Pick a Genre, Any Genre, or Two or Three

January 21, 2020

When I began writing fiction, everyone assumed I was writing science fiction. But I wasn’t.

king ludlum steel

 

 

My reading taste has always been eclectic. When I was younger, my favorite authors wrote horror/sci-fi, spy thrillers, and romances.

 

 

 

My taste slowly evolved. For a long time, I read legal and political mysteries. I also like sagas.

                           mysteries     saga

 

Then I discovered science fiction.

scifi

 

Next, I came across books with magic.

fantasy

 

I’ve always had an affinity for the tales of King Arthur and Merlin the Magician.

arthur merlin

 

I also like the classics. And poetry.

                                        classic books     poems

 

For the last decade, my favorite genres have been science fiction and fantasy.

jordan gabaldon

 

These classics are my all-time favorite books. A family saga and world building.

favorite books

 

I read the Game of Thrones series by George RR Martin long before it became a TV series. (The first book is on loan to a friend.)

Martin

 

When I sat down to write my fiction, the stories in my head were women’s fiction. Stories about relationships and how we react and change due to the events in our lives. I’ve read some women’s fiction over the years, mostly when I want an easy read. It surprised me a bit, but that’s what I was compelled to write.

On a fluke, I wrote a spiritual story and entered a short story contest. My beta readers cried, and I won an award. Then, about a year ago, I saw a contest for sci fi, fantasy, horror, thriller, or any combination. I decided that could be fun.

My story started as science fiction. By the third page I had added fantasy elements. It became a thriller by page 5. I added a bit of horror around page 10. My beta readers said it was dark and creepy. I was thrilled. We want to provoke emotions in our readers.

I ran out of time to polish the story but entered the contest anyway. I didn’t win, and I’m revising that story. There’s another story in my head. This one is fantasy. I’m not sure where it’s going, It might end up being a love story.

Are you confused yet?

jumble of books

Writers, editors and publishers tell you to stick with one genre. Maybe that works for most people. It doesn’t work for me. The stories I write are the ones that I’m compelled to write. The characters talk to me, and they don’t shut up until I write them down.

Right now, I’m revising my sci-fi, fantasy thriller. I’m also polishing a spiritual short story. And, I’m jotting down ideas and scenes for my fantasy romance.

We’ll see where it all takes me.

What genre do you prefer for your reading and writing? Or do you cross genres like I do? Do you think the “experts” are right? (I don’t.)

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Do Your Characters Tell You Their Names?

November 12, 2019

When writing fiction, sometimes my characters tell me their names and sometimes they don’t. I’ve always been fascinated by people’s names and nicknames. Perhaps a name says more about the parents than the person. Why did they choose a conservative name? Or a fun name? Or a made-up name? Some people’s names suit them while others don’t.

baby name bookWhen I name my characters, they already have physical traits, personalities, and quirks. I know quite a bit about them. When naming them, I consider how the name sounds, its meaning, what the name suggests, and its commonality in my time period. I also look at last names, but I’ll focus on first names here.

In my latest novel manuscript, for example, the 8-year-old boy told me his name was Bennie. Not Benjamin, not Benny with a “Y”, but Bennie, which is more often a girl’s name. He was the first one I named, even though he was a secondary character.

His mother, the main character of the book, wouldn’t tell me her name. I knew her well. She was in her mid-30s, a teacher, overweight, with long brown hair and a perpetual smile on her face. Dedicated to being a good mother. I researched name meanings and tried a bunch out but she didn’t like any of them. I looked through a baby names book I have for reference. I couldn’t find an appropriate name. Finally, I settled on the sound of the name. She became Clarissa, the closest name I could find to the word “care” or “caring”. It means bright, shining, gentle. She seems to like it well enough.

The 10-year-old daughter was easy. I wanted a happy name so she became Annabelle. I call her Anna when she’s more serious.

The antagonist posed a different problem. I searched online for a name meaning wicked or snake, and the name “Linda” came up. (Btw, I did another search yesterday, and Linda came up meaning “pretty”. I don’t know why it’s different now.) Anyway, I couldn’t name this mean woman Linda; some of my best friends are named Linda. I finally settled on Belinda.

snake

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Two more secondary characters – a married couple – needed common American names. He became Mike. She became Kathy. However, in my second draft, Kathy became Jenny. I didn’t notice until halfway through, when I changed her back to Kathy. Finally, I decided to stop thinking about it, and give her whatever name I kept writing. She’s Jenny. Mike means gift from God. Jenny means fair and yielding.

The hot, tough guy told me his name right away, and it wasn’t debatable. Dirk. It means gifted ruler. Perfect.

I needed a protector. His name became Stuart, which means guardian or steward. I chose “Stuart” rather than “Stewart” because I didn’t want a food reference in his name.

For last names, I look more closely at etymology. For example, I’m more likely to give a brunette who tans easily a last name of Italian heritage. Sometimes I use stereotypes to make a point. Sometimes I flip a stereotype.

In most cases, characters shouldn’t have similar names. We don’t want to confuse our readers.

You may be thinking none of this matters in a book, that you don’t even notice. It does matter. All the details work together to make the book cohesive. Plot, character development, and setting are all important, yet the name Margaret Smith suggests a completely different person than does the name Kelly Sullivan. A boy named Max will not be the same as a boy named Oliver.

namesPhoto by Philippe AWOUTERS on Unsplash

Think about some of your favorite characters from books or movies. Then give them a different name. The story would be different.

So, do your characters tell you their names? Or does this sound crazy? It sounds a little crazy while I’m writing it. If you don’t write fiction, it must sound really crazy. I assume other authors go through a similar process when naming characters but I’ve never asked.

Do you know the meaning of your name? Mine means “harvester”. I always enjoy fall, so maybe the name fits.

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Finding the exact precise right words

October 29, 2019

Sometimes I search for just the right word. I’ll be writing, words flowing freely, and then I stop. The word I want to use eludes me. I know there’s a word that denotes the exact feeling or movement or person I’m trying to describe but I can’t think of it. I put down a similar word and use the thesaurus. Back and forth – this word, that word, another word. Most times, I do find the perfect word. If it remains elusive after 5 or 10 minutes of searching, I leave a blank space in the manuscript, confident the word will come to me later. I don’t want to disrupt my writing flow.

edictionary

When I’m writing a description and the words won’t come, I use other means.

I was trying to describe a playground. I could see in my mind’s eye the equipment and the kids but I couldn’t get the description right. So, I said aloud – just me and my cat in the room – “Jenny and Mike walk outside and see kids on the swings, the teeter-totter, monkey bars and slide. Little boys are running around. The playground pulses with energy and joy.”

This is what I wrote: Jenny laughed as they walked out to the playground. Kids clambered on the jungle gym while smaller kids stood in line for the slide. One little girl slid down squealing, pigtails flying. A little boy stood on top of a green plastic pipe tunnel; as she watched, an adult rushed over to cajole him down. He waved his arms, obviously unwilling to abandon his perch. The swings were full, and kids raced around everywhere. A group of girls, age 6 or 7, stood to one side talking animatedly.

Jenny laughed louder as she felt the joy and energy emanating from the kids. Despite the reality that all these children needed a home – a fact that saddened Jenny momentarily – this was a happy place. She wanted to take them all home. How could you ever choose when they all needed parents?

Another tip is to say aloud: “What I’m trying to say is…” And then you describe it aloud. You can also draw the scene and then describe your drawing. I’ve done that when building a town.

“What I’m trying to say is…”

For emotions, I’ve heard people use an emotion thesaurus. Sounds good to me although I don’t have one of those books yet.

I’m sure there are other books and tips to find the right word. What helps you find the elusive word or description?

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Writing and Running

June 11, 2019

Sometimes when I’m mulling over what should happen next in a story, I go running. Getting away from my desk, running outside in the sunshine, I feel free. Free from pressure and constraints and time. Inspiration comes. Ideas flow.

I’m not a distance runner. I run 3 or 4 miles most days and I don’t go very fast. It makes me feel good and helps me stay in shape.

running shoes

When I’m lacing up my shoes to go out, I know the ideas will come. They always do. As I run out of my driveway and down my street, I praise God for the beauty of a summer day and the ability to move my limbs. I wave to the neighbors, talk to their dogs, and watch the squirrels skitter about.

I don’t think about anything except how grateful I am for what I’m doing at that moment and what I have in my life. Even on rainy days, I thank God for nourishing nature and thereby nourishing me. The cold days of winter are a little tougher, as my eyes run, my nose drips, and my throat hurts, but I know I’m clearing my mind, working my muscles, and that I’ll be sitting in front of my fireplace soon.

marco-secchi-585553-unsplash

fiona-naughton-1407019-unsplash

Let me close this post with something I saw on Twitter. I added the “or running” part.  The only time I don’t feel like I should be doing something else, is when I’m writing… or running.

Have a great day, everyone.


Nature AND Nurture

May 28, 2019

I started writing stories as a child. My first story was about Bennie the Green Bean, and I decided I was going to write children’s books. I eventually majored in Journalism in college. At that time, it never occurred to me to try and make a living writing fiction.

green beans
Photo by Sonja Langford on Unsplash

After more than 20 years working in communications, marketing and public relations, I decided it was time. Time to write my novel. I wasn’t getting any younger. Plus, I had honed my writing skills for years, so knew I could whip out great novels in no time. Ha.

After writing a few days, I began pulling books off my shelves and analyzing them. How much description? How much dialogue? How many characters? Where do you put in the backstory? How do you start the backstory? How many words are in a novel?

 These are just 2 of the many bookshelves in my home office.

I was shocked that I didn’t inherently know these things; after all, I had been a voracious reader my entire life. This was harder than I had expected.

As I wrote, I had more questions. How long are chapters? What point of view should I use? Can I write male characters convincingly? I sought out advice and kept writing.

A few other writers attempting to transition from business writing to fiction writing scoff at my advice-seeking and learning the craft of fiction writing. They’re not going to classes or reading books on craft. They’re writing. They say that’s enough. And maybe it is for them.

Other friends expect me to churn out novels because I’ve been writing my whole life. I know they don’t understand it either. “You’re such a good writer,” they say. “How come your books aren’t published yet?”

writing-monsters-book.jpg

I’ve attended writing conferences, devoured books on plot, description, character development, and more. Recently, I read a book on how to write about monsters by Philip Athans.

Books and conferences are my candy. I soak up the advice and fully engage in the conference sessions, determining what works for me. My friends laugh and their eyes glaze over as I explain the elements that go into creating a scene or writing dialogue. I enthuse endlessly about what I’m learning. I can’t get enough of this stuff. My fiction writing is so much better than when I started out a few years ago. It’s hard to believe how much I’ve learned.

stephen-king-book.jpg

One of the books I read early in this journey is “On Writing” by Stephen King. He mentions that he is always reading a book on craft. What? Stephen King? I think he is a wonderful storyteller and a gifted writer. When I read that, I thought, “I should do that, too!” That book was published in 2000, so I don’t know if he still does that.

Writing speeches, articles, white papers, strategic plans, press releases and web site copy is not the same as writing fiction. That’s not to say all those years writing don’t help me now; they do, in so many ways.

Of course, I wish I could have sat down and written the great American novel without advice, books, classes or conferences, but it didn’t happen. That’s okay. I’m slowly finding my way. This is an unexpected journey and I am enjoying the ride.

Do you think writing is a talent or a learned skill? What writing resources have you found to help you in your journey?

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