Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Genre Identified #6: Historical Speculative Fiction

A historical speculative fiction novel takes place in an actual period of Earth's history and can be historical fantasy, historical science-fiction, historical paranormal, historical horror, etc. So you can take Speculative Fiction back to the stone age, ancient times, medieval times, clear up to near modern times. Characters and conflicts may be fictional or actual historical figures, as long as the setting and basic world building are in a familiar time period.
Many works written in olden times are now often classified under the "historical" speculative fiction stamp, even though at that time, they were the equivalent of say - urban fantasy, contemporary science-fiction, or horror. Tales such as Dracula, Frankenstein, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, etc.

One recently popular branch of historical speculative fiction is Steampunk, taking place in Victorian times with science-fiction elements to it, and in some cases, also paranormal. Steampunk also is within the fringe of Alternate History.

Another historical spec fiction favorite are Arthurian Fantasies which retell the legend of King Arthur and Camelot in a distinctive time period.

Yet another is the Gothic novel: "a traditional form depicting the encroachment of the Middle Ages upon the 18th century Enlightenment, filled with images of decay and ruin, and episodes of imprisonment and persecution." (The 2009 Guide To Literary Agents)

For further reference:
Goodreads Popular Historical Fantasy Novels list
Goodreads Historical Paranormal Romance list
Library Journal's Steampunk: 20 Core Titles
Steampunk.com: What is Steampunk?
The Gothic Novel
A list of Arthurian Fiction by the Syosset Public Library

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Subtle Antagonist

The most commonly known and used trope to set up conflict is man vs. man. We use another person (or creature as the case may be) to fight against our protagonist and give us a story worth reading. And I think we've all scoffed a bit when that antagonist gets too cheesy or isn't strong enough to put up much of a fight. We've all secretly thrilled, adored, or hated a strong villain. Villains make stories go round.

You don't have to use a man vs. man conflict in a speculative story, though. It's usually the first thing we writers think of. "I need a bad guy." But in truth, maybe we'll have a stronger story if we don't have someone bagged and tagged as the villain of the piece.

We can use man vs. nature or man vs. the establishment as a more subtle antagonist. Anything from the clock ticking during or before a natural disaster to a restrictive society that the protagonist must rebel against. I've read some good stories that use subtle antagonists, usually in science-fiction, but also in the occasional fantasy or dystopian work.

Identifying what the main conflict of the story needs to be is a great way to determine if you need a poster child bad guy or a subtle antagonist. And in some cases, you can use both to keep the conflict flowing. Every scene doesn't need to be the protagonist vs. the antagonist (embodied). Maybe the human antagonist has set in motion a sub-conflict that uses a subtle antagonist. Or maybe you've started out with that restrictive society subtle antagonist and the further in your protag gets, the societal movement gets a face in a political leader, peace officer, or socialite.

Having a subtle antagonist propelling the main conflict is a bit freeing in some ways. There's no character development to be done with a natural disaster or plague of killer frogs. This opens up word space real estate to dive in deep into the protagonist and any secondary or tertiary characters. We can explore their darker sides even, where the line of friend and foe blur a bit as normal human reactions override goodwill and intentions.

What books have you read that use a subtle antagonist as the main conflict? Are you writing a story that uses a subtle antagonist? What do you think about mixing the two?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Linkage Catch-Up

Normally I try to do something like this on an occasional Saturday, but let's face it, it's the growing season and all my spare time is spent outside in battle trying to reclaim my yard from the weeds the landlord let go rampant everywhere. So let's play a little catch-up on some of the really good blog links that have recently come out. And hey, if you've run across a really good one I didn't spot, mention it in the comments.

Let's start with some new agent alerts from GLA:
Jennifer Azantian, now at Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency: "Jennifer is only interested in: young adult science fiction and fantasy (including all of their subgenres)."

Okay then, here's a fresh new agent for all of you writing speculative fiction from the YA POV.

Sarah Joy Freese, now at Wordserve Literary: "Christian romance, Christian historical romance, Christian suspense, and paranormal romance...I am looking for full-length fiction, 65,000-100,000 words in either the general or Christian market."

So if you are writing paranormal romance with a Christian bent, you might want to check her out.

Sara Sciuto, now at Full Circle Literary: "Sara is actively building her list with a focus on middle grade and young adult, in particular, dystopian, science fiction, fantasy, and unique paranormal. She also enjoys contemporary stories with a strong, authentic voice (but no chick-lit, please). She has a particular soft spot for anything in the Deep South (sweet contemporary to dark paranormal), gritty contemporary, utilitarian dystopias or dystopian thrillers, anything with international locales or period settings (think flappers or “Mad Men”), and anything with artistic themes. Sara is also looking for standout picture books, especially those with a quirky or humorous narrative. She’s also considering select nonfiction in the areas of craft, design, how-to, lifestyle, and pop culture. Currently, she is NOT considering any adult fiction (all genres)."

Again, here's one for the YA/MG writing crowd.

Andrew Wetzel, now at Martin Literary Management: "Speaking of my tastes, the areas I’d most like to carve out for myself with Martin Literary Management would be ‘Literary with a capital L’ fiction (think Eugenides, Houellebecq, Murakami, Cormac McCarthy, Martin Amis) as well as the dark corner of the literary list that is slightly less pretentious and slightly more commercial (think Palahniuk, Bret Easton Ellis, Dennis Johnson). That’s a very ‘male’ list and it is definitely where my personal tastes lie. I love a great story but style is just as important to me sometimes. I’m also very interested in reading Young Adult novels, specifically those with a macabre sensibility or a fascinating dystopian or fantasy setting."

Promising for many speculative fiction writers whether writing to adults or YA.

And now onto some good blogpost links:
Write to Express, Not To Impress by Bernadette Pajer
Confusion is Not the Same as Mystery by Mary Kole
The Real Beginning by Mary Kole
Fridays With Agent Kristin: Episode 7 - What is a Plot Catalyst?
The Criteron for Evaluating an Agent by Kristin Nelson
7 Bad Habits of Successful Writers by Rachelle Gardner
Quality Books Take Time by Rachelle Gardner
Contracts by Anne Elliot (The contract between writer and reader)
Something Old, Something New by Sophie Masson
Going Deeper: A Process Rather Than a Technique by Robin LaFevers
How NOT to write a series, OR, Don't put all your eggs in one basket by Jennifer Laughran
ProTips for Published Authors Pt.1: Website Tips by Jennifer Laughran
ProTips for Published Authors Pt. 2: The Bookstore Event by Jennifer Laughran
April Offers--FAQs by Vickie Motter
May Conferences: Prep Work by Vickie Motter
May Conferences: Etiquette by Vickie Motter
Checking References by Sarah LaPolla
Start Your Story: a post from TBA Intern Y on The Bent Agency blog
It's in the details, writers! by Alan Rinzler
Writers Wednesday: An Authors Greatest Tools by E.M. LaBonte
The Five Stages of Query Revisions by Riley Redgate
What Are You Looking for in an Agent? by Jami Gold
Cliffhangers: Not Just for the End of a Book by Jami Gold
Thinking about first person by Patricia C.Wrede
What Kind of Skeleton by Patricia C. Wrede (Plot structure)

I think if I do more your eyes will glaze over. What's listed should fill any spare blog reading time.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Crazy Lines Game

I thought I’d do something a little different today. I’m going to share the seventeenth sentence of pg. 105 from my WIP (numbers picked at random). Would you share yours in the comments? It’ll read like a patchwork quilt if we get enough people involved. If you’re not up to pg. 105 yet just pick the last page you’re on.

I’d like to see how many lines we can get.

Here’s mine:
Oh the irony.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Do You Really Want to Write Video Games?

We’re often inspired by the work of others. Fan fiction and alternate versions of the same trope usually follow a hot trend. We see a movie about love in the time of killer robots and want to come up with our own spin. Or we read a novel about talking farm animals bent on taking over the world and think, “I know a better way to use that idea!” All fine and good.

So, what about video games?

I think fan fiction or new spins on already established games puts a writer in dangerous territory and not for the reasons you might think up first.  Someone falls in love with a gaming genre or trope and decides to write a novel based on their ideas. The problem lies in whether or not they can write a story.

Good ideas are little use if the craft of writing isn’t learned. Gaming ideas are fine, but I can tell when someone is an enthusiastic gamer rather than a writer. How? There is a lot of action, no character development and description is unbalanced. The gamer-writer goes to great lengths to describe their version of weapons, ships, or magical system. Everything else falls by the wayside, especially valuable elements such as setting, other people, culture, etc. The story reads like an arcade game, a play-by-play with the hero/heroine beating up the bad guys one at a time. When the hero gets hurt he continues on as if that gaping gunshot wound in the thigh was a scratch and as if he has a bin of extra lives. In the meantime, the foes go down like a paper plate in a campfire.

No one will want to buy or read a story like this. An arcade style novel is shallow, unfulfilling, and boring. I’m sorry if this sounds cruel.

If you have some great ideas, inspired by video games, go ahead and write them down. Then learn about how to craft a story. Or, look into writing for video games. If you want to make a book out of your ideas, it’s going to take a lot of hard work. Forget about making a quick fortune.

Things you’ll want to study up on:
1) Plotting
2) Character Development
3) Inner and Outer Conflict
4) Setting and description
5) Dialogue
6) Action Scenes

 Yes, I did mention action scenes in that list. Gaming style action doesn’t reflect how things are in the real world. I don’t care how good the graphics are. If you’re writing your version of a war story, based on gaming lore, you need to keep in mind that your hero isn’t the center of the world like he is in the game. There are other people out there and they have their own ideas, ways of doing things, are unpredictable, and they certainly aren’t going to approach your hero one at a time.

If studying the craft of writing sounds like more work than you want to invest in, then maybe writing novel versions of your favorite games isn’t in your future.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Genre Identified #5: Dark Fantasy

From the 2009 Guide To Literary Agents: "Dark Fantasy (are) tales that focus on the nightmarish underbelly of magic, venturing into the violence of horror novels."

Dark fantasy isn't confined to modern times. It can take place in the here and now, in another world, or in the past. Based on the definition above, there are still valid questions regarding whether a particular manuscript falls under the Dark Fantasy classification or another. What about paranormal romance? Or a horror story involving magic?

Compare a vampire tale that is mostly love-story, versus one that dives into the violence and dark magical rules as the main staples for the story. Or a horror story with elements of magic realism versus a postively magical tale that walks on the dark side and characters come by horrible ends. There is a difference. What a writer needs to do is analyze their story and decide what the ruling factors are. The horrific violence plus the dark magic would qualify it for a Dark Fantasy label. If those aren't the main points, then you can safely label your story in another subgenre.

For further reference, may I suggest:
Dark Fantasy: sub-genre or marketing ploy? from the Speculative Book Review blog.
Writing: What is Dark Fantasy? from the blog of Colleen Anderson
What is Dark Fantasy as a genre? from the blog of Colin F. Barnes: Author
Goodreads Dark Fantasy book list

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Blog Spotlights #21: The Book Deal

Today I'd like to steer you all to another great blog to follow, The Book Deal by Alan Rinzler. A veteran of the industry in both editing and publishing, he takes the time to continue to help writers achieve their dream through his blog. He says: "The Book Deal is my blog for writers and book people, about the strange and inscrutable way books are published and the big changes going on in the business today. Look here for my perspectives on the challenges and opportunities writers face in the world of digital and print book publishing, the mysterious process of acquisition, development, sales, and marketing, and how agents and publishers conspire and compete behind the scenes to find the best new authors."

Some of his most recent posts include:

Launching a successful blog tour
Book marketing & publicity: Advice from three experts
The Viagra Diaries: A self-publishing mega success story
Creating a compelling narrative voice
Growing a short story into a novel
Why writers need agents: 4 pros weigh in
As the editor: Is it OK to cross genres?
The new author pitch: Show, don't sell
Grand finales: Tips for writing great endings
Fear of editors
When do you need an editor?
Great book jackets: Tips from 4 design pros

And so many more. If you have some time today, have industry questions, or need some inspiration might I suggest you pop over and comb through his posts.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

We Are Onions Not Turnips

When we first meet someone, whether we intentionally mean to or not, we automatically do an analysis of the other person and categorize them. First impressions put that new person into a slot based on what they are wearing, the sound of their voice, the shape of their face, or even what they are doing. Most people we meet only receive the benefit of a first impression. What about subsequent impressions then?

On a second meeting with a person, our category sorter goes to work again. This time maybe, we get to talk longer to that person or have a completely different exchange with them. These can be either positive or negative. Maybe the person looks very different in their dress or hairstyle than before. Maybe they are doing an activity that shoves them out of the category our first impression put them in.

The more you interact with someone, the more you discover that person doesn't deserve a single category or even the first one you put them in. First impressions are what I like to call turnip impressions. When you cut into a turnip it pretty much looks the same the entire way through. It's a bland, solid, single-factor vegetable. Our turnip impressions of people, in a big picture sort of way, are unfair, unjust, and often far off the mark. The reason is that people are actually onions. We have layers and those layers go deep. We have different sides, some of which polarize each other. While we think we may have someone pegged and boxed-in neatly into a category or two or three categories, the truth is, no one can ever completely know someone else. Even if you've spent years with someone. It's impossible to uncover all of the layers within another.

The same holds true for writing about your characters. Our initial ideas of a story and the people or creatures that inhabit them are turnip impressions. And, sad to say, sometimes we leave them in those turnip impression slots. Think how much more enjoyment you'd get from writing about someone after uncovering a few of their layers in an onion evaluation. In good, character-driven stories, the author takes the time to do an onion analysis of their characters. And then, using that knowledge, she uses those layers to drive the story. The same can hold true in a story which is meant to be mostly plot-driven. You don't have to leave your characters at the turnip stage. If you unpeel a few of their layers and include some strong inner growth or motivation to add tension, plot twists, or even outright conflict, you've also added depth to your story.

The next trick is to use those multiple layers to your advantage. You don't spell them all out at once for the reader. Readers need mystery and surprise. This is one reason why giving a character's entire fact sheet at the beginning of a story is so frowned upon. Give the reader a first impression and only a first impression. Let them draw the wrong conclusions, and don't fret. Because if you're smart, you'll give them also a second impression, and a third, and a fourth, and a fifth, and so on throughout the book. This can be done in a number of ways, not limited to:

1) Change of appearance.
2) Relevant backstory inserted at the right moment.
3) Reactions to events and other characters in the story.
4) Needs and wants.
5) What motivates them, pushes them, and forces them to make hard decisions.
6) Quirks, weaknesses, and strengths.
7) Choices they make in both action, thought, and speech.

There's nothing wrong with fluffy, popcorn fiction. Sometimes a light read hits the spot. There are a lot of books out there that come and hit big because they are fun or thrilling. Then they drift away from the public view. They were last year's sensation. Are they really books you'd pick up and read again and again? Probably not, unless they have something you're addicted to.

If you want to create a book that people will talk about years after it's published and will go back to and read more than once, it needs depth. One way to ensure some longevity for the story is to create onion people rather than turnip people.