Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Categorized: Genre

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing
Just say NO.

Genre matters. Genre is the foundation for longevity, building a loyal fan base and also the key to unlocking all the other plot bunnies (other genres/story ideas) we’ve been dying to try out. Regardless of the publishing path we choose, genre focus is the game-changer that transitions us from published authors to powerhouse brands.

Hello, My Name is Cait and I am a Plot Bunny Addict

Yeah, we’ll get there in a minute.

By now, all of you should know that when you don’t hear from me (Cait) for a while, you should probably worry because I’m holed up in my study either doing research or coming up with new and creative ways to achieve world domination–though so far, I’ve had to rule out hallucinogenic peanut butter, karaoke, and podcasting.

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing
Frighteningly enough, I looked very much like this as a baby. *shudders*

But, I’m back now, ready to start sharing with all of you the fruits of my research. I’ve been doing some deep digging into the state of the publishing industry, analyzing trends, and preparing to throw down some predictions.

***Punxsutawney Phil ain’t got nothin’ on me.

Today, we’re going to explore current publishing trends and the strategy of choosing a genre. At first glance, it seems pretty straightforward, right? We like to write X, so X will be our genre.

But then…along comes that plot bunny with its cute wiggly nose and cotton ball tail, begging us to take a little side trip into Y genre. It’s cool. We can do that because we can self-publish, right?

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing

Not So Fast

No more rules. Freedom! We’ve broken the oppressive shackles of traditional publishing in all areas, including the ridiculous way publishers used to limit writers to one specific genre. We are now free to be a seven-genre-crossing author if we want! Ha!

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing
Yeah…it starts like this…

Well…sorta. Not quite. But kinda.

Let’s take a closer look.

In the beginning, BIG PUBLISHING said, ‘Let there be genres,’ and there were genres, and lo, the publisher saw that it was good.

Before Amazon glomped onto the scene with push-button publishing, authors actually had to pick a genre and stick with it….’til death did they part.

There were solid business reasons for this.

Books took a long time to write and even longer to publish, and this isn’t even accounting for the amount of money it took to produce a book and get it to market—pun intended. The agent then publisher invested a lot of time, thought, and care into helping the author choose a genre. This was imperative for crafting a brand—which is when a name alone has the power to drive sales.

Stephen King. Enough said.

The Downside of Genre Loyalty

While brand loyalty was great for book sales, it wasn’t always so easy on the authors. How many thrillers can one writer write before the thrill is gone? For the author and their readers. But, rules were rules and why mess with what worked?

Then indie…

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing

Back in the day, if we started writing historical romance…well, we pretty much kept writing more historical romance. Sure, there was some flexibility in the century we chose for our next book. But, it was a nigh-on-impossible quest to go from regency romance to noir crime thriller. Only a handful of already mega-successful authors really ever managed it well.

***Namely because rules don’t apply to them the same way as mere mortal authors.

The Big (Book) Bang

Enter the era of insta-hey-look-I-published-a-book. All the old rules (ostensibly) went out the window. Wanna go from cozy mystery to epic sword and sorcery? No problem! Just keep hitting that ‘Publish Your Book’ button. Who needed fans of the cozy mystery genre to discover our books in the urban fantasy genre?

Genre schmenre. Social media wizardry would magically lead fans to discover US.

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing

Sure, we might lose some people if we went a while (okay years) without publishing something in our audiences’ preferred genre. Maybe we’d see some drop off when we took that hard left from chick lit to shifter menage erotica. Perhaps our Amazon rankings even dropped below where we’re comfortable.

No biggie. It’s a phase. It will pass.

As long as we just keep hitting that ‘Publish Your Book’ button, we can publish whatever we want in any genre we want. Vive la revolution!

Yes…and, no.

Babies & Bathwater

Interestingly, what I’ve learned from years of working in publishing and studying how it works is that we might have let excitement cloud our vision. To be blunt, in our desire to be unchained from one genre forever…we went a tad cray-cray (actual business term), and threw the book baby out with the bathwater.

Now that the dust is settling in the publishing world, evidence suggest genre focus matters more than we might have realized.

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing

The truth is that we authors need to position ourselves flexibly but firmly between these two extremes. There is a point between Write six hundred spy thrillers until you DIE and Write ALL the genres and even MIX them!

Regardless of what new shiny the muse wants to explore, picking then sticking with a primary genre is the foundation for great brands, books, and business.

Self-Publishing

Counter to what many have touted, it turns out self-publishing is especially sensitive to genre consistency.

Over the past two years, there were a number of minor fads and trends that had authors jumping from epic fantasy to fairytale retellings, to urban fantasy all within the space of six months. On the one hand, authors developed some momentum in KENP pages read and attracted new fans.

However, in every competitive analysis I’ve done on authors who self-publish, those who started with a primary genre and stuck with it for 90% of their books over a 3-4 year period had the best book rankings, author rankings, social media followings, and Google name recognition.

And while I’m not privy to every single author’s sales numbers. Stupid restraining orders *rolls eyes*. I have been able to dig up enough data that permits me to make the following extrapolation:

Authors with a primary genre for 90% of their books over a 3-4 year period made the most money and had the consistently bestselling books.

This isn’t to say these authors don’t also publish in other genres, but they don’t spend the majority of their writing time, social media time, and marketing resources trying to establish their name and brand in multiple genres simultaneously. That is not a formula for success, more a formula for a nervous breakdown.

For these authors, evidence demonstrates that a successful presence in secondary genres develops more organically and over a longer period of time.

What’s the Takeaway?

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing

If our career goal is to be a hybrid author or even a purely legacy publishing track, then building in a primary genre becomes even more critical.

The Legacy Published Plan

Let’s start with traditional (legacy) publishing. Getting a book out with the Big 5 generally takes anywhere from 18-24 months. Most traditionally-published authors publish one book per year.

There’s a lot of time, a LOT of money, and a lot of resources invested in getting each book to market (as mentioned earlier). Thus, it makes sense for publishers to erect strong parameters around the the author’s brand. Focus is what generates traction, backlist, and a solid fan base with money to spend.

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing

Nowadays, there is a teeny tiny degree of flexibility that has crept into the legacy model, most likely in order to compete with Amazon’s yoga-esque genre fluidity. That’s how we get writers like Emma Donoghue who can bend from Victorian mystery to the contemporary masterpiece of psychological drama that is ‘Room.’

Yet, she is the exception, not the norm. In truth, only a fraction of a percentage of traditionally-published authors have been able to pull off this genre-inverted-triangle successfully.

All to say that, if we want to publish traditionally, we’d better really, REALLY love the genre we’re writing in, because that’s going to be home for a long, long time.

The Hybrid Author Plan

With a hybrid publishing model (some books self-published, some books through a traditional publisher), our approach will depend on whether we start out self-published or traditionally-published.

If we start out as self-published but with a goal to eventually enter into the traditional model, genre consistency becomes essential (even if our long-game is to change genres once we break into traditional publishing).

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing

There are major advantages for a writer who can demonstrate a solid track record of longevity and focus in a single genre. First, genre concentration tangibly demonstrates our ability to achieve long-term goals.

Secondly, by maintaining genre cohesion, this increases the odds we’ll build a vested fan base eager to BUY OUR future books. This makes our books a sound investment for agents/editors based off numbers (not hopes and luck).

Thirdly, genre focus is vital for building a strong author brand. Name recognition alone is useless and not a brand. Only a name that translates into an actual sale is a brand.

James Patterson—>Ka-Ching!

Weird Guy Who Book Spams Non-Stop—>Unfollow & BLOCK

Since legacy press is a business and not a non-profit, these three benefits can translate into (our) massive advantage when we’re seeking our own place in ‘the club.’

We need the club, but why does the club need us? That’s where we need to hustle.

If we’ve successfully stuck to a genre and created a strong fan base on our own, then traditional is the next logical business step to expand distribution for a product that is already successfully selling.

It is a win-win for author and publisher.

If we seek to change genres, it shows the publisher we can commit to the time and work it takes to build both the reputation and backlist required for success.

Again, win-win.

Expanding Genre ‘Horizons’

If we start out as traditionally-published and want to expand into self-publishing, there are several things to consider. First, we need to be very, very sure (as in, I-have-had-a-conversation-with-my-lawyer-agent-editor-sure) that we won’t be violating the terms of our publishing contract by putting out work in the same genre.

Once we have the ‘all-clear’ to keep writing in the same genre, there’s a big adjustment ahead we need to take seriously. First there is the frequency of publication required to compete effectively in self-publishing. Can we write at a pulp fiction speed and maintain quality?

***Often this is the impetus for legacy authors to also write indie. They long to produce at a far faster pace than the legacy model can accommodate.

Also, there’s the question of financial resources required to achieve parity between traditional and self-published books. Cover design, proofing, editing, formatting, etc. Fans have come to expect a certain quality and we better be able to meet or even exceed anything we published via legacy.

No easy task.

On the upside, our fan base should already be somewhat established, so YAY! We can just keep growing and growing…

Stretching Our Genre Wings

In another scenario, we may choose to expand into self-publishing because we’d like to try other genres, especially ones that might not necessarily jive with an already-established fan base.

Steampunk fantasy author Gail Carriger is an excellent example of this (as well as being one of my favorite writers). She has a firmly established seventeen-book steampunk genre backlist of traditionally-published books.

Gail chose to self-publish because she wanted to release shorter and more frequent works in her same steampunk universe (with special dispensation from her publisher).

Eventually, she started publishing works in the contemporary urban fantasy genre with an LGBTQ focus.

Carriger continues to publish both her traditional steampunk and is now consistently building her presence in this new genre. Because she approached her writing career with strategy, her brand has not only maintained integrity, but it is also steadily expanding.

The Plot Bunny Nursery

Also known as the TBW (to-be-written) pile.

At the end of the day, what does all of this mean for all of us writers along the publication continuum?

This is the question I asked myself one day in January as I looked at my writing and marketing plans for 2018. It’s a fact that I don’t so much have a plot bunny nursery as I do a crack house for wayward hares.

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing

I’m seriously all over the place in terms of my ideas. I have plot bunnies in steampunk, YA mythology, fairytales, historical romance, contemporary psychological thriller, shifter romance. While all my story ideas might be wonderful, I know it’s unwise to try to pursue them all simultaneously.

Strategy matters. This means, I know which bunnies get adopted first. The others can wait (and likely breed).

I confess. My brain bounces from genre to genre like a kangaroo in a bouncy castle. Yours might, too. That’s okay. We can write all the books!

Eventually.

If we publish with planning and intention regarding genre, we’re more likely to reap far better reward. The evidence doesn’t lie. Authors who’ve performed the best—whether traditional, hybrid, or self-published—are the ones who’ve done three things:

Written really great books.

Picked a genre and remained focused on it for at least three years.

Published consistently.

This is where the professional discipline that Kristen talks about really has to kick in. Sometimes, little bunnies have to just chill (drug them if you must). We can’t always do what’s fun and shiny and new. To make it in this highly competitive market, we have make a plan, then stick with the plan, even when it gets boring, or hard, or seems to be getting us nowhere.

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing

Jumping genres non-stop isn’t the cure for sagging sales and rankings. Writing and publishing great books in a focused genre, then building from there is. So keep calm, stay focused, and the bunnies will be just fine.

Promise 😀 . Kristen has a professional plot-bunny-sitter….

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing

 

NEW CLASSES (AND SOME OLD FAVES)!

GASKETS & GAITERS: HOW TO CREATE A COMPELLING STEAMPUNK WORLD

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $65 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: FRIDAY February 23, 2018. 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

Who doesn’t love some steampunk cosplay? Corsets, goggles, awesome hats…

Steampunk has become one of the hottest genres today, crossing the lines of YA, NA, and adult fiction. It seems like it’s fun to write because it’s fun to read.

However, there’s a world of difference between the amateur steampunk writer and the professional steampunk author, and the difference lies in the world they create.

Is your steampunk world historically-accurate enough not to jar the reader out of the narrative with anachronisms?

Does your world include paranormal as well as steampunk?

Are the gadgets and level of sophistication in keeping with the technologies available at the time?

Steampunk is not an excuse to take short-cuts with history. Good writing in this genre requires a solid grasp of Victorian culture and history, including the history of science, medicine, and industry.

This shouldn’t scare you off from writing steampunk, but it should encourage you to take this class and learn how to create a world that is accurate, consistent and immersive.

This class will cover a broad range of topics including:

  • Polite Society: Just how prim and Victorian do you want to get?
  • Science, Technology, Medicine, and Industry: How to research these without dying of boredom?
  • Creating the Blend: How to drop in historical details without info-dumping, and how to describe and explain your steampunk innovations without confusing.

GET READY TO ROAR: THE BUSINESS OF THE WRITING BUSINESS

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Thursday, March 1st, 2018, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

Being a professional author entails much more than simply writing books. Many emerging authors believe all we need is a completed novel and an agent/readers will come.

There’s a lot more that goes into the writing business…but not nearly as much as some might want us to believe. There’s a fine balance between being educated about business and killing ourselves with so much we do everything but WRITE MORE BOOKS.

This class is to prepare you for the reality of Digital Age Publishing and help you build a foundation that can withstand major upheavals. Beyond the ‘final draft’ what then? What should we be doing while writing the novel?

We are in the Wilderness of Publishing and predators abound. Knowledge is power. We don’t get what we work for, we get what we negotiate. This is to prepare you for success, to help you understand a gamble from a grift a deal from a dud. We will discuss:

  • The Product
  • Agents/Editors
  • Types of Publishing
  • Platform and Brand
  • Marketing and Promotion
  • Making Money
  • Where Writers REALLY Need to Focus

AMATEUR HOUR IS OVER: SELF-PUBLISHING FOR PROFESSIONALS

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $99.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, March 2nd, 2018, 7:00-10:00 p.m. EST

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Are you going to go KDP Select or wide distribution with Smashwords as a distributor? Are you going to use the KDP/CreateSpace ISBN’s or purchase your own package? What BISAC codes have you chosen? What keywords are you going to use to get into your target categories? Who’s your competition, and how are you positioned against them?

Okay, hold on. Breathe. Slow down. I didn’t mean to induce a panic attack. I’m actually here to help.

Beyond just uploading a book to Amazon, there are a lot of tricks of the trade that can help us build our brand, keep our books on the algorithmic radar, and find the readers who will go the distance with us. If getting our books up on Amazon and CreateSpace is ‘Self-Publishing 101,’ then this class is the ‘Self-Publishing senior seminar’ that will help you turn your books into a business and your writing into a long-term career.

Topics include:

  • Competitive research (because publishing is about as friendly as the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones)
  • Distribution decisions (because there’s actually a choice!)
  • Copyright, ISBN’s, intellectual property, and what it actually all means for writers
  • Algorithm magic: keywords, BISAC codes, and meta descriptions made easy
  • Finding the reader (beyond trusting Amazon to deliver them)
  • Demystifying the USA Today and NYT bestselling author titles
  • How to run yourself like a business even when you hate business and can’t math (I can’t math either, so it’s cool)

Yes, this is going to be a 3-hour class because there is SO much to cover…but, like L’Oréal says, you’re worth it! Also, a recording of this class is also included with purchase.

The class includes a workbook that will guide you through everything we talk about from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution, and much, much more!

Time is MONEY, and your time is valuable so this will help you make every moment count…so you can go back to writing GREAT BOOKS.

EVEN MORE CLASSES…

Check them out at W.A.N.A. Int’l.

Oh, and it looks like we’re in Medieval England…again…

I’m Kim Alexander back to talk about fantasy world-building. This time I’m looking at those writers who make every heroine in their stories a—wait for it—princess.

This is different from Chosen One Syndrome, because when it comes down to it, every protagonist is a chosen one; you’ve chosen to write about them. In this installment, I’ll be talking about working for a living. (More about Chosen One Syndrome in an upcoming blog post!)

When we create fantasy lands like, oh, “Gondfloria” (pop. 2 mill. unicorns), it’s easy to use the default: faux medieval Europe. If we have a bunch of forbidding, craggy, windswept mountains with impenetrable fortresses (I always feel like it should be ‘fortressi’ even though I know better) atop them, the next thing we’re gonna do is make our main character a princess. (Or a prince, I don’t know your life.)

I’m here to suggest to be brave and try something else. I’m not saying we have to make our enchanted land of Gondfloria into an Arctic survivalist encampment. But, we need to think a little bit outside the box…okay, dungeon, especially if the dungeon is full of Northern European royalty.

(Full disclosure: the main character of my novel, The Sand Prince, is – as the title suggests – a prince. But I hasten to add that he’s astonishingly bad at it.)

Sometimes it seems like every fantasy novel I pick up is crewed by the same group:

  • The sullen yet hot warrior who is certainly hiding a secret (it probably has to do with sex)
  • The sassy thief
  • The wise elder (also a thief, possibly retiring, clearly not going to make it to the sequel)
  • And of course our hero, the member of nobility who under the cover of darkness runs with a bad crowd because Daddy Issues.

Any of them may be masquerading as the opposite gender because it’s…daring. My money is on the sassy thief.

Don’t any of these people have jobs? And no, I’m not counting ‘thief’ as a job. You can’t put it on a resume unless you’re actually applying to be a thief.

Even if we’ve decided it’s written in stone that Gondfloria has forests and castles and bears, we can still explore the lives of people living there without falling back on ‘princess’ or ‘thief.’

Here are a few suggestions, on the house: bear wrangler, bee keeper, lute carver, magical bee keeper (the bees, not the person), cook, fixer for the local mob boss, mob boss, magical bee keeper (the person, not the bees – gods, keep up!), innkeeper, wench (if you have an inn, you’ve got to have a wench; I don’t make the rules), bard, dog boy, horse girl, and then way down at the bottom, thief, and finally, princess. You’re welcome.

Look, we want our story to stand out in the enormous ocean of similarly themed and titled books. We can do that by either taping a $20 bill to the inside cover of each and every one…or by making it unique.

I look forward to reading your take on a hot yet sullen magical bee keeper who lives in the misty woods of Gondfloira. Feel free to get on your magical sassy pants and sprinkle some flash fiction in the comments. Also any suggestion for other cool roles (characters) who’ve been forgotten, overlooked, or given little or no love. Maybe one not yet thought about?

Oooooh, extra XP points!

Unicorn trainers? Those suckers are magical so surely they could be house-trained right? Dude in charge of the “Pigeon Messaging Service” that later was forced into rebranding and a name change because PMS a really bad name for a business in communication (one not involving knives and chocolate). Use your imagination! ALSO!

Are you tired of ye same olde same olde? Losing that loving feeling for fantasy because, when it’s all the same, that is well, to be blunt, the OPPOSITE of fantasy?

Next time: The Chosen One, or, It is foretold that you and you alone will fix this coffee maker and save mornings for all of Gondfloria!

***

I love hearing from you!

For the month of September, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NEW CLASSES FOR SEPTEMBER AND MORE!

All classes come with a FREE recording!

We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds, award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson, and Kim Alexander, former host of Sirius XM’s Book Radio. So click on a tile and sign up!

(If you are getting this via email, open the blog post to see all the options and sign up!)

Villains & Anti-Heroes: The Characters We Love and Hate. $45.00 USD. Tuesday, September 12, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Hooked: Catching Readers in the First Five Pages. $40.00 USD. Thursday, September 14, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Turn Your Passion Into A Business: Making Money As A Writer. $40.00 USD. Monday, September 25, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Guilty Pleasures: Writing Suspense, Thrillers, and Crime. Tuesday, September 26, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Outside the Box: How to Read More, Write Less, and Up Your Fiction Game. Friday, September 29, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!

It’s Squatter’s Rights Wednesday with me, Cait Reynolds. Today, we are going to go the distance. Literally. No matter what genre we write, our characters generally go places. The physical distance between these places impacts the timelines of our stories, pacing, and tension. Distance, great or small, can also be used to create atmosphere or to illustrate differences between characters.

But, before we get too much farther (ha ha, pun fully intended), here is the requisite photo of Denny Basenji, who is determined to go nowhere and do nothing.

GPS, Equipages, and Transporters

Like I said, it doesn’t matter what genre we write. Every story takes place in a…well…place. Whether it’s another planet, a fantasy realm full of dragons, Regency England, or today’s Los Angeles, distance plays a part in shaping and defining the story.

Let’s tackle the easy stuff first. When we write about anyplace on planet Earth, all we have to do is use Google Maps to get a sense of location, geography, nearby locales, and distance (by planes, trains, and automobiles…and bikes and feet).

I generally keep a little written note of the locations in my story and how far from one to the other. It’s quick a quick reference guide for me as I write, and it eventually helps my editors and proofreaders ensure consistency.

Staying on planet Earth but going back in time, we are still dealing with the same locations (for the most part), so Google Maps is still our friend.

However, now, we have to add in another layer: transportation. Whether it’s a pilgrimage on foot, the complex transportation logistics of a Crusade, taking the carriage to the ball, or crossing an ocean or continent using steam-powered engines, the way our characters get places must be factored into the overall timeline and plot.

But…how exactly do we figure out how long it would have taken a farmer’s cart with two old horses to go twenty miles versus a smart little phaeton with a pair of bright, brisk ponies?

Ah, hello, Google, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.

 No, seriously, you can google that stuff. It might take a little bit of digging (depending on how complex the logistics or how detailed you want to get), but the information is out there.

To prove my point, I just typed in, “average travel speed by phaeton and ponies” on Google and came up with a wealth of information about travel speeds and terrains (in both miles and kilometers!). If I really wanted to nail the exact amount of time it would take Mrs. Gardiner from Pride and Prejudice to go around the 10 miles of Pemberley’s  Park in the phaeton, I would probably spend about twenty minutes to half-an-hour digging through Google results.

For science fiction and fantasy, we get to create the rules, but then, *sighs* we then have to play by them. We can create any alien planet or mist-ringed elven realm we want, but as part of basic world-building, we must actually build the world.

Look at classics like Dune and Lord of the Rings. Herbert has very specific rules and details about space travel and distance between Fremen enclaves on Arrakis. In LOTR, Tolkien provides perhaps the most perfect example ever of using geographical distance to create tension and manipulate the pacing of the plot.

For science fiction, it’s worth doing a little Google, Wikipedia, and science magazine website digging to get a basic understanding of the distances between planets, solar systems, and galaxies – and, how long it takes to travel between them in lightyears. Keep a list of every space station, planet, and outpost, and their distances from each other.

We can talk about warp engines and wormholes all we want in science fiction, but we need to keep it consistent. If we get our characters into a situation where the only way out is to go to warp 10, but the scale only goes up to warp 9.9 (looking at you, TNG *wink*), then, we can’t just wave a magic wand and have the raven-haired, emerald-eyed, 22-year-old engineering ensign with a tragic past suddenly come up with a way to achieve warp 10. 

This is a direct violation of Lamb’s Law of Coincidences: You can use all the coincidences you want to get characters into trouble, but you can never use it to get them out of it.

In fantasy, the same rules apply. I would even go so far as to draw what I like to call a “stick-figure map.” That’s a polite way of saying a bunch of blobs and dots on a piece of paper with arrows between the dots indicating distances between cities, kingdoms, continents, etc.

Magical transport needs rules, just like sci-fi transport. Treat dragons like horses: how fast can they fly, for how long, are there different types of dragons that go at different speeds?

Personally, all my dragons come with a V8 standard.

Polite nothings about the roads and the weather.

Conflict! 😀
Just like it’s natural for us to complain about traffic, tell stories of bad flights, or share information about how to get to a certain location and how long it will take, characters talk about distance and travel, too.

“It must be very agreeable to her to be settled within so easy a distance of her own family and friends.”

“An easy distance do you call it? It is nearly fifty miles.”

“And what is fifty miles of good road? Little more than half a day’s journey. Yes, I call it a very easy distance.”

“I should never have considered the distance as one of the advantages of the match,” cried Elizabeth. “I should never have said Mrs. Collins was settled near her family.”

 

In this example from Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, distance and travel are used to highlight the differences between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s wealth, social status, and character. It’s just one of the many brilliant examples of “show, don’t tell” in the book, but that’s another post for another time.

When I was writing a scene about the journey of one of the characters in Kristen’s and my zombie western, I did spend more time – probably close to an hour – learning about railroad journeys from the East Coast to Arizona territory in the 1870’s-1890’s. This was much more involved for several reasons.

First, based on the exact year we are using, I needed to find out just how far the westward railroad expansion went. I discovered that while there was service to California already, the first tendrils of track had just begun to breach the borders of Arizona.

Therefore, the character would have had to end his rail journey a good 200 miles from his destination and take a stagecoach the rest of the way.

The time I spent researching this was not wasted, and not just for the fact that I was assuring that my facts were correct (socking it to the trolls!), but I realized how much this particular journey would represent abandoning civilization for the character, and it also gave me an opportunity to add in a hint of backstory for his relationship with another character whom he meets at a hotel in Denver when he is making arrangements for the next stage of his journey.

The failure, shortcomings, and limits of transportation provide us with fantastic tools for ratcheting up the tension.

Not to bring up bad memories of math class for many of us, but if character A is 60 miles away and trapped with a bomb set to go off in an hour, and character B can only travel 30 miles-per hour, what is going to happen to character A? (Leave your answers in the comments! Bonus points for creativity and flash fiction LOL.)

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I love hearing from you!

For the month of September, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NEW CLASSES FOR SEPTEMBER AND MORE!

All classes come with a FREE recording!

We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds, award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson, and Kim Alexander, former host of Sirius XM’s Book Radio. So click on a tile and sign up!

(If you are getting this via email, open the blog post to see all the options and sign up!)

Villains & Anti-Heroes: The Characters We Love and Hate. $45.00 USD. Tuesday, September 12, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Hooked: Catching Readers in the First Five Pages. $40.00 USD. Thursday, September 14, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Turn Your Passion Into A Business: Making Money As A Writer. $40.00 USD. Monday, September 25, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Guilty Pleasures: Writing Suspense, Thrillers, and Crime. Tuesday, September 26, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Outside the Box: How to Read More, Write Less, and Up Your Fiction Game. Friday, September 29, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!

Well, it’s the last day of me, Cait Reynolds, playing “king of the hill” on Kristen’s blog. In honor of this fact, I’d like to begin today’s post by listing out the top five reasons Kristen could be denied re-entry into the United States.

Image courtesy of travelinspiration.com

1. US Customs does not allow you to bring foreign livestock into the country. Kristen coming back counts as Lamb from New Zealand.

2. Kristen mentioned she was suffering from allergies due to pine pollen in New Zealand. This probably counts as smuggling in biological warfare agents.

3. Kristen did not get to see any hobbits. This will trigger a secondary scan of her passport because who doesn’t go to New Zealand and SEE HOBBITS??? Shady AF, if you ask me.

4. The TSA might interpret Kristen’s attempt at the haka as threatening government officials. Or deeply disturbing. Maybe both.

5. Finally, Kristen is coming back full of ideas. This is CLEARLY a threat to national security and must be neutralized immediately. In other words, by sending her back to (some really remote part of) New Zealand where her ideas can’t do much harm.

Maybe I’m just not ready to give this blog back to her. At the very least, you’ll still get to see me on Squatter’s Rights Wednesdays and in my classes. And who knows? Maybe Kristen will travel again (i.e. PLEASE SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD, INVITE KRISTEN TO VISIT!).

To round off my brief stint of world domination, er, substitute blogging, I give you Kim Alexander, here to talk to us about more stuff and things…but mostly stuff.

Frosting, the Snowman…er…Frosty…

Last week we talked about the power of imaginary books – books that characters in novels talk about and read, but don’t really exist.

These imaginary books are a great way to comment on the action taking place in your actual plot, along with a good place to lay down a thick, velvety layer of exposition. So let’s spend some time thinking about imaginary holidays, another excellent place to evenly spread your exposition, taking care that it doesn’t drip down the sides. (I may be watching a lot of the Great British Bakeoff and I’m deeply concerned about a soggy bottom…aren’t we all?)

Only 123 days ‘til Festivus!

Because you’re a person who lives in this world/dimension, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. Festivus, of course, is the invented holiday ‘celebrated’ by George Costanza’s family (and my family, and maybe yours) originally seen on Seinfeld. If I’m honest, though, we enjoy the Sharing of the Grievances all the year ‘round! (It’s December 23rd this year, get the pole ready.)

Invented holidays can come early in your drafts – that is to say, you can decide to throw a party without having all the details of the reason for the party mapped out. That said, eventually you’ll have to answer some questions about secular vs. religious events and what that means for the story at large.

At this point, I suppose it must be said that all holidays are imaginary, in that someone, somewhere thought them up and told their buddies they had a great idea for a day off.

Let’s look at Christmas, for instance. Leaving aside the question of whether or not it’s a state-sponsored consumerist event or a solemn religious occasion, we all know a lot of things associated with Christmas. How much are just things we talk and sing about because we always have? (In the interest of full disclosure, I am a secular Jew who has been collecting glass tree ornaments for many years and LIVES for the day we bring our tree home. Life is a rich tapestry!)

Santa is an elf, right (let’s ignore the whole bit about being a saint for the moment)? But he’s also normal person-sized. And he comes down the chimney. And flying reindeer. And the colors red and green. And turkey, even though we just had it a month prior. Why? Why do we drag trees into our houses? Why would anyone bring myrrh to a manger? What is myrrh? (A few minutes of googling should answer those questions, and also point you in the direction of the sorts of questions you’ll need to ask yourself.)

So if you take a step back and look at Christmas through the lens of writing a fantasy world, you can see it takes up a huge amount of space not only on the calendar (I saw my first ad this week, deep in the lurid heart of August) but in our emotional lives. We all have to make a decision on how to react to the holiday season: celebrate, ignore, mock, love, hate. Even if we consciously avoid it, it’s still making a mark on our behavior. Obviously, your fantasy holiday doesn’t have to have the enormous resonance of the triumvirate of terror that make up Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year’s, but if you’re bothering to create it, make it have some impact. (I did not include Chanukah because it is awesome and includes fire.)

Caturnalia (hey, it could work!)

Okay, so you’re having a party. It’s in the draft and written on a post-it note. Now it’s time to take a step back and ask what sort of event it will be. This is your chance to shine a light on your created culture and bounce your characters against each other, which is where the fun happens.

Leeloo and Onion would like to propose the holiday of “Caturnalia.” It involves tuna.

What gets your society together? Did they win a war or crown a ruler? Is it a religious event, or is your society a secular one? (Remember that a society is rarely a monoculture while you’re making these decisions.) What about your party? Is it a solemn occasion, or an excuse to drink and dance? Maybe they celebrate writing a song, or the color blue, or cats. (That sounds like a pretty good idea, actually.) You get to dress your characters up and send them to parties, and they either live it up or bitch about being forced to attend – or both.

In my book The Sand Prince, the human world celebrates something called The Quarter Moons Party (they have two moons.) It’s a combination of Independence Day and New Year’s Eve, and it celebrates a great victory and the continued safety of their home city of Mistra. Victory over whom? No one really remembers, and the songs they sing only vaguely allude to ‘locking The Door.’ Everyone wears white and there are special treats you only get once a year. Why? It’s always been that way.

The demons of Eriis who live on the other side of that Door remember it very differently, and when one of them visits the human world, he takes great offense at all the celebration. (He’ll probably appreciate the open bar, though.) Like everything else, an invented holiday is really just another way to explore your characters reactions to each other and to the world around them.

So whether you celebrate Durin’s Day, or First Contact Day, or save up your grievances for Festivus, or are writing up the grocery list for the Labor Day cookout, have a safe and happy one!

About Kim Alexander

Kim Alexander lives in Washington DC where she writes epic fantasy and paranormal romance.  These days she divides her time between writing, rooftop gardening and waiting on her cats.

?Her earlier incarnation co-producing Sirius XM Book Radio gave her a look inside the heads of hundreds of best selling authors, and she’s ready to pass on what she learned. http://kimalexanderonline.com

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For the month of AUGUST, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

***

NEW CLASSES FOR SEPTEMBER AND MORE!

All classes come with a FREE recording!

We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds, award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson, and Kim Alexander, former host of Sirius XM’s Book Radio. So click on a tile and sign up!

Villains & Anti-Heroes: The Characters We Love and Hate. $45.00 USD. Tuesday, September 12, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Hooked: Catching Readers in the First Five Pages. $40.00 USD. Thursday, September 14, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Turn Your Passion Into A Business: Making Money As A Writer. $40.00 USD. Monday, September 25, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Guilty Pleasures: Writing Suspense, Thrillers, and Crime. Tuesday, September 26, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Outside the Box: How to Read More, Write Less, and Up Your Fiction Game. Friday, September 29, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!

It’s back to school for everyone – not just kids. Vacation’s over. Fun’s over…or maybe the fun is just beginning.

This fall, W.A.N.A. is back with new classes, new instructors, and lots of exciting announcements coming up. Bookmark W.A.N.A. and make sure to subscribe to my blog to stay up-to-date with all the news!

Don’t forget to hop on over to the W.A.N.A. Tribe to join in our daily writing sprints in the chat room! The Tribe is a thriving community, and we are planning on some awesome upgrades to the entire Tribe experience this fall.

NEW CLASSES FOR SEPTEMBER 2017

Villains & Anti-Heroes: The Characters We Love and Hate. $45.00 USD. Tuesday, September 12, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Hooked: Catching Readers in the First Five Pages. $40.00 USD. Thursday, September 14, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Turn Your Passion Into A Business: Making Money As A Writer. $40.00 USD. Monday, September 25, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Guilty Pleasures: Writing Suspense, Thrillers, and Crime. Tuesday, September 26, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Outside the Box: How to Read More, Write Less, and Up Your Fiction Game. Friday, September 29, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!