Genre Rules Ugh


Back in the olden days when we sat with our tribe around the campfire listening to the elders tell stories, no one, and I mean no one, interrupted the sage storytellers mid-sentence to say, “Stop, You’re not following the genre rules.”

But today is another matter.

Each genre, and then sub-genre, and then sub-sub-genre has its own rules, and if they are not followed marketing your work in that genre becomes difficult, if not impossible. Mosely, who writes in several different genres, in his interview with PBS this spring said that he stays within the genre he’s writing in. Well, good for him. So sensible. I wish…

The Indies (self published writers) are laughing at me by this point in my post, because they don’t pay attention to “the rules.” Their stories sell regardless of the rules. They do, however, have to develop a talent for tagging their work appropriately so they draw the right audiences. They say readers don’t really care where your book “fits on the shelf.” They just want a good story.

So what am I griping about this fine Monday morning?  I like mixing up the genres. Lets look at some basics that I play with:

Jane Austin
Jane Austin

Romance: A hero (h who preferably is a kind hearted but tortured soul) and a heroine (H who is flawed in a forgivable way)  meet early in the story, flirt a whole lot and find fulfillment in more ways than one in each others arms and other body parts. It must, must, must have a happy ending referred to in the biz as an HEA. So H +h= HEA

Murder Mystery/Suspense: Clues are set forth for the reader to try to figure out “who dun it.”  It’s like an intellectual puzzle and the main rule is: play fair with the reader.

Sherlock Holmes Wikipedia
Sherlock Holmes

Romantic Suspense: Has two arcs in the plot, one romantic and one suspenseful. The market prefers a heavy dose of Romance with a sprinkling of suspense.

Thriller: The reader is taken on an emotional roller-coaster by chase scenes, psychological drama, or  whatever it takes to get them flipping the pages late at night and forgetting their problems. The higher the stakes the better.

Now, I find a story that fits into only one of these categories a trifle dull, or over stimulating, or silly, or…a range of adjectives. That is to say it doesn’t feel totally real to me. I like to develop an intriguing mystery, add suspense and a thrilling scene here and there, and  touch the heart with romance. But I don’t always want to end with a marriage proposal. Please, it just doesn’t work for me.

So I’m griping over the question: learn how to play by the traditional publishing rules or play in the sand with the Indies?

What do you think? Is it time for us to throw away the genre rules? redefine them? Or go Indie? Any advice would be appreciated.

The Joy of Storyboarding and Meandering Through the Murky Subconscious

joy-3First the Joy:

I’ve fallen in LOVE with Blake Snyder’s storyboard. As he explains in Save the Cat:

“The Board is a way for you to “see” your movie [think manuscript] before you start writing. It is a way to easily test different scenes, story arcs, ideas, bits of dialogue and story rhythms, and decide whether they work–or if they just plain suck…And the best part is, while you’re doing all this seemingly ridiculous time-wasting work , your story is seeping into your subconscious in a whole other way.”

Brilliant! The system is tactile, colorful and communicative right down to the murky depths of creativity.

How does it work? You start with a “board” which can be a piece of chart paper, blackboard, whiteboard, wall, or whatever flat space you have and create four long rows which represent: Act One, the first half of Act Two, the second half of Act Two and Act Three. For me this translates to:

  1. the first quarter of my story ending with the first turning point,
  2. the second quarter ending with the second turning point,
  3. the third quarter, during which the bad guys gather, ending in the black moment and crisis and
  4.  the denouement.

Scenes are jotted down on index cards and placed on the continuum. You color code them and detail the emotion and conflict changes in each one (nb. he details and easy system for this in the book). The cards are placed where you think they belong and then you move them around as your story begins to takes shape adding and deleting scenes as needed.

Snyder recommends using 40 cards, 10 per line but I’m not going to worry about numbers yet. It will be interesting to see how many it will take and where they tend to bunch up.

“One great part about using The Board is the easy way you can identify problem spots”

In other words, you find the black holes that are sucking the life out of your plot and screwing with your pacing. I think of it as a my story shoelace, it pulls together all the bits and pieces that are floating in my head to give me a solid footing. How cool is that?

I’m about 19,000 words into the story I’m putting up on my first Board. Below is a picture of my first attempt. I haven’t added much detail to the scenes, or noted the emotion and conflict yet.


Then You Take the Plunge:

41zE6Pp83tL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX285_SY380_CR,0,0,285,380_SH20_OU01_Snyder describes the experience of the writer:

“We’ll be the guy up on the dock that feeds the oxygen tube down to you, the deep-sea diver, as you descend into the depths of your subconscious mind. Make sure that in your life you too have similar support from friends and loved ones. Because as you drop into the depths of your story, trying to capture the thoughts and the feelings you need to accomplish your mission, you have to trust that those up in the real world are supporting you and are watching your back. It’s weird down there! You’ll see all manner of wondrous and strange things, be amazed by what you’re capable of handling, and surprised by how great an experience it can be. But it’s also dangerous; doubt and anxiety will plague you, and , like the bends, it will cause you to see fearful things that aren’t even there.” (p. 116, Blake Snyder, Save the Cat, Sheridan Books Inc. 2005))

Have you experienced “the writer bends” lately? Been story boarding? Love to hear from you. Have a great week.


Creative Journaling – Getting Inside my Heroine


I feel like a little girl with a new crayon box. Drawing and coloring my heroine Maggie in a creative journal is not only great fun, it’s a process which informs me about who she is and how her story needs to evolve. Maggie is the central character in my Vancouver series.

Black and White Character Development

I’ve written charts of information about Maggie and stored them on One Note. On long walks along the waterfront, I’ve held interviews with her in my mind asking her every imaginable question. And through the first draft I got to know a lot about  her as she developed through the twists and turns of the plot. But none of this was enough. I still had that gnawing feeling that I wanted to know more about her. It was kind of like meeting an interesting person at a party, being intrigued, but not being left with a full impression of who they really are.

And then there was the question that burst my bubble: Is she 33 or 35?

I know I’m only talking about two years. But it’s the difference between being a young woman almost in her twenties, and being a mature woman; physically at her prime and edging away into a time when personality trumps looks and plays a more dominant role in her life. So which is she? You wouldn’t believe how many hours I’ve wondered about this.

Maggie Developed in Color

As I started drawing a picture of Maggie beneath her skin (above), I realized she needed tears. Lots of tears. Then I realized I need to look more closely at those tears.

That was my first “ah ha” moment with my creative journal. The process  brought me closer to my heroine.


A Lesson in Suspense from Lee Child


Going Hungry

Love, love, love:

Lee Child’s article this weekend  in the New York Times: A Simple Way to Create Suspense . (12- 12-09)  He compares creating suspense to baking a cake for your family, and says that you shouldn’t get stuck on the ingredients (i.e., characters etc.), but make sure, that your family goes hungry before the cake is ready. Then they’ll love the cake.  Can’t argue that. His message is that the suspense writer should constantly raise questions in the reader’s mind and slowly tell them answers until the big question is answered at the end. Child concludes:

Trusting such a simple system feels cheap and meretricious while you’re doing it. But it works. It’s all you need. Of course, attractive and sympathetic characters are nice to have; and elaborate and sinister entanglements are satisfying; and impossible-to-escape pits of despair are great. But they’re all luxuries. The basic narrative fuel is always the slow unveiling of the final answer.

So don’t bake cakes. Make your family hungry instead.

He makes it sound so easy. Gives a whole new meaning to: “Let them eat cake.”

But his analogy is, and he is, brilliant when it comes to suspense.

I have to say, however, and I know I’m not the only one taking up cyber space with this concern, that I’m irked by the fact that Tom Cruise is going to play Reacher in the upcoming Lee Child movie. He’s short, and so not Reacher-ish in any way to my mind. The name Reacher came from the times when Lee Child was a beginning writer and his wife said to him something like, “Well, if you don’t make it writing books you can always be a Wallmart reacher.” (Someone tall (he’s 6 foot 5) who reaches things on high shelves for people.) So Lee Child gave his leading character the name Reacher. What exactly can Tom Cruise reach for? Hmmm. And I’m not just complaining about height, because I don’t think about that sort of thing when I get involved in a movie, but the character of Reacher is deep and full of integrity and…  you get my drift. I hope the actor can pull it off, but dare I say it…

It will be a reach.

Have a great week.

6 Lessons I Learned from the RWA

I joined the RWA (Romance Writers of America) a year ago, and if I had to compress my experience into one phrase or face vampires, or some other gruesome variety of death it would be: I fell through a portal and was immersed in a writer’s world, full of  engaging storytellers spinning tales and teaching craft. It’s been an amazing year.

It began when I wandered into a local chapter meeting (i.e., VIC – Vancouver Island Chapter). It was August  so the attendance was low, but the panel discussion given by two writers was so  phenomenal it pulled the earth beneath my feet from under me. Really.

First, Lee McKenzie (multi-published author with Harlequin) spoke about developing characters using archetypes. Then, Bonnie Edwards (multi-published, Hqn Blaze and others) explained  the craft of developing “scene and sequel” in a story. They talked about other things too, but I was so blown away with these two topics that I didn’t get it all. I left with pages of notes, a decision to join the RWA , and an aching desire to write.

…and the learning didn’t stop there. I’ve attended at least one workshop a month with our local chapter, taken on-line courses and traveled to Vancouver for a workshop. I’m a bit overwhelmed with all the information I’ve been given, but I can see it slowly taking root in my writing and I’m thrilled. I entered an in-house contest and four of our chapter published authors spent hours reviewing my work and commenting. I reworked my wip and sent it out…and so far its finalled in two contests: the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and the Golden Claddagh Contest. It’s been a heady adventure and I can’t wait to see where my writing will take me next year.

As I’m coming up to a one year anniversary for me and the RWA, I decided to reflect on the first six lessons I learned:

One – POV (Point of View)

I like to get into all my character’s heads, and I’m learning to stick to one POV at a time. No more head hopping.

Two – Active Verbs

If I had a dime for ever time I’ve edited passive verbs out of my wips I’d be rich. I seem to get particularly stuck on “had”. She had seen that, rather than She saw that.

Three – Character Development

I start writing a story by developing two strong characters and then work out their conflicts. (References: Lee McKenzie’s workshop and The Complete Writer’s Guide To Heroes and Heroines by Tami D. Coiwden, Caro LaFever, Sue Viders)

Four – Scene and Sequel

This refers to the craft of developing a scene (action) followed by a sequel (reflection and decision to move on to the next action/scene). It may sound simple, but when done well it makes the plot crystal clear. (Reference: Bonnie Edwards on-line workshop)

Five – Nixing Dialogue Tags

Instead of adding dailogue tags like, “‘What’s going on,’ he said,” I’m working on having dialogue stand alone beside action. For example: “He slammed the door. ‘What’s going on.'”

Six – GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict)

When developing my story I constantly keep in mind my character’s goals, motivation and conflicts. (References: Debra Dixon GMC, and Nancy Warren’s DOG plotting process)

And then…there’s the camaraderie, the critique sessions and the on-going support… It’s been a great year.

For anyone out there interested in writing (in any genre) I highly recommend joining the RWA to learn writing craft, meet writers and move forward. I can’t wait to see what my top 6 lessons in my second year will be.

3 Reasons I like Series

The Best Selling Book Series

I just finished reading  B.J. Daniel’s  Wrangled, her last book in the Chisholm Ranch series (Harlequin Intrigue). I thoroughly enjoyed it, and that got me to thinking about series. Why I like reading them and why I like writing them. It comes down to three points:

One: Comfort

If I like the characters and the setting in a story, I don’t want to let them go. I want to revisit them. Reading books in a series is comfortable … like slipping into your favorite slippers, the ones that fit just right. There’s nothing more relaxing than grabbing a book you know you’re going to enjoy and sitting down for a good read. Writing books in a series, is also comforting. You get to work with the same characters, settings and themes deepening them as you move along.

Two: An Intimate Relationship Between Writer and Reader

Call me crazy, but I think when you open a book in a series, you are embarking on an epic adventure with the writer. One you have agreed upon will further the last story, perhaps even enhance it. It’s an unspoken agreement with the storyteller. As a reader, and as a writer I love the connection. It’s somehow more intimate, because it’s long term. As a writer, I’m not saying here is a story I hope you enjoy it. I’m saying, here is my world, I hope you enjoy the many stories it contains. I guess I’m one for long term love commitments<grin>.

Three: The Big Hero

A series gives the writer the opportunity to fully develop a hero, over several stories. I’m a sucker for heroes. They inspire me and make me feel hopeful that whatever adversity befalls man, the hero will survive and pull us all through.

So…that’s what I’ve been thinking about.

A Toe Nudging No-No

My funniest moment last week came in the middle of a critique group session.

We came to the part in my story where the hero uses his toe to nudge the woman’s body lying on the floor. Definitely not heroic, warned my friends.

But expedient, I argued.

I needed the hero to check on whether the body was alive. That led to a discussion of what kind of guy would use his toe

… whether he would have steel toed boots on as he just came off a motorcycle

… and of course lots of laughter.

It was one of those scenes  that make perfect sense in my writer’s loft, but don’t hold up in the light of the day. The more I thought about it the more ridiculous it seemed. Imagine my tender loving hero kicking her. Oh dear…time for revision. Thank goodness for cps. (critique partners)

The next day I was swimming my laps in the pool and thinking over my WIP. When I came to the toe nudging moment, I started laughing. Have you ever tried laughing when you’re swimming the front crawl? I sucked in water and stopped to choke and splutter. Three guards eyed me suspiciously and I shrugged my shoulders. I could hardly explain it was because my hero had a toe nudging problem. LOL

One of the things I love about being a writer is these golden moments, when my fictitious world collides with my real world. I’m left with a resplendent glow, a sense of the cosmic humor of life.

Moral of the story: Real men don’t toe nudge:)