Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Blog Spotlights #26: Dragons, Aliens, and Wraiths, Oh My!

It's been a fantastic month for guest posts. I thank everyone who contributed to my blog and who gave me an opportunity to share on theirs. To wrap up the month, I'd like to spotlight the official blog of the Speculative Fiction Group from Agent Query Connect. If you've enjoyed the guest posts on Yesternight's Voyage this month, you'll want to bookmark Dragons, Aliens, and Wraiths, Oh My! for more great post by this remarkable group of writers. The blog is speculative fiction bent. You can sign up for their handy newsletter to get new blogposts in your email feed.

What I think I've enjoyed most about this blog is the range of experience and advice from people who come from all different walks of life and who write in different speculative genres. Some of the most recent posts include:

Murder for Fun and Profit (self-editing)
Writer's Troubles for the Holidays
Antagonists: Who, Why, and When
Action Sequences As Seen by T.J.

Plus more. Check it out.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Guest Post: When Longer Books Work

I'd like to welcome another Speculative Fiction Group member to Yesternight's Voyage today.
Robert Courtland writes epic fantasy tales from his home in Colorado at the foot of the majestic Rocky Mountains. His main goal in writing is to bring something new to epic fantasy. In his first novel, Counterpoint to Chaos, he created an Asian inspired setting and inserted a young woman from Pakistan as the heroine. Look for Counterpoint to Chaos at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Smashwords. Visit Robert’s website for the latest updates on what he is writing.

To continue the question of word count from last week, here we go:

Fiction comes to us in many lengths, from the flash fiction stories that are barely a page to the great epic tales that play out over multiple books and millions of words. When done right, stories are enjoyable to read at any length. But the longer the story is the easier and more likely a writer will include things in the final draft that serve no purpose and often only end up boring the reader. The structure and content of a story is very much related to its length and a story won’t work if it is built on the wrong structure.

That brings me to the dark horse of most of the publishing world, novels with high word counts. How do these authors justify such lengthy stories? They exist in many genres, but only in speculative fiction are the longer lengths books truly the norm and there is a very good reason for that. To justify having a longer story, the story needs to be grander and unable to be told with fewer words. My examples are from epic fantasy, but they apply to any successful story in the neighborhood of 150,000 words or more.

One of the first things about speculative fiction is a broad and varied world to set the story in. J.R.R. Tolkien spent years creating the world of Middle Earth from tidbits of Finish and English myths and legends and a good bit of his own imagination. He created parts of it in the trenches in WWI. Twenty years later he penned The Hobbit and then fifteen years after that he finished The Lord of the Rings. That is a bit extreme, but such thorough work meant Tolkien knew his world intimately. Writers of historical fiction do this same thing through research, but for speculative fiction writers, it requires far more imagination than research.

Another thing is a vast scope to the story. Kings and commoners, humans and elves (or aliens), good and evil, war and peace all work to add to the scope. On the surface, The Lord of the Rings is about the quest to destroy the One Ring, but doing so leads from Hobbiton to Rivendell and eventually to Mordor. It becomes a slight of hand where the battle for Minis Tirith and the attack on the gates of Mordor serve to distract the enemy from the real mission as two lone Hobbits journey into the heart of Mordor to the only place where the One Ring can be destroyed. This is not a story that can be told in fewer words. It is intricate and complex with little that could be trimmed without compromising the whole. The movie adaption really showed this in the difference between the theatrical version and the extended versions. The restored scenes add so much to the story.

Another hallmark is an intimacy with the characters. With such a length of story we spend more time with each of the characters and we get to know them even better. We journey with them through their trials and sometimes as they die. We become more emotionally invested. It serves to make these epic tales more real and personal. Carol Berg did this excellently in her debut Rai-Kirah trilogy as we follow one man, initially a slave, as he discovers his destiny. After three 170,000 word novels, he is like an old friend.

Probably the most extreme example of a truly epic tale has just come to a close with the publication of its final volume. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan (posthumously completed by Brandon Sanderson) spans fourteen volumes and nearly 4.5 million words. It brings up a benefit to publishing long novels. That output in other genres would yield over forty separate books, but condensing it to just fourteen books that average 300,000 words, the author takes fewer publishing slots and the reader has to buy fewer books. It also leads to a more immersive experience.

It can all so easily go wrong. Fortunately, thanks to the publishers, we have rarely seen those blunders (though they may be more common as self-publishing takes off). A few make it to print, some by very esteemed writers, and they are a cautionary tale of how one or more of the things I’ve mentioned have gone wrong. Usually it is that the scope of the story fails or that too much extraneous material remains in the published edition.
The best way to avoid the pitfalls is to do what most writers do and that is read, and read a lot. Knowing your genre and what the premier writers in your genre do is the best class anyone could ask for. If you want to write epic fantasy, read J.R.R. Tolkien, Terry Brooks, Stephen R. Donaldson, George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan, Melanie Rawn, Carol Berg, and Brandon Sanderson. If you want to write space opera, read Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clark, Frank Herbert, David Brin, and Jack McDevitt. After getting to know the masters, you will know how a new writer stacks up.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Male Characters and Justifying an Epic Series

It's a double header day for me today.

I'm taking on the topic of writing male characters when you're female over at Eli Ashpence's blog. Several good links to other blogposts on the topic included.

And I take a bite out of what justifies an epic series, and what doesn't at Robert Courtland's blog.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Guest Post: 10 Things Learned in 2012

I'd like to welcome Michelle Hauk to Yesternight's Voyage today. Michelle blogs at It's In the Details, is a fellow Speculative Fiction Group member, and a soon to be published author. You can follow her also on Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads. She hosts a group on Goodreads devoted to discussing speculative fiction.

Her book, Kindar's Cure comes out in March of 2013.
"Princess Kindar of Anost dreams of playing the hero and succeeding to her mother's throne. But dreams are for fools. Reality involves two healthy sisters and a wasting disease of suffocating cough that's killing her by inches. When her elder sister is murdered, the blame falls on Kindar, putting her head on the chopping block.

"No one who survives eighteen years of choke lung lacks determination. A novice wizard, Maladonis Bin, approaches with a vision - a cure in a barren land of volcanic fumes. As choices go, a charming bootlicker that trips over his feet isn't the best option, but beggars can't be choosers. Kindar escapes with Mal and several longtime attendants only to have her eyes opened that her country faces dark times.

"Her mother's decision to close the prosperous mines spurs poverty and joblessness, inciting rebellion and opening Anost to foreign invasion. As Mal urges her toward a cure that will prove his visions, suddenly, an ally turns traitor, delivering Kindar to a rebel army, who have their own plans for a sickly princess.

"With the killer poised to strike again, the rebels bearing down, and the country falling apart, she must weigh her personal hunt for a cure against saving her people."

And now over to Michelle directly:

Being always slightly off my rocker, I volunteered to do a post for Joyce about ten things I learned in 2012. Ten things. Ten things. That will be easy, right? Eager to find a starting point, I looked back to last year, examined where I started it and where I ended it, and can honestly say they were not the same spot. Things did change for me. I became wiser--or maybe more experienced as a writer (definitely bolder.) Sometimes it was painful and sometimes embarrassing. I'll let some proverbs show what I learned.

Back in that faraway time of January 2012, I was querying my second manuscript, Kindar's Cure. (Strangely enough in this here and now time of January 2013, I'm querying my third manuscript, Dodge the Sun.)

10. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Is this old proverb true or false in regards to querying? After getting many, many, too many rejections over three different manuscripts, I can honestly say...querying is extremely painful.

Did it kill me?


Did it make me stronger?

Eh. Maybe. Form rejections hurt as much the one hundredth time as the first time. I think I dwell on them less now. What I learned is not to let them stop me.

9. Rome wasn't built in a day. In regards to the publishing business, this one is absolutely true. Publishing moves like a snail with a hangover. To write Kindar and edit it took a year. (Nanowrite people are looking at me. What can I say? I'm slow.) From the start of the query process until I signed a contract to publish with a small press was ten months of near constant email checking and refreshing. Be patient. If you're looking for an agent or a publisher, expect to wait and wait and wait and...

8. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. What does this mean? After you send those queries, don't be sitting around pressing refresh on your email. Start a new project while you wait for responses. Then if nothing happens on your current manuscript, you'll be ready for more crushing thoughtful replies on another.

7. Fortune favors the brave. If someone is kind enough to hold a contest where you might be brought to the attention of agents, don't be afraid to enter just because the feedback is tough to bear. Just remember that contests are long shots and no substitute for putting in the work of researching agents to see which are the best matches for your work. After all, there are no quick fixes.

6. All that glitters is not gold.  Keep in mind that an offer, whether from an agent or publisher, is just the beginning. Some writers forget to look on down the road. There is more work to be done once you get an offer because now you have to build yourself as an author. If you don't believe me, then check out the promotional checklist on AQC. It's a killer.

Not only do you have to write and edit, but promote yourself and your book. It's not something that comes easily if you're a shy person. In the middle of 2012, a lot of my attention turned toward this perplexing riddle of how to draw attention to myself.

5. If you build it; they will come--eventually. I ramped up my efforts on blogging in the beginning of 2012. At first, I was writing to myself because I was the only one reading the dang thing. But gradually the followers built to where I'm not alone. Now, a lot of nice people actually leave me comments. I even have a dedicated following of spammers who leave me incomprehensible comments with links I'm afraid to click. (I highly recommend inviting real writerly guests to contribute to your blog until you're off the ground and adding pictures to your posts.)

And as for embarrassing moments as I promised above, think and rethink having giveaways on your blog. Make sure you can get people to enter so you won't be giving books to empty air.

4. If a tweet falls in the forest will anyone care? That should be a proverb, don't you think? I finally got up the nerve to join Twitter. I do not find it a great place for promotion. No matter how often someone shouts out about their book, I don't click their links. I expect many others don't either. They are all there to shout out their own business. There is just too much traffic, too much promotion, with no way to weed the good from the bad.

I do find it a great place to connect with friends and make new ones. It's also a useful place for learning from agents. You can discover some great contests. Twitter has been a timewaster and unexpected bonus. Take the good with the bad. (Ha! Two proverbs for the price of one.)

3. Don't burn your bridges behind you. In other words, watch what you say because the internet is forever. I've heard of writers responding to bad reviews or troll comments and they usually get the worst of that attempt to vindicate themselves.

2. A friend in need is a friend indeed. Help out fellow writers as often as you can. Host them on your blog. Give suggestions on their queries. Feedback their chapters. Retweet their tweets. Not only will they repay the favor, but you'll feel happier with yourself. He who gives, receives.

1. Friendship is golden. The surest and best way to succeed in life (and in promotion) is to make friends. Of course you have to be genuine; this isn't something you can fake. Nothing will serve you better than surrounding yourself with supporters. Of all the treasures writing has brought me, I value the friends I've made the most.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Lessons Learned the Hard Way...

Today I'm guest blogging over at It's In the Details on one of the things I've had to learn the hard way as a writer. It's the start of a brand new blog topic series for Michelle, so please show some support and click through the link to read. And feel free to share in her comments some of the things you've learned the hard way, too.

Friday, January 18, 2013

When Outlining Breaks Down...

Aaron guest blogged for me and I'm guest blogging for him. To get my take on what happens and what should you do if your outline fails you, jump over here.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Guest Post: What Justifies a Larger Word Count In Speculative Fiction. And What Doesn't.

 Today's Guest Blog Post comes from author, Aaron Bradford Starr, a fellow Speculative Fiction Group member. Aaron's published short stories, paintings, and interior art in Black Gate Magazine, Black Gate Online, and Stupefying Stories. Follow him on his blog, Imaginary Friend or on Twitter

I was visiting with my old friend, Joyce, one summer, when the subject of word count came up. We were sitting on the veranda of her chrysanthemum plantation, after a leisurely day of beekeeping, and I happened to mention I’d recently finished my current manuscript. After a round of congratulations, she inquired as to its length, and was horrified when I answered it was 200K, give or take. Setting down her mint lemonade with trembling hands, she composed herself.

“Surely you can whittle that down, in the next draft? Eliminating about half the book should just about do it!” It is to her credit she didn’t rub her hands together in anticipation, being, as she was at the time, in the throes of a stint with flash fiction and haiku. The opportunity to assist in editing such a work as mine had her mentally sharpening her reddest pencil in anticipation.

I shook my head. “No, I think it’s about right. A little tightening, perhaps, is called for, but it’s the right length for the story it tells.”

“But think of the trees!” she exclaimed, waving to the stately oaks that stood in the distance, across the fields. “No environmentally conscious agent would ever represent such a behemoth.”

“Ah, but the speculative fiction genres tend to run longer than others,” I reminded her.

“Poppycock!” she responded, then amended herself. “Well, some authors do. But new authors must keep under 115K, or so. At least for their first novel.”

“I suppose,” I said. “But can you not think of any legitimate reasons why a novel might be allowed to run long?”

Taking up her tea once more, she leaned back into her wicker chair, considering, and we sat awhile, the only sound the wind across the fields, carrying to us the scent of flowers. “Well,” she said at last, “the setting itself might need more visual description than in other genres.”

I nodded, thinking of my lovingly crafted vistas. “Yes, yes!” I agreed. “The setting is a primary way to invite the reader into your new world. A believable, vivid setting will go a long way toward suspending the reader’s disbelief.”

“True,” Joyce said. “And once the magic or SF-stuff gets into full gear, you can always fall back on the setting. The way the world reacts to your imaginary dangers and resolutions does make it easier to support the completely impossible, I would think.”

“So you agree, then?”

“Not so fast!” she said, fixing me with the calculating gaze that has set so many authors to flight. I swallowed, taking an unsteady sip of my tea.

“What about keeping your writing tight?” she asked. “Lean and mean?”

“You can do that,” I said, thinking furiously. “I fact, my first novel, which I’ve since split up into a trilogy due to it’s very great size, had exactly this quality. The first draft was entirely too fast, for all of its length. I actually had to add in as much as I took out, and a bit more besides, in the following drafts. Speculative fiction needs to carefully control the pace. Readers must be allowed to process the new before more is piled on, and this is most easily done by exploring a bit of the familiar in between.”

Joyce nodded, mulling this over. “Yes,” she allowed. “I suppose that’s true. Sometimes, slowing down the pace a bit is necessary.” Her eyes widened in outrage. “But not with fluff!”

“No, never,” I agreed quickly. “You can do so with exploring the character’s personalities, or the setting, as we agreed before.”

“Maybe,” she said, scowling. “But I still think that seventeen syllables should be sufficient for anyone.” As someone who wrote the definitive haiku version of Lord of the Rings, I couldn’t argue her point too directly, so I tried another tack.

“But if the reader’s interest is held, nay, embraced, by a longer work, is word count actually a problem?” I asked. “Length isn’t always bloat, as we’ve agreed. Now, multiplying these considerations with complex plots, a longer work might well be necessary.”

“True,” she said. “But that isn’t license to lollygag with literary bric-a-brac! It’s still better to err on the side of brevity.”

“If an error is necessary,” I agreed, relieved at our accord.

“An error is always necessary, in fiction,” Joyce said, sipping her tea. She waved a hand at the fields before us. “With the petals of these chrysanthemums, I make the finest red pencils in the world. And where would my fortune go, if not for the endless errors of authors?”

“Where indeed?” I asked, and we clinked glasses, settling in to watch the sun set over the distant trees.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Falling in Love with Your World

Today I'm guest blogging over at Writing From the Padded Room. Drop by and share your thoughts and questions regarding world building.

*The above link no longer works. Here is the article I wrote:

I intend to go down one world building road today, only one. This road is probably the brightest and most fantastic of them all, yet fraught with some of the darkest perils for a writer. Like anything else, you can wield it as a mighty tool, or be destroyed when it backfires on you. Ready to take that trip with me?

You have a story idea, or even a rough draft done. Maybe a draft two or three and you’ve realized that your story sounds too much like what has already been done. Maybe agents and editors are saying the same in their rejection letters. World building is one way to make your story stand out from anyone else’s. They say there are only so many plots one can write by. Gimmicks and twists can change those up only so much.  After awhile, agents are tired of seeing another love story about—vampires! Or wait—demigods! No? Um…mermaids? Secret fairy spies? Aliens? Once a gimmick has trended, it gets worn through for a number of years. But that’s a whole other subject.

A unique world can take your plot, its gimmicks and twists to new levels.

The first stop on our road, indeed, the very first step, is to hike up your sleeves, put on your biggest thinking cap, and let your imagination fly faster, farther, and wilder than it ever has before. Be uninhibited. Have paper and pen or an open document up on your computer.

Start with something basic, like where the protagonist comes from or is at the start of the story. What is this place like? How does it affect the protagonist’s view of their world, what they like, what they hate, what they are capable of, what obstacles are in their way? That one little blip of world building can open up more twists to your story. You may even change your mind about what the protagonist’s internal conflict is.

The same can happen the longer you jot down ideas, play with them, toss out the most obvious ones, and latch onto ones you had to think longer and harder about. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to write down my ideas for something (say, what magical rule is going to trip up my heroine the most,) then write down five more after that, then another five more, and five more again. Then choose the last thing I thought of. We think of the most obvious clich├ęs and tropes first. The same ones other writers are thinking of or using.

Ever get frustrated when you see a book or movie come out that used an idea you’d been carefully crafting for the past year? *Raises hand.*

Have fun with your world building, let it work for you. And now here comes the dangerous pitfall: don’t fall in love too deeply with your newly crafted world. It’ll be hard not to.

Here’s what happens when your world becomes your beloved. The plot takes a back seat. The characters take a back seat or become grafted to the scenery.

Because good world building is time intensive and you invest a lot of effort into it, the temptation is to use it all. We visualize this place so well that all we want is for readers to see it exactly the way we do. This often leads to:

1. Over describing. Every. Little. Detail. About. Everything. Every. Step. Of. The. Story.
Pitfall: The reader is now bored. The reader skims. The reader has failed to catch your enthusiasm.
Remedy: Keep to character. What details will your character notice at that moment, in their present mood and circumstances? If they’re wounded, they’re not likely to enjoy how plush the carpet is beneath their feet or wonder what the runes in the crown molding might mean. If they’re hungry, they’ll be noticing things that either make them feel hungrier or looking for a solution to satisfy that hunger. If they are angry, they are more likely to stomp on the flowers than smell them. Remember, this needs to come from your point of view character, not you as the writer and world builder.

2. Info dumping.
Pitfall: Too much too soon (I’m looking at you, lengthy prologue.) The reader starts to skim. Or worse, the reader closes the book due to slow pacing.
Remedy: Keep your plot in the forefront of your mind, especially at the beginning of a story. What is your inciting event, the happening that sets the story in motion? That needs to be as near the front as possible. Not all the backstory on how your space station was constructed and why. The real trick to backstory and especially world building backstory, is breaking it up. Filter it in throughout the book. Weave it. Say three chapters in, your hero gets into trouble with the high command and is brought before a disciplinary council. This would be a better spot for him to bitterly recall how he’d once sat on that council when it was first organized and how inner-politics ousted him from power. Keep it brief and to the point. It’ll also add punch to the scene by including internal development and motivation for the character.

3. Too much show and not enough tell.
Pitfall: You’re now saying “What? We’re supposed to show not tell.” Here’s the problem, dear writer, and one I’ve had to learn the hard way. The show, don’t tell rule is primarily for characterization. Let me emphasize that again: The show, don’t tell rule is primarily for characterization. It is bad business to use when world building. Here’s the primary problem: you know the ins and outs of your world, your readers do not. And if you never take the time to explain things, you lose your readers. You can show them over and over again your characters actions and reactions, but if the reader isn’t grounded in why your characters are behaving that way or why these types of strange things are going on, they can’t be invested in your world.

The second big pitfall with this one is word count. Speculative fiction gets extra space for word count because of world building. This is our lucky break. Don’t blow it. Showing everything and not leaving some things to simple summary bloats your word count to unacceptable lengths. Again, you can fall prey to over detailed description, backstory, flashback, and too much side plot when all you do is show.

Remedy: Stick to your basic story and characters. Know your key scenes. Know what needs to forward the plot. Keep the extra stuff out or down to short explanation.

Trust me on this one. It’s a bear to fix and can derail your book completely.

4. The writer is caught in another land.
Pitfall: You’ve enjoyed your world building so much that all you want to do is stay in that world. You don’t think you can put forth the same effort into another world for another story, or you simply don’t want to. So you create a never ending series of book ideas in this world, regardless of whether you have the right sort of characters to endure so much or enough well-thought out plot to ply readers with.
Remedy: The first step is accepting you have this problem and step away from this world for awhile. I don’t mean a week or two. Try a year. Force yourself to work on something else, situated in somewhere else. It’ll be hard at first but worth it. Use your experienced world building skills to spin a new world, make sure it’s very different from your first one. Better yet, try your hand at writing something that takes place in the actual world. It’ll give you more ideas for when you create your next world.

5. The writer becomes bitter at reader reaction.
Pitfall: This is probably the darkest and most dangerous of them all because this one deals with real emotions and real people. I’ve known writers, really good writers, who fell into the world building pit and when others have tried to pull them out have reacted badly. They develop a huge chip on their shoulders. They refuse to try to fix the errors because they are in perpetual denial. They believe that world building is the top priority of writing. Then they go about tearing down other writers’ worlds and stories because they can’t find many readers for their own. This is self-destructive behavior and a quick way to become ostracized from the writing community.
Remedy: If you find yourself feeling bitter or thinking that everyone doesn’t get your world, pull away from that world right now. Take a long break from it. Read outside your genre. You don’t have to throw away all your years of hard work. You just need to get your focus back. You’re part of an ancient tradition, first done orally, then in the written word. Storytelling. If you’ve lost your storytelling focus, then you aren’t really writing something story readers want to read. Story comes first, no matter what the genre. And if you buried story in favor of building a world, you’ve lost your focus.

So there you have it. The euphoria and despair of world building. It’s a skill that needs fine tuning, patience, and the right vision. You won’t become an expert over night. Like all aspects of writing, it is a necessary tool in the writer’s arsenal. Here some other online resources to help with world building and to share some perspective:


Guest Post: Adding Genre Without Switching Genre

Today's guest blogpost comes from Eli Ashpence, author and fellow Speculative Fiction Group Member. She is the author of Genocide to Genesis:
"Eighty years after World War Three, the immortal Val is one of the few who lives long enough to see the modern world of science crumble into a medieval world of magic."

"The world can change in a matter of minutes. No one knows this better than Val, a life-sucking immortal who wanders the world in search of amusements. The latest, in a city twisted by fallout, is the role of "Vampire Val, Private Detective." But no diversion is lasting enough when the Earth itself incites a massive apocalypse - one that Val has to live through and, possibly, learn from."

Without further ado:

"Adding Genre without Switching Genre" might sound simple on the surface.  It's a little romance in your fantasy or a little erotica in your horror.  It's a little mystery in your sci-fi and a little crime in your paranormal.  But where does an author draw the line?  How can you stop your Alternate-History/Dystopia from turning into a mess of A.History/ Dystopia/ Inspirational/ LGBT?
I'll try to answer this with the experience I've gained from crossing that line.  First, and foremost, you must decide on a primary and secondary genre.  Planners usually decide this during their outline phase.  Pantsters (those that write by the seat of their pants) should have some idea by chapter 3. 
You'd be surprised—or maybe not—at how many writers don't decide their genre until they're ready to query an agent or publisher.  I know I didn't think of it until after I wrote my first novel.  I just wanted to see what would happen next with Character X in Setting Y. However, it makes everything easier when this “little detail” is written in stone. 
Mostly, knowing your primary and secondary genres ahead of time will allow you to better recognize when you're deviating.  And THAT allows you to pick and choose which genres will benefit the story rather than distracting from it.
(This is also why you only list your primary and secondary in your query letter.  You don't want agents and publishers to think your writing lacks focus.)
This is where you say, “Get to the point!  How do you add genre without switching your genre?”
I'm assuming you already know what genre you want to add.  And, for that, there are two *main* methods to consider.  Those are:
1.  Ommission:  I'm not trying to punk you.  This IS an option.  Try to explain the story (to yourself) with the extra genre thrown in.  If it's overload when you try to explain it, then it'll be overload when you write it.  So, don't write it.  Pick two genres (primary and secondary) and stick with them.  This method is usually suited for planners that can stick to an outline. 
2.  Side Stories:  Whatever tertiary genres you pick to add to your story should be relegated to side stories.  This will keep your main genre clear by keeping your main plot-line clear.  I believe this method is suited for pansters that don't bother writing outlines.  As an added bonus, side stories are easier to edit out than trying to remove details integrated into the core plot.
Of course, no one method is 'one size fits all'.  If it were, this would be a rather short post and Clipper would hide my cookies. 
Other options to add genre:
3.      Contrivances:  Every story has minor items/things that don't quite fit, but aren't genre-breaking.  For example, a magic mirror in a sci-fi/horror, or a jet pack in an erotica/romance, or buying a magic charm in a mystery/western.  These are good for adding the flavor of a different genre without adding the entire genre.  Sometimes, this is all an author needs to soothe the craving for 'more'.
4.      Settings:  Dream settings are the most commonly used to add another genre.  However, there are also paintings, books within the world, and distant lands/planets/amusement parks that can be mentioned in passing.  Again, sometimes the mention is enough.

And that's it!  Did you expect something else?  Maybe you thought I was  going to come in here and list fifty ways for you to salvage your horror/crime/urban fantasy/romance?  How about just one?
5.      Simplifying Fractions:  (Horror/Crime*urban fantasy/romance = Crime/Urban Fantasy) Make sense?  It's important to know the expectations within genres.  No matter how horrific crime becomes, it's still crime.  And most fantasies (of any type) include some kind of romance.  The important part is to identify what genre is most inclusive to all aspects of your novel. Everything else is just gravy. 
Although.... too much gravy can make you sick.  ^_^

Further Reading:

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Stop What You're Doing and Watch This.

This was all-too familiar for me. It probably will be to you as well. And if you're new on the writing/publishing journey, all dewy-eyed and excited, this will be some of the best advice you'll ever get.

Rilla Alexander: Without the Doing, Dreaming Is Useless


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Guest Post: Five Tips for Editing & A Few Resources

I want to welcome T.J. to Yesternight's Voyage today. T.J. is a member of the Speculative Fiction Group, a savvy reader and editor, and she blogs over at Writing From the Padded Room, a blog meant to help new writers. Be sure to add her blog to your regular reading roll.

Holy cow! You did it! Wrote a novel/short story and are reveling in the euphoric feeling that comes with such a great accomplishment. Before doing anything else, I suggest letting your newly written MS sit while you celebrate.

Now that it is done (you've celebrated, and lived in the world where it doesn't need editing) comes the part many dread and fear. Edits.

The first, and probably most important part of preparing to edit, is to ensure you have Critique Partners. Those wonderful people who agree to read over your work, help find plot holes, world building issues, spelling, grammar, passive writing, and are willing to be the partner in crime while you break the "rules" of writing.

It is tough and scary to let someone else put red ink all over the new baby. But it must be done.

Once you receive their advice, comes the truly hard part. You have to make those changes, correct the issues, decide if an idea in certain places will work or not.

Here are five tips to help with the editing process:

Editors look for grammar, spelling, overuse of pronouns and reality issues.

This is the first pass of your MS. Don't read. One of the best ideas? Get ready to highlight in the document. Highlight every single pronoun - he/him/himself/she/her/herself/I/me/myself. You'll be surprised at how many show up. As you go through your one hundred plus pages, simply sweep for those words.

Next, you'll need to look for spelling. Luckily, with today's software programs, spelling errors are pointed out while writing the rough draft. Although some of us, like me, have a tendency to zoom past them with the thought, "I'll catch it later." I really should get out of that habit.

And finally, grammar and reality issues. This will require reading.

By reality, I mean did you do your research? Even writing fiction, where we get to twist everything to our own nefarious ends, all things should have a good solid foundation. Writing about the gods? Make sure you stick close to what the average reader understands about their stories and personalities. Twist it all you like, but without the familiarity the reader will question it and lose their ability to suspend reality. And if writing hard science fiction? It is best to have all those little details deeply nestled in current theories, proven hypotheses, and easily reasearched points.

Grammar is fluid, but it does have hard and fast rules which should be followed. Know them, ensure you keep as close as possible to the rules. Many readers don't mind dialect, but they will become Grammar Nazis when it comes to glaring issues.

Edit out unnecessary paragraphs.

What is unnecessary? You'd be surprised at those little paragraphs written into rough drafts which don't push the story forward. I'm as guilty as the next person. Perhaps at the time I wrote it, the hope it would show more about the main character, or how bad the bad guy really is. Realistically? No. It was well written, beautiful prose. But it has no true point, doesn't move the plot forward and doesn't help the reader. I know you love it and can justify it in twenty different ways. Cut it. Be ruthless. Tear it out and know it helps your story, not hinder.

Edit all that passive writing.

Editors complain often about the massive amount of passive writing in an otherwise great story. It tells the story, cuts the reader's ability to fall into the world of your imagination, doesn't allow the reader to feel like they are part of the action.

Here you can do another highlighter session. What is passive writing?

Passive is usually denoted by was/were/have been/is, etc. Follow the advice of Rebecca Johnson and you'll have a fun way to find all the passive writing in your work. Some passive is fine. A lot needs work.

Shew! So far you've taken care of mechanical issues! Yay! You're done, right?

No. I'm sorry. Still two more things need to be done.

Time to look at the characters.

Editors have complained the story premise is fantastic but the characters fall flat. Romance characters come across as big bags of hormones, SciFi characters are only interested in gaining power, Urban Fantasy characters are only interested in becoming something like a werewolf/vampire/witch/ghost/god.

It is a common complaint. Characters need to be able to pull empathy from readers. When falling into the alternate realities being weaved by writers, a reader should be able to either understand why the main character feels certain things, even if the reader disagrees. All the characters in a book should be three dimensional. The villain has a soft spot, the MC made a bad decision for good reasons.

Flesh out the idiosyncrasies, show the readers the characters are possible.

And finally, check the timeline.

Meaning, check your plot and the progression of the story. Did it stutter in a few spots? How did you fix that plot hole? Is there a way to strengthen the tension and move the plot forward in a more seamless manner? Did you write a scene just to get to the next one? Yes? Is that repaired? Have you cleared up any confusing/awkward sentencing? Did you check to ensure the little details all match and move forward with the story? If a character drove a truck to the restaurant but a car to leave, you'd better be able to explain why.

These are the five things all editors look at. Either during the intial submission or after the book has been chosen and is in the editing phase. Yes, every editor is as unique as the people writing. But the five points laid out above are ones they all agree on.

Give your story its best start when going out into the big, bad world. It must compete in a very subjective industry, and depends on you to make it the best it can be.

If you need more tips and tricks to editing, I suggest the following as additional reading.