhere.

I was quite surprised when a couple of the group members quit after the meeting. It just goes to show different people perceive things differently. I thought we were a group of authors working together and trying hard to improve our craft. Clearly, some members did not have that same impression.

I am reminded of how difficult it can be to get critique, especially if you aren't experienced at it. I've been trying to write seriously for over a decade and have gotten a lot of critique in that time. It's still tough to hear your work, your baby, isn't working for readers. But, I've learned how to deal with it. Carefully consider what your critique partners have to say--they are trying to help you, after all. Accept some suggestions and reject some.
The bottom line is: you don't have to listen to everyone's advice. It's your work.
Good luck with your critiques!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Advice from Gaiman

I'd meant to post the 2011 Nebula Award Winners as I am wont to do. So here they are:
  • Novel Winner: Among Others, Jo Walton (Tor)
  • Novella Winner: ”The Man Who Bridged the Mist,” Kij Johnson (Asimov’s Science Fiction, October/November 2011)
  • Novelette Winner: ”What We Found,” Geoff Ryman (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September/October 2011)
  • Short Story Winner: ”The Paper Menagerie,” Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March/April 2011)
  • Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation Winner: Doctor Who: “The Doctor’s Wife,” Neil Gaiman (writer), Richard Clark (director) (BBC Wales)
  • Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Winner: The Freedom Maze, Delia Sherman (Big Mouth House)
Congratulations to all the winners! Read more about it over at SFWA.

But speaking of Neil Gaiman, in the meantime, I got very distracted by his May 17 excellent commencement address at The University of the Arts. Here are the bullet points:

  1. When you start out on a career in the arts you have no idea what you are doing.
  2. If you have an idea of what you want to make, what you were put here to do, then just go and do that.
  3. When you start off, you have to deal with the problems of failure.
  4. I hope you'll make mistakes. If you're making mistakes, it means you're out there doing something.
  5. While you are at it, make your art. Do the stuff that only you can do.
  6. So make up your own rules.
  7. So be wise, because the world needs more wisdom, and if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise, and then just behave like they would.
Check out the entire thought-provoking, encouraging speech here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Plotting has been kicking my butt the last week or so. My critique partners have knocked one too many holes in my plot so I finally have to do a big revision before I can move forward. Writing is hard. :(

www.learner.org (and elsewhere on the internet) has some good tips for plot. The following elements need to go into a plot:

  1. Exposition is the information needed to understand a story.
  2. Complication is the catalyst that begins the major conflict.
  3. Climax is the turning point in the story that occurs when characters try to resolve the complication.
  4. Resolution is the set of events that bring the story to a close.
My problem (in novel-length) fiction is I need to keep making the complications greater and greater for the protagonist, until she reaches her dark moment--when it looks like she may not survive (literally and/or figuratively). I tend to give the protagonist a problem and then she solves it, and then she gets another problem and solves it, etc.
Hhm. I need to put on my thinking cap...

How do you come up with a good plot?

Good luck with your writing!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

a sale

I just signed a contract for a short story sale. W00t! :)
I actually wrote the story for my last writers' workshop in my (Seton Hill University!) M.F.A. progam. I did set out with the perverse goal of initially tricking the reader into thinking the protagonist was unsympathetic--when in reality she was on a mission to save the world. An additional challenge I gave myself was to have the protagonist not actually do anything, but hopefully have the reader still empathize with her in the end. I do think this is a somewhat unexplored topic in SF: What happens to all those intrepid world-savers when their missions fail or they are unable to complete them?
So, notice, I attempted to write a story fraught with less-common ideas/concepts.

Workshopping the story was interesting. Many in the group didn't like it too much. But, I did get many helpful comments which helped to make the story better. (Thank you, workshoppers for your help! I appreciate it.)
The tale of this tale points to a very important point: writers need input from other writers. :)
Good luck finding your perfect critiquers/workshoppers!

I'd like to point out an additional factor in my success here: perseverance. I submitted this story to several markets unsuccessfully. But I believed in it so I kept on plugging, despite rejection after rejection. Writing is difficult, but selling can be even more difficult.

Good luck with your selling efforts!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Gaiman interviews King

In case you don't get the UK Sunday Times magazine, Neil Gaiman was kind enough to repost Popular Writers: A Stephen King interview. Having one of this era's best writers interview one of this era's best writers is a treat. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

just write

Do you ever feel like time just gets away from you? I sure do. Yesterday I used up all my writing time on a non-fictional project. Now I'm left with seven days to write three new chapters. (Yes, I should have started them a week ago, but I was behind because I went out of town for a few days.) Yikes!

And it gets worse. I'm a pantser, so I have no idea what's going to happen next. And, apparently instead of writing them, I'm blogging. :)
Thus, I'm sorry to say that's it for today. I have to go write.

You, too. Get writing! :)

Good luck.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


I have a new critique partner and he really doesn't like one of my characters. Basically, he thinks the character is stupid and boring--I'm paraphrasing. This partner has been complaining a lot. What my new critique partner doesn't know (he came in in the middle of the novel) is this character is the antagonist. Based on this feedback, I've (hopefully!) rewritten the character to be not-boring and to be less stupid. But, his stupidity is intentional; it's part of the character's fatal flaw. Ultimately, he is going to fail, be foiled by the protagonist.

This experience has made me wrestle with the whole issue of likeability. Do readers need to like all the characters? I say: no. But they have to be somehow intrigued enough to see what will happen, right?

What do you think?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

second person

I tried to read a book recently which was written with a second-person
narrative. Wikipedia says, The second-person narrative is a narrative mode in which the protagonist or another main character is referred to by employment of second-person personal
pronouns and other kinds of addressing forms, for example the English second-person pronoun "you"

I say, it was super-annoying. Every time I read "you" it took me out of the story. I kept thinking, "Who you? Me? But I'm not a futuristic detective investigating a kinky murder and missing my hair-do appointment. Why did this author use second person?" Suffice to say, I couldn't stick it out and didn't finish the book.
Caveat Scriptor! As a writer, you should think carefully before you try using second person. Is it really what your story needs? If so, go for it! :)

Of course, there have been successful fictions written in second person. Oh, the Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss (1990) comes to mind.

I must admit, I do like second person for blog entries. :)

How about you? Have you read or written any good second person?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I love libraries

A couple weeks ago I got a huge stack of novels from my local library. Several of the novels were good, one was really not to my taste and one was awesome! I haven't quite finished it, but I may have found a new favorite novel of all time. I'll blog more about the book in question at a later date. In the meantime, I can't help feeling grateful to the library that enabled me to experience something filled with life-changing, intriguing ideas and stories.
Wow. Libraries rock! I love libraries!

In support of libraries, here are some quotes:

  • "Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve, and contribute to improving our quality of life. Libraries change lives for the better." --Sidney Sheldon
  • "Libraries are absolutely at the center of my life. Since I couldn't afford to go to college, I attended the library three or four days a week from the age of eighteen on, and graduated from the library when I was twenty-eight." --Ray Bradbury
  • "It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive." --James Baldwin
  • "We must not think of learning as only what happens in schools. It is an extended part of life. The most readily available resource for all of life is our public library system." --David McCullough
  • "I received the fundamentals of my education in school, but that was not enough. My real education, the superstructure, the details, the true architecture, I got out of the public library. For an impoverished child whose family could not afford to buy books, the library was the open door to wonder and achievement, and I can never be sufficiently grateful that I had the wit to charge through that door and make the most of it." --Isaac Asimov
  • "Libraries are where dreams begin." --Jamie Freveletti
  • Your favorite quote here.

Obviously, I could go on and on. Libraries are important; please support them in your community.

The American Library Association (ALA) has a neat website: www.ilovelibraries.org. Check it out!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Critique 101

Okay, let's say you've found a critique group. How, exactly, do you critique the work of other writers? I have some suggestions...
  • Generally, it's better to address comments to "the author" rather than "you". In other words separate the author from the work's characters, narrators, etc.
  • Always be specific rather than vague. "I liked this." is less helpful than "The main character here was sympathetic and funny." To help with specificity, focus on writerly concepts such as dialogue, characterization, descriptions, similes, metaphors, plotting, word choice, etc.
  • Begin with positive comments before getting into constructive criticism. This is psychology 101: if you're negative right off the bat, fellow writers will raise barriers and become defensive.
  • Note any confusion or problems you have with the piece, and, if possible, give specific suggestions for improvement.
  • Tell the writer what made you curious, what questions were raised, what you want to know in the future. (But don't expect to get answers right away--authors need to stay quiet during critique.)
  • Comment on the words on the page in front of you. Do not comment on what you think it means, or what you think the author meant, or what your personal opinions are on the subject.
  • Feel free to suggest a craft book or novel that you think would help the writer.
  • Write your comments on spelling, grammar, etc. on the document. You don't need to go over them verbally during critique group unless the writer has a particular pattern.
  • Try not to verbally repeat points that others have made. Feel free to mark on the manuscript if you agree or disagree with comments of other critiquers.
  • Generally, you don't want to comment on what is written; rather, focus on how it's written. All fiction involves some kind of suspension of disbelief.
  • If you are unfamiliar with the genre in question, feel free to say so and refrain from comment.
  • End on a positive note. It is a brave act to submit work for critique.
  • Your suggestion here.

Good luck!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Critique groups

I'm a huge fan of critique groups. Writers benefit from having other experienced eyes and minds on their work-in-progress. (I do know several successful authors who disagree, however.) As an example, at my last meeting, two (male) critiquers called me on my male protagonist's behavior; they basically said he was too feminine. This was great feedback! I macho-ed up the character and it is better. :) Sadly, my long-time critique group is in a state of flux. I've been in the group around ten years, so it's not surprising things are changing. One writer has a bunch of books out and has been spending her time on marketing and publicity instead of critiquing (imagine that!). And others have various family and health issues. So, we tried to liven up the group by recruiting a new member. Hopefully, that works.

I've also been visiting/investigating various other groups in the area. It's amazing how diverse they are. One group doesn't let people submit their work until they've been attending regularly for months. One group only lets multi-published authors in. Some groups don't allow homework (you read and critique on the spot), some groups have lots of homework. The bottom line here is: if you're interested in finding a critique group, you may have to try out a few different ones to find a good fit.

But let's back up a bit. If you don't have a critique group, how do you find one? Many libraries have in-person critique groups. The internet has a ton of groups. I've heard good things about Critters Workshop, but they do focus on speculative fiction. I know the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers have a good on-line critique group. When considering a group, things to consider include: Are the meeting times and locations convenient? Are they experienced in your genre? Is the amount of homework reasonable? Are the comments you receive helpful? Are your personalities reasonably compatible? Is your writing better as a result of their input? Your-question-here.

Good luck!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Writing is hard

Over the last several years, I've been trying to learn how to write awesome short stories. The main thing I've gleaned over the years is: writing is hard. :) But, IMHO, here are some things a story should have to approach awesome:
  • No major grammar or spelling issues.
  • Dialogue tags can only be said/says or asked/asks. I'm not kidding.
  • You must have a protagonist with some kind of external problem who acts to remedy said problem. He/she/it does not have to be successful, but they have to ACT. Note: this is the external plot.
  • Your protagonist must also have some kind of internal emotional motivation that you convey to the reader. The events of the story should change this in some way (although a lack of change can work--as long as it's deliberate.) This is the character arc. Note: the internal character arc and the external plot need to be inter-woven. Note, too, the author's job is to manipulate the readers' emotions. Your primary tool here are the emotions of the characters.
  • Your opening (this means the first 250 words) should address your story problem. In other words, your opening is your set up.
  • Your opening (this means the first 250 words) should speak to your ending. Generally, this will be an echo of the same theme, or the theme's opposite. As an example, if your opening shows the reader thousands of clones, the ending should show how the protagonist is just one of many (defeat) OR he is special, one-in-a-million (victory).
  • You should be able to summarize the story's big idea or theme in one simple sentence. I'll come back to this below.
  • You should consider utilizing a symbol in your story to make it richer and illuminate the theme. If I was going to give this list a symbol, it would be some kind of light. :)
  • You should use similes and metaphors in your descriptions.
  • Your suggestion here?

A story I learned a lot from is Connie Willis' "The Last of the Winnebagos." (That's another tip: study awesome stories.) This story takes place in a dystopian future where a virus has killed off all dogs and the Humane Society has extensive police powers. Ostensively, the story is about a Winnebago hitting a jackal on the highway, a photojournalist trying to get some pictures and the Humane Society investigating the jackal's death. But what it's really about is the journalist sacrificing someTHING he loves dearly to save another human.

What do you think? What does an awesome story need?

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Ah, spring is in the air. Birds are chirping, squirrels are frolicking, flowers are starting to bloom. As Lord Alfred Tennyson said, "in the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love." And a young writer's fancy turns to thoughts of writing romance?

Don't let this beautiful time of year distract you from your writing goals. One of the Seton Hill University Professors, Nicole Peeler, has a good blog post over at Pens Fatales: Time Strategies. Professor Peeler says, "The key to being a writer who actually finishes a book is not genius, or inspiration, or even talent. The key to finishing a book is one simple equation:
Butt + Chair + Writing Time² = Book."

I couldn't agree with her sentiments more, as I posted earlier: BICHOK. This stands for butt in chair, hands on keyboard.
The number one contributor to writing success is: Writing!

So, that's what I'm going to go do. Good luck doing the same. :)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Fiction genres can be slippery. Supposedly there's a new genre called slipstream. According to wikipedia, "Slipstream is a kind of fantastic or non-realistic fiction that crosses conventional genre boundaries between science fiction/fantasy and mainstream literary fiction."

Slipstream has actually been around since at least 1989 when Bruce Sterling first discussed it: "Slipstream" in CATSCAN 5. He said, ...this is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility. We could call this kind of fiction Novels of Postmodern Sensibility, but that looks pretty bad on a category rack, and requires an acronym besides; so for the sake of convenience and argument, we will call these books "slipstream." And "Slipstream" is a parody of "mainstream," and nobody calls mainstream "mainstream" except for us skiffy trolls. Read the article, it's interesting.

The reason I bring this up is "The Wall Street Journal" discussed slipstream in a book review from the end of last year: "The Future of Science Fiction" by Tom Shippey. I'm all for TWSJ discussing science fiction in any context. :) According to Shippey, "literary authors have started "slipstreaming"—to borrow Bruce Sterling's term—writing books with sci-fi scenarios." and he gives various examples including works by Iain Banks, Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Atwood. Shippey makes some good points:What slipstreamers seem to like in sci-fi is the scenarios, usually utopian or dystopian. Yet what's missing in Ms. Atwood's own speculative fictions is what sci-fi fans really like: explanation and analysis. Sci-fi futures need to show not just when and what but also how.

IMHO, trying to differentiate between "slipstream" and "Sci-fi" or whatever else you want to call it, is pretty much splitting hairs. Authors can call their work what they want. And if it helps them sell books, all the better.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

fiction creating reality?

Could fiction create reality?
In terms of subject matter, fiction has long addressed the nature of reality. Science fiction has often examined reality and turned it on its head. Author Philip K. Dick was famous for this. He said, "In my writing I even question the universe; I wonder out loud if it is real, and I wonder out loud if all of us are real." He referred to himself as a "fictionalizing philosopher." Charles Platt says of Dick's work: "Everything is a matter of perception. The ground is liable to shift under your feet. A protagonist may find himself living out another person's dream, or he may enter a drug-induced state that actually makes better sense than the real world, or he may cross into a different universe completely."

Possibly taking this idea further, Alfred Bester attempts to utilize synesthesia in his novel The Stars My Destination. (Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which cognitive and/or sensory pathways get crossed, e.g. a sound is heard in response to visual stimulus.) Bester conveys synesthesia to the reader via unusual graphic images of text--almost giving the reader synesthesia in the process.

Fiction has been created that enables the reader to be even more active. I'm thinking of those Choose Your Own Adventure Stories in which the reader gets to make decisions at plot points. In recent years technology has enabled us to go further with this concept via software-driven Interactive Fiction.

This leads me to my point: I read a story recently that was written in an unusual way about an unusual reality. It occurred to me that perhaps it was the culmination of the ideas outlined above. Instead of showing an atypical reality, perhaps this story actually creates a new reality since the reader has to keep re-evaluating everything. It was mind-boggling and my description isn't doing it justice.

All this prompts me to wonder: How far could we go with fiction? What do you think?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

In media res

I just finished a long novel so I've been catching up on my short story reading. And wow, these shorts are all starting with a bang. In fancy literary jargon we call this in media res, which is Latin for "into the middle of things." I'd go so far as to say, all the first lines are bang! pow! dramatic. I'd heard literary conventions were shifting to take into account our decreasing attention span and these stories definitely bear that out. So, artists of the short story: take note.

An interesting related issue is: how soon in a novel does the author have to hit the reader over the head with excitement? Should it be the first line? The first paragraph? Or do we have at least until the end of the first chapter? Of course, this does vary by genre. (Literary novels never have to have anything exciting happen. :) Ha. I kid the literary authors.) A few years ago, I would have said we had until the end of the first chapter. But now, with the increased pressure to sell books I'm thinking a bang! pow! novel first line is not a bad idea.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Kill your darlings

All of us writers have heard the phrase: Kill your darlings. This originated with British author Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch who wrote in his 1916 publication “On the Art of Writing,”: Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.

Many writers have espoused the concept over the years, including possibly the most successful writer, Stephen King. He says in “On Writing,”: Mostly when I think of pacing, I go back to Elmore Leonard, who explained it so perfectly by saying he just left out the boring parts. This suggest cutting to speed the pace, and that’s what most of us end up having to do (kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings).... And a little later he says, It’s always easier to kill someone else’s darlings than it is to kill your own.

You know where I'm going with this... I have a writer friend who insists on keeping the same bits of prose in every draft of her novel even though they don't work. But I can only make suggestions, ultimately it's her decision, as it should be.

We all do it. So, if you ever see another writer (like me!) clutching some darlings to their heart, refusing to let go of them: Tell them! And if someone tells you... Listen.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Your Paradigm

I've been reading a novel lately that's set in the post-apocalyptic future and everyone is fighting to-the-death for food. I'm approaching the climax of the book; it's going to be a final epic battle, and frankly, I don't think a whole lot of people are going to survive. :( To be honest, this isn't totally to my taste. Interestingly, I've met this author and he's a very nice guy, happily married, and financially secure.

My critique partners write a variety of different things but IMHO each individual author does tend towards writing dark (everybody dies) or light (everybody laughs) books in general. I definitely fall on the light end of the spectrum. That's not to say people never die in my books but when they do it's rare and the survivors feel bad about it and mourn the dead.

Which leads me to my point, writing shows and tells so much about the author, whether we intend it to or not. I think writing indirectly illuminates the author's paradigm. I could be totally wrong about this, but I think people write books that are the opposite of their worldview. The author in my critique group that writes the gloomiest, doomiest novels is happily married, well-off, with a great husband and kids. The author in my critique group that writes the lightest novels (okay, it's me) tends to agree with the teachings of Thomas Hobbes: "..life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." When I read and write I want to laugh. I want to be uplifted. I want to experience a better place, a world where we can all live up to our potential. I want to imagine...

How about you? Do you write your paradigm or the opposite of your paradigm?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Free ezine!

There's a free new issue of Electric Spec. W00t!

In "Seasonal Fruit" by Kathryn Board, a botched "date" turns into an adventure involving a goddess, a stomach pump,and some super-enhanced sex appeal. Colum Paget's "Love in a Time of Bio-Mal" is a cyber-punk tale that bring a whole to meaning to the word "love." For those looking for something on the more humorous side, we present "The Pageant, a Battle Maiden's Cunning Stunt" by Krista Wallace, which shows just how far a woman will go to look good while gutting the enemy. "Stiltskin" by Samantha Boyette is a tale that explores just how far a father will go to preserve his family in a bleak future, and Simon Kewin's "Slieau Whallian" explores a similar theme: are we willing to allow an injustice go unchallenged to preserve or own skin?

j.a.kazimer's interview is especially intriguing. Come read her answers to questions such as:
Fairy tales were really the first stories, what's so enduring about them? Do you think the persecuted heroine with its emphasis on marriage and the female heroine being saved by the male hero still apply in today's society? The premise of CURSES! A F***ed Up Fairy Tale, namely, a villain cursed to behave like a hero is brilliant. Similarly, killer blue-birds are an amazing idea. How did you come up with these? CURSES! deals with several hot-button issues including homosexuality, and obesity/body-image. As a writer, how do you avoid being constrained by societal expectations? Regarding profanity in book titles, some people might say the proliferation of profanity in our culture signals the beginning of the end, the decline of our society. What do you think it means?

Support these authors and check it out!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

On-line Classes

I'm finishing up an on-line writing class right now. For the month of February I tried to learn how to make my novel sellable. (Yes, I'm purposefully being vague so you can't figure out what course it is.) To be honest, I don't think I learned much. This is primarily my own fault because I didn't do the homework and read all the class materials.

I started out reading all the class materials but it was pretty specific to another genre and I got less interested. The primary thing I noticed about the handouts was the teacher advocated a lot of telling. In examples, the teacher would tell the reader the character's goals, motivations, and conflicts on every page. Apparently, some genres are in favor of a lot of telling, but this goes against my writing paradigm.
During the month I tried to implement the class ideas (in a non-telling way) when I wrote first drafts of my new pages. This made homework difficult because we were supposed to post a "before" and an "after" writing sample where we improved our writing based on the class ideas. My first drafts were as "after" as I knew how to make them.
I guess the gist here is, I'm a bad student. :)

This wasn't the first time I've signed up for an on-line writing class. I get excited about the topic prior to the class and plunk down my money but they are rarely as exciting and informative as I think they'll be. Oh well. At least it gets me thinking about various aspects of writing and interacting with other writers. That's always fun.

How about you? Have you ever taken a good on-line writing class? If so, tell us!

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Plotter-Pantster

Where does everyone stand on the great plotter versus pantster debate?  The question reminds me of a tee-shirt popular in the early days of computing that read: There are 10 kinds of people in this world -- those who read binary and those who don't.

Those of us who tend to be more linear, left-brain types like to plan out our plots. Planning may be a habitual approach to life, but I call a big white piece of paper with a visual storyline a sanity-saving device. No longer having to worry about plot, the writer is free to focus on character and scene.

For the truly artsy, a plot planner is confining rather than liberating. Many writers have said that they only found the right voice after they stoppd planning and just let the ideas run.

I've found that my cortical preference has a bit of both hemispheres. I want an outline, the more visual the better. But I don't want it too detailed. I want to be free to improvise when I suddenly discover that nothing in the story's middle is ever as easy as it seemed when I started.


I don't know if it's because I've been discussing this topic with writer friends lately, but one of my characters has turned out to be quite the curser. He's the twenty-year-old single brother of one of my pov characters and enjoys playing video games, drinking beer, and hanging out with his friends. And cussing. I think he dropped the f-bomb twenty times in one scene. Phew!
I'm a firm believer in letting the muse run free in the first draft. But, I'm going to have to ponder this a bit...

Next week I'll be publishing (in my ezine) an interview of up-and-coming author j.a.kazimer, author of the soon-to-be-released CURSES! A F***ed Up Fairy Tale. As a (too?) provocative teaser, here we discuss profanity:

Me: Regarding profanity in book titles, some people might say the proliferation of profanity in our culture signals the beginning of the end, the decline of our society. What do you think it means?

j.a.: I've had a few people, especially in the more conservative local media, react poorly to the implied f-word in the title, going as far as to call me inappropriate. However, I do think the use of the fuck has its place in literature as well as in our culture. If using the word fuck is what ends society as we know it, we're in a lot worse shape than I first suspected.

What do you think? Does profanity ever have a place in literature?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

close third

I read a great story this past weekend in which I felt like I was the character. After I finished reading I thought, How did the author do that? When I went back and looked carefully at the story I was surprised to see it was written in third-person point-of-view rather than first-person.
It's worth reminding ourselves that there are three main point-of-views:
  • first: I
  • second: you
  • third: he/she
AND the distance from the character is independent of the point-of-view. Authors can use any distance with any point-of-view, from very close to very far.

In the story in question, the author used a very close distance; he was right there inside the character's head. The reader was privy to all the character's thoughts and feelings. And the author didn't use any distancing words like "thought", "realized", "felt", "heard", or anything similar. It was extremely effective.

I must admit my third-person pov is not as good. I prefer first-person. When I write third, I tend to include those darn distancing words. Then, when I revise, I have to strike them all out. When I first started writing third-person I wrote the initial draft in first-person and changed it to third in revisions. I may have to go back to that...

What's your favorite pov? What's your favorite distance?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

protect your muse

After having some significant troubles getting my new pages done over the last couple months I've had a breakthrough. I'm not bragging, I'm sharing. :) And I hope you'll share your tips, too. No doubt I'll get bogged down again in the future and then I can refer to this idea and hopefully get out of the muck.

What I learned recently is: Protect your muse! She is an elusive and slippery beast and you have to entice her with everything you've got, namely, find the conditions that yield successful writing--and then use them. For me, a certain geographic location with minimal distractions, a comfortable desk and chair, a certain time of day, and background music all collaborate to get my creative juices flowing. There are other things I could be doing this time of day...but I've learned I should not. I'm not nearly as successful in other conditions. :(

That's my tip for wrangling a muse. What's yours?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Ninc Binder

A new free resource has been released by Novelists, Inc:
The Ninc Binder:A Comprehensive Guide to the New World of Publishing.
This has a ton of info about, well, the new world of publishing. I include a crude outline in case you want more info before downloading it. I looks great to me. :)
  • Section One: Keeping Up With the Newfangled Publishing World: Terms and Tools You Need To Know
    • When Techies Say That,They Mean This: E-Publishing Terminology, Acronyms,Social Networking Terms
    • Tools Overview: Tools for E-book Production, Author Platform Tools,Web and Social Media Analysis Tools
    • New Opportunities Require a Change in Thinking

  • Section Two: How To Expose Yourself Without Getting Pneumonia: Marketing and
    Promotion Using Social Media
    • Not a Marketing Plan, What You Need Is a Connecting Plan
    • Are Blog Guest Posts Worth Your Time?
    • Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn: Essential Social Media Tools to Build Your Audience
    • YouTube Videos
    • Google+: Not Another Way to Waste Time on the Web!
    • Crowdsourcing: In the Crowd, or Leading It?
    • Podcasting
    • Building a Massive E-Mail Database

  • Section Three: The Nuts and Bolts of Publishing Out-of-Print, New, or Bonus Material Without a Publisher
    • What You Need to Know Before You Get Started
    • The Seven Secrets to E-Book Publishing Success
    • What You Need To Do To Get Your Book Ready (Hint: Editing and Cover Art)
    • Working With a Freelance Editor
    • What Your Cover Designer Should be Asking You
    • Step by Step Upload Directions for:
      • Amazon Kindle
      • Barnes and Noble Publit
      • Smashwords

    • How to Keep Track of Sales and Taxes

  • Section Four: If You Put it on the Web, The Readers Will Come… (If You Holler Real Loud and Jump Up and Down… and Set Your Hair on Fire): Other Promotion and Marketing Options
    • I Need Promo Help!
    • Author Co-op and Promotional Groups
    • Mo Boylan of MMB Author Services: The Best Promotion Tools to Reach Readers and Reviewers
    • Publicity and Promotion: A Publicist’s Take
    • Short and Sweet: How to Use Short Content to Build Your Career

  • Section Five: Contract Watch: What You Need to Know Before You Sign
    • Kindle: Not Necessarily Worldwide
    • Deal Breakers
    • Final Drafts: Selecting a Literary Executor

  • Section Six: I Want the Money… but I Just Want to Write!
    • The Art of Running Your Business
    • Meet Author’s Assistant Melissa Hermann
    • Looking Good, Selling More: Experience eBooking from the Inside-Out


Thursday, February 9, 2012

pantsing it

I've been having a heck of a time writing new pages this year. The problem stems from my method...I'm a pantser. This means I do not plot my novels out. Thus, the opposite of a pantser is a plotter. (I've tried this method, too, and it doesn't work for me; writing becomes drudgery.) In the eternal struggle between panster and plotter: pick whatever works for you. There's no right or wrong way to write.

However. Pantsing has its perils. Namely, not knowing what's going to happen next.

I'm working on two novels right now. (Another trick: I can change projects when I get stuck.) In Project 1, I wrote half of it and got bogged down in the sagging middle. My critique group suggested I needed an antagonist. (Critique groups rock.) My brain always goes to a black-caped villain (cue evil laugh) with the word 'antagonist' and let's face it, most people don't deal with villains. But, a person whose interests are in opposition to the protagonist's interests... That could work. I introduced a new pov character and wrote about 10 chapters for him. Introducing a new pov character seems very effective--I'll keep it in my bag of tricks. Everything was going great until I got stuck again. Ugh. I couldn't figure out what would happen next because I hadn't plotted it. But, finally, after I quit procrastinating, I figured out what the worst possible thing that could happen to that character and I made it happen. Viola. Now the chapters are flowing again. (Poor guy!)

I started Project 2 several years ago and got bogged down in legal jargon and rules (there's a murder in chapter 1). A few months ago I picked it back up and dusted it off with a total rewrite. (Thank you critique group!) But the pantser method is really biting me in the ass this time. I don't know what should happen next. I don't recall who the murderer is. I planted a bunch of clues and I don't recall where they lead and so on. It's pretty much a disaster. Don't do this! Apparently, even pantsers need to take notes. The next few days I will be brainstorming what happens next. Wish me luck.

How about you? Are you a panster or a plotter? Do you have any advice for avoiding pantser or plotter pitfalls?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Writing on Reading: Ender's Game

Once in a while I reread an older novel to see how well it stands up. It's interesting because as time passes, I bring different things to the table, and so notice different things about it. Recently, I reread Orson Scott Card's 1985 novel Ender's Game.

Very briefly, the story is: in the far future humans encounter an alien insect-like race and they go to war. On Earth, children are bred to be soldiers and officers in the war. One such child is Andrew "Ender" Wiggin and he is chosen to go to Command School. At Command School he undergoes extensive game-like training programs and ends up playing a significant role in the war while still a child.
Perhaps this sounds a bit mundane or perhaps speculative fiction is not to your taste. There are still things to learn here. The author does an excellent job plotting; there are some fabulous plot twists, particularly at the end of the book. The author also does an excellent job characterizing Ender, the smart misfit. Card really puts the reader inside Ender's head. We're right there as he's bullied, has to fight for his life, wins and loses games, etc. This is the very essence of fiction: making the reader understand what it's like to be someone else. Moreover, for many bullied or misfit kids it was comforting to know they weren't alone in their experiences.

This novel also deals with bigger questions. The kids behave the way kids really behave rather than how adults wished they behaved; this was eye-opening for some adult readers. It also makes one think about the whole concept of war and genocide. Is war ever justified? Is genocide? What if your whole world was at risk? Perhaps most significantly it addresses the issue of good and evil within each of us. The very best fiction addresses such big picture ideas. Recall what Card wrote about fiction.

As a geek, I also enjoyed the shout-outs to other works. In particular, the anonymous military leaders who discuss their plans at the beginning of the chapters is very reminiscent of the Second Foundationers in Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy. Alluding to previous works of fiction makes a novel richer. I don't think I noticed the allusions to the Foundation Trilogy in previous readings. Recall writer plus readers makes art. :)

The take-home messages are:

  • When reading, think about what you're reading. What works? What doesn't work?
  • When writing, think about what you're writing. What works? What doesn't work? How can you write really effective characterizations to put the reader in your character's head? Can you add fabulous plot twists? How can you address big picture ideas in your fiction? How can you allude to other fiction?

Good luck with your writing!

Thursday, February 2, 2012


By now, we're well into 2012. How's it feel? How's it going? I deliberately did not write about New Years Writing Resolutions because, frankly, I don't really believe in them. Not because resolutions are bad, per se, but because I need New Day Resolutions, New Week Resolutions, and/or New Month Resolutions. :)

I think it's important to periodically (more than once a year!) stop and assess how one's writing is going. I also think small resolutions or goals work better, for me, at least. (Big goals seem too scary?) Generally I have weekly writing goals such as writing a first draft of a new chapter, revising old chapters based on critique group comments and similar.

It strikes me as I write this that it's also important to periodically stop and assess one's writing behavior. Last year I blogged about a revision watch list. The idea here is we repeat some of the same not-necessarily-good things in our writing and we need to watch out for them. But I also repeat some of the same not-necessarily-good things in my writing behavior. Apparently, I need a writing behavior watch list! My most non-production writing behaviors are procrastination (not writing) and then feeling guily about it. Hhm... I need to quit these behaviors. They are negatively impacting my writing.
I resolve to stop doing these. At least this week. :)

How about you? Do you do New Years Writing Resolutions? If so, how do you stick to them?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Writing Software

After writing two novels in Word, I’d become more than a little annoyed with the program. It gets clunky and cumbersome, and with longer documents, it's prone to crashing. The only other option I'd found was Pages for Mac users. It has some great features that I love, but lacks a comments or revision mode, which is vital to a writer's life.

I’d long ago resigned myself to the fact that, like it or not, I’d always have to use Word. But then I went to the January Writer’s Residency at Seton Hill and found a few programs that have made my writing life so much more efficient and enjoyable.

The first one is Scrivener. It’s a fantastic writing program that allows you to break up your writing into chunks (even as small as scenes) within one project. You can also have notes on the side of your screen! There’s an outlining option and easy to create note cards in bulletin board view--which I found helpful in planning my new work-in-progress. It even has character sketch templates! Scrivener blew me away. Totally worth the $45 price tag.

The other thing that seems to slowly drain my writing time is the internet. I’ll write a paragraph, and then check my email. Write another one, and then check my Facebook. Write another one, and then check Twitter. You get the picture. This Residency, someone mentioned Freedom. It kills your internet for a set number of minutes. The only way to cancel it is to re-boot your computer. It’s an instant distraction killer. I got it bundled with Anti-Social, which does the same thing but only for certain websites. So, if you’re like me and write with an internet radio station playing, like Pandora, this might be a better tool.

The last program I heard about at Residency was WriteOrDie.com. You can download a desktop version or use a free one via the web. You set a number of words you want to write and a time frame in which you want them completed. Should you slow down or stop typing entirely, the screen fades to red and the program starts making annoying noises (babies crying, horns honking, etc.). The only way to make it stop is to start typing again. They have a few different settings, one of which is called “kamikaze.” If you fail to start typing after the warning, the program actually starts deleting your words! I don’t know that I’m brave enough to try that, but I’m thinking about trying it on one of the more forgiving setting.

Have you found any other helpful programs? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

maximum impact

I recently had a short story critiqued in a writers' workshop. This was a good experience because it reminded me of some things I needed to be reminded of, namely, a short story should be as dramatic as possible. I'm a bit embarrassed to say my rough draft could have grabbed the reader more. It could have had a bigger impact.

In revisions I found maximum impact came from knowing my protagonist and making sure all aspects of my story were interconnected.

  • Every other character in the piece should have had a strong connection to the protagonist. For example, it's not enough to put a child in danger, the child should be related to the protagonist, if possible.
  • The setting should be important to the protagonist. It's not enough to put the protagonist in the setting. The setting should be crucial to the protagonist--this is the place he or she has to be.
  • External plot complications need to be unique to the protagonist. Think about the protag. Determine what's the worst possible thing that could happen to him/her--and then make it happen.
  • External plot needs to be linked to internal character arc. In our example, perhaps the protag him/herself was in peril as a child, so he/she cannot abide kids in peril. Would your protag sacrifice him/herself for said child? Ooh, now that's dramatic.

What do you think? Do you have any tips for achieving maximum impact in fiction?

Good luck with your writing!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Genre Cheat Sheet

I met some beginning authors recently who didn't know what genre they were writing. Uh oh. Here's my genre cheat sheet, an easy way to tell what you're writing. The following comments apply ~90% of the time:
  • YA: teenaged protagonist, plot is a coming-of-age tale, ending should be hopeful. Note: you can have sex and violence in YA but it cannot be gratuitous or gory.
  • Women's fiction: female protagonist, plot is a voyage of self-discovery/self-awareness or similar. You could say in women's fiction the woman saves herself. Note: women's fiction rarely has a male protagonist.
  • Romance: plot is person meets person and sparks fly, obstacles keep them apart, but in the end they are together and it's Happily Ever After (HEA). Traditionally, this has been boy meets girl and the HEA is marriage, but strictures are loosening. Note in romance the two characters save each other.
  • Fantasy: plot is a battle between good and evil and there must be some kind of magic/supernatural/paranormal elements. Within fantasy there are two major settings:
    • urban fantasy: setting is contemporary planet Earth
    • epic/high/traditional fantasy: setting is a secondary made-up world.

    Note: fantasy originated as a reaction against the industrial revolution/scientific method so there is an inherent irrationality at its core.
  • Science Fiction (SF): any plot or characters are allowed but SF is based on logic and reason, extrapolation and speculation. There are many famous SF tropes including: the future, alternate timelines, time-travel, outer space, other planets, space ships, aliens, androids, AIs,robots, clones, telepathy, teleportation, dystopia, apocalypse, post-apocalypse, faster-than-light travel and similar. Note: if you use any of these SF tropes in your fiction, it will generally trump everything else in your story and your fiction will be classified as SF.
  • Mystery: plot involves a dead body (or other serious crime) in chapter one, the protagonist is some kind of detective, and the bad guy is brought to some kind of justice in the end. Note: the reader and the detective essentially solve the crime(s) together during the course of the book. Mysteries are logical.
  • Thriller: the plot involves the protagonist trying to stop some kind of villain before he/she commits their crime, and the crime should be significant such as mass murder, terrorism, assassination and similar. The climax occurs when the protagonist defeats the villain. Often, the reader knows who the villain is and what they are planning but the protagonist does not--adding to the thrill factor.
  • Horror: here the key is author intent, the author seeks to unsettle and/or frighten the reader. Thus any plot or characters are allowed. Often unnatural and/or supernatural elements are involved. In recent years, horror has often involved graphic violence, including plenty of gore.

Some deprecated genres include Chick Lit (call it humorous women's fiction), and Westerns (not selling at all).

Some so-called genres modify the genres in the list above. For example, you can have historical women's fiction, historical romance, historical mystery, etc. Another example: humorous women's fiction, humorous fantasy, humorous SF.

Good luck with your genre!