Monday, March 19, 2018

Creating a Fictional Town from a Real One

QUESTION: I've tried to turn small towns I'm familiar with into fictional towns or settings--usually for a paranormal world. Each time, I've ended up with a big, confusing, frustrated mess. You have mentioned that you have done this. Do you have any tips or tricks for developing your hometown into a fictional town? 

In my novel, TIME AFER TIME, my heroine’s hometown of Moravia is literally my hometown with the location of streets, etc.  

The heroine's engagement party is in a country club that's about five miles away from where I live.  I fiddled a bit with the look of the huge room and the patio where she meets the hero, though, to fit the plot.

The hero picks her up in a horse and carriage and takes her to the golf course to the east of the country club.  

I know where the McDonalds is that they stop at for a late snack and the apartment complex where she lives.

In another series set in Moravia which is my go-to site for all my paranormal novels, the hero's house is about a block away from where I live. The house is across the street from the Methodist church I went to as a child. 

The hero and his best friend ride on trails I rode as a girl, and the heroine goes to a fictional version of my alma mater.  When she drives there, I know what she passes, and the campus is described accurately. 

If I change some element of the real town for my fictional town, I make a note to myself to that effect although I rarely reuse settings like the country club.

I give the streets different names because I don't want people to make too close a connection between High Point and Moravia, and for the series, I'm using the High Point of forty years ago because it fits better.  Those riding trails are now housing developments, for example.

Rather than a map, I have an equals list.  

Willow Street = Chestnut Drive
Nathanton = Greensboro

Most of my names have a word play involved.  Willow and Chestnut are both trees, and Greensboro is named after Revolutionary War hero, Nathaniel Green.

I never use exact distances, but I know how long it would take to get from the magic equipment storage warehouse to Daniel's house in the middle of the night if you were driving well over the speed limit.  

This information doesn't really change what happens or anything, but just knowing helps keep the place real for me, and, hopefully, that makes the place more real to the reader.  

Monday, March 12, 2018

Across a Crowded Room

QUESTION: I have a scene in a restaurant where staff is coming and going. How do I describe that? Do I mention all the movement?

This is really about viewpoint. You are describing the scene from your viewpoint character's perspective. What will she see?

Imagine this. You are in your favorite romantic restaurant. Across from you is your special someone or your favorite sexy actor. You are eating your meal, flirting, and talking. Would you be aware of who is coming in and out of the room?

Your character in a similar situation would do the same thing.

Imagine this. You are in that restaurant with that sexy lover, but someone wants to kill you.

You would be very aware of who is coming and going in the room, and so would your viewpoint character.

If it's a situation that's emotionally neutral like a banquet meal with servants coming and going to bring food, you can say something like "A steady stream of servants, each with a large tray of food or an empty bowl, moved through the room tending the tables.”

Then, unless there's a reason to mention the servants again, or a servant again, you don't mention them. The reader will fill in the visual blanks.

Monday, March 5, 2018

What Genre Is My Book?

Many writers, particularly those who self-publish, believe that genre has nothing to do with them.  They write what they write and refuse to follow the “rules.”

What most don’t realize is that genre is not so much about following a particular formula as it is about finding the right market and readers.  Publishers and Amazon want the writer to know the correct genre to insert their book in to because they know that that’s how the readers find the books they will enjoy.  

Nothing makes a reader madder than reading a book labeled as a romance where one of the romantic pair dies instead of offering a possibility of a “happily ever after.”  Or a mystery where the bad guys win or the murder isn’t solved.  This fails the promise made by the genre label.  

How do you determine your genre or decide what genre you want to write? 

One of the first things you do is consider the books that are similar to what you are writing.  What genre are they listed as?  Pick books that are from traditional publishers since some self-pubs haven't a clue about their genre or they slap on a popular genre to attract more readers.  

Once you have some clue about the genre or genres to look at, do some searching of terms.  If you think you may be writing urban fantasy but several searches and reading of articles on urban fantasy tell you that you aren't, do some more searching for terms like "contemporary fantasy."

As a starting place for finding good writers to read in a particular genre, go to a site like RTBookReviews and read a bunch of reviews to find books similar to yours.  Pick the writers who are recommended reads.  It's best to pick writers who aren't "names."  Nora Roberts can do what she wants because she's Nora Roberts so she's not the best example for the books you want to emulate.  Neither is Stephen King or James Patterson.  

If you discover that you have done very little to no reading in a particular genre, you need to rethink your book because you will open yourself up to writing cliches, annoying readers, and making massive mistakes that will destroy the book's market value.

Genre distinctions are a particular interest of mine so I have a number of articles on the subject.  Click on the "genre" label on the right side of this blog.  If you are writing a mix of genres (cross-genre) or a subgenre of a popular genre like romance, click on the label "cross genre."   

Monday, February 26, 2018

Classifying Your Cross-Genre Novel's Genre

If a novel is cross-genre, one of the genres must be the strongest and its genre tropes and plot must drive the novel throughout.

A sf romance is first and foremost a romance.  Linnea Sinclair's sf romance novels are driven forward by the romance. Catherine Asaro's novels are science fiction novels with a romantic element. The science fiction plot and worldbuilding drive the novel forward, not the romance.

A werewolf novel that is driven forward by the worldbuilding and various werewolf political/pack struggles is urban fantasy.  A werewolf novel where boy wolf meets girl vampire, and they fall in love during various werewolf political/pack struggles is a paranormal romance.

The important thing to pull out of this is that you must understand what the central genre of your novel is so your novel doesn't fail by genre standards which are really reader expectation standards.  

When you are writing your book, staying within genre or subgenre expectations makes the book much easier to market to the correct readers.  

Monday, February 19, 2018

Cross-genre Worldbuilding

Cross-genre books mix elements of two genre. The paranormal romance is really a romance with fantasy or horror worldbuilding.  The sf romance is science fiction worldbuilding in a romance, etc., etc.

I'm a firm believer that you have to understand, read, and respect the genres you are mixing, or you shouldn't write it.

In recent paranormals romances I've read, the author didn't have a clue about fantasy or that you shouldn’t steal a prominent writer’s worldbuilding because it is blatantly obvious and annoying.  One had a magic system that was a generic mishmash mixed with a complete HIGHLANDER TV show rip-off with swords, decapitations, and magic being transferred.

Another took the Harry Potter universe with its magic system and world, then tossed in her characters.

I've read futuristics that were really Klingons in love with the alien and STAR TREK names changed, or the science was so bad a third grader could have spotted the errors.

The danger of not understanding one of the genres is writers lose parts of their audience. Cross-genre is not only supposed to mix the two genre, they are supposed to mix the two audiences. Insult half that audience by not knowing your stuff, and there goes sales.

By ignoring the basics of the other genre, these writers are destroying “the dream" of the books, and that bothers me a great deal as a writer and a reader.

NEXT WEEK:  Which genre in a cross-genre novel defines the plot and book type.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The One Conversation Conflict

A common flaw in a story is the one-conversation conflict.  That's a problem that can be solved with one honest conversation between the characters.

Some novels, particularly romances, are driven by this conflict through the whole story because the two main characters simply won't ask questions or tell each other the truth.  

This kind of conflict is based on misunderstanding, not on important emotional issues.  It reflects badly on characters by making them appear immature, and, for most readers,  the promised happily ever after appears unlikely with two such shallow characters.

It also reflects badly on the writer who hasn't bothered to work on the plot and conflict.  

A one conversation conflict can work well in a scene, or as a means to hold back a valuable clue in a mystery for a short period, but it should only be used judiciously and not as a major part of the conflict structure of the novel.  

Examples of a bad one conversation conflict: 

"Oh, she's your younger sister, and that's why you were hugging her."

"So you were taking dance lessons for our wedding, not dating someone else."

"You're a vampire, and you were out getting a snack?  That's a relief.  I thought you weren't home at night because you were sleeping with someone else!"

Monday, February 5, 2018

Changing Religious and Mythic Elements

QUESTION:  How much can I change about a myth or mythic creature or monster?  I’m using Navaho stories to create my creatures.

That’s a tricky question for an even trickier situation.  If you are particularly referring to a legend or myth, you will annoy some readers if you stray too far.  However, if you take that myth or legend and change it enough so that it's harder to tell what your original source is, you're less likely to get in trouble.

Using Navaho religion as a basis for your story is another kind of problem because the Navaho religion is still practiced so you're risking stomping all over someone's beliefs.  You have to ask yourself how you'd feel if someone did the same thing with your beliefs.

Some famous authors have used their own version of a skinwalker story in their urban fantasy universes, but I've never heard of any backlash from this.  However, Tony Hillerman got in trouble with some Indian groups for his mystery novels, and he was being respectful.  

From my own experience, I don't like reading urban fantasy that plays fast and loose with Christian belief because I feel it insults so many people.  Why insult many of your readers' beliefs?  

I guess it comes down to how much flak you are willing to take by being slightly controversial.