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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: Romance

This GORGEOUS image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Aimannesse Photography

Stories have been around since the dawn of time, since the birth of communication. Stories have always served a vital role in human culture, yet in our modern “sophisticated” world, it’s all too easy for many to dismiss novels as “escape.”

Though, in fairness, spend ten minutes on Twitter and escape ain’t necessarily a bad thing. All genres have unique purposes. Fans of one genre might not “get” fans of another.

As writers we also have our biases, maybe even think some genres are more valuable than others. Or even that genre fiction isn’t valuable at all. Yeah , we’ll post on that another time. It’s okay.

Though today, we’re going to talk about Inspirational Romance, I will admit…

We All Have Our Pets

For instance, I love horror. Some people think I’m nuts, but horror relaxes me. Why? Fear often does the most damage when it’s gray and nebulous. Few things are more terrifying than the unknown.

In fact, Stephen King in Danse Macabre makes a really interesting point that the most terror-filled moments are when we are creeping up the stairs and this unknown thing is banging at the door.

The reader tenses, feels sick, his nerves are shredding with every passing second and when the door is opened? There is a scream!

But it is not just a scream of terror. It’s also a scream of relief.

The human mind has a remarkable ability to be able to process and face what it can see. So when the door opens it’s a ten-foot bug, the reader screams but at the same time (though perhaps subconsciously) thinks, “Whew! At least it wasn’t a fifty-foot bug. A ten foot bug? I can make a plan.” And if it was a fifty-foot bug, the reader would think, “Whew! Well at least it wasn’t a five hundred foot bug!”

Y’all get the gist.

Horror helps ease our general anxiety by putting a name on a monster we can see, face (open the door) and then defeat. We might need Xanax and a bag of cookies when faced with trolls and mob violence, but a movie like The Purge places that generalized fear into a specific story and the hero overcomes. The thing is exposed.

We read (and write) stories for all kinds of reasons. Personally, not only do I love horror, but I love mystery, suspense and thriller because for me? I crave a sense of justice in an all too often unjust world. In a recent guest post about my new book, I said this:

Thus today, I’d like to hand off to a long-time follower of mine on social media and Facebook friend. It’s always a joy to bring guests who write genres different than mine, to hear from them. Jamie Lynn Booth writes Inspirational Romance and I thought, in light of all the doom and gloom we face each and every day, that this might be a cool topic to discuss. Why the world needs Inspirational Romance. Take it away Jaime!

***

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

I want to start off by saying it is a great honor and privilege to be asked by Kristen Lamb to write something for her blog. Thank you, Kristen.

So, why does the world needs more Inspirational Romance? It was Kristen’s idea, and I loved the topic.

I think we can all agree on the fact that there is an incredible amount of evil in our beautiful world. On the other hand, there is also just as much love and beauty. The sad part is that the media doesn’t show nearly enough of that. All we hear about and see on the news is the violence, for the most part. With Facebook, Twitter, newspapers and television, it’s basically what we see the most of.

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

For me, I do my best to not focus on the negative. I know it’s out there and I keep up with some of it so I don’t get completely lost. But for me, I need to keep my heart and soul with the love and romance that is longing to be held, grasped, desired and wanted. We all have love in our hearts. We all want to give and receive love, right? Love is a natural emotion. In my opinion, the most powerful one.

So, when I sit at my desktop I already know pretty much what I want to write about. The idea has already been placed in my head. First, before I begin working on my WIP, I have to ask for guidance from God. Without Him, I wouldn’t have this gift in the first place. Then, I let my muse run free.

I believe with the stress of everyday life we need inspiration. For a lot of folks, love has been lost or desired, we need an uplifting romance to fill the void. To be able to sit in your most comfortable chair, out on the deck, or in your bed and allow another scene or world take you away. I believe it’s not only therapeutic, but magical.

There are times in all our lives when we need to be inspired. Times when we all need to have God, or whatever Higher Power you believe in, to comfort us. Reading an Inspirational Romance about someone who has or is going through struggles but gets through them is powerful. A message is embedded within. When the character breaks through the barrier and finds love it makes it even better.

Most of us can relate on many levels with what we read. I love writing a novel that not only reaches into the depths of your soul, but grips your emotions. In everything I write, somewhere within is a part of me. Something I have experienced.

A great example of this is my new release, Never Again. Which is releasing on June 13th and is the first book in the series.

Blessed with a good life and the perfect love, Sam couldn’t be happier. On vacation with her adoring husband, she is convinced that everything is exactly as it should be…until it’s not. One accident sets off a string of events that forces Sam to watch her life fall apart piece by piece. Loss, grief, betrayal—and the revelation of a long-kept secret have Sam questioning whether she will ever be able to find the happiness she once had.
She’s broken, her heart shattered, her trust ruined, and her faith is tested as she tries to survive the Hell her life has become. Now Sam needs to decide if she’s brave enough to move on, or if she’ll never again find a love worth living for.

I think it’s safe to say we’ve all been broken. We’ve been in that spot where we thought we had nothing left. It was too much to simply put one foot in front of the other. Have you been there? I know I have.

Yet, through Inspirational Romance, we can connect with characters experiencing similar circumstances, trials, emotions and brokenness and, though we might be not able to see light in our dark moment? Through them we can. Regular ordinary people without superpowers or space ships and with more broken places than baggage, finding the courage to dare to move forward. To not only move forward, but, in the end trade their ashes for beauty.

***

Thank you Jamie! Really appreciate you taking the time to blog here. I know it’s work and can be pretty terrifying for the first-timers, so thanks for being brave.

I LOVE hearing from you! (and remember comments for guests count double for my contest).

What are your thoughts? I know we have some Inspirational Romance folks in the crowd who probably can add to this. Why do you love it? Read it? Write it? What is it about Inspirational Romance that speaks to you and why do you think the world needs more of it? I know I do.

Other genres! What do you love and why? Who does the world need more fantasy, science fiction, YA, whatever? I want to hear from you too!

By the way, y’all can follow Jamie on Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, and Amazon.

****Just FYI, in an effort to combat spammers your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Talk to me! And MAKE SURE to check out the classes below and sign up! Summer school! YAY!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of JUNE, 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!

Obviously, I have my areas of expertise, but I’ve wanted for a long time to fill in some gaps on classes I could offer.

Cait Reynolds was my answer.

She is an unbelievable editor, mentor and teacher and a serious expert in these areas. She consults numerous very successful USA Today and NYTBS authors and I highly, highly recommend her classes.

OMG, Like How to Write Fleek YA July 7th $40 with Cait Reynolds

How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here) July 14th $40 w/ Cait Reynolds

Gaskets and Gaiters: How to Create a Compelling Steampunk World July 21st $35 w/ Cait Reynolds 

Lasers & Dragons & Swords, Oh MY! World Building for Fantasy & Science Fiction 

July 28th w/ Cait Reynolds $35/ GOLD $75/ PLATINUM $125

Classes with MOI!

Plotting for Dummies July 13th $35 ($250 for GOLD)

Blogging for Authors July 20th $50 ($150 for GOLD)

Branding for Authors  July 27th $35

OTHER Classes with Cait Reynolds

Research for Historical Romance Writing – Or, How NOT to Lose Six Hours on Pinterest July 8th $35 for Basic/ $75 for GOLD / $125 for PLATINUM

Shift Your Shifter Romance into High Gear July 15th $35 Basic/ $75 GOLD/ $125 PLATINUM

Classes with Lisa Hall-Wilson

Growing An Organic Platform On Facebook July 22nd $40

 

 

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Today, we have Alex Limberg guest posting with us once again. I’d already recruited Alex to do some guest posts for me because I just love his wit and style and he’s being a huge help because yes, I am seriously sick. I’m pretty sure Hubby tried to assassinate me with Ebola and make it look like “the flu”. I think I have Swine flu…NO! LAMB FLU!

I see a rainbow bridge and a light! No! I can’t go to the light! Not yet, Grandma! I am doing NaNoWriMo and I and on par for word count!

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Actually, I don’t know if my husband is really trying to kill me, I think the Mucinex is making me paranoid. I called the White House though and told them that Lincoln totally shot first and that if the Secret Service would just return my probiotic gummy bears I will stop ordering pizza delivery.

Anyway…of course what else would you think about when you are dying from the flu? Duh. Love scenes! Hellooo?

I totally just lied about that.

But Alex wrote this really freaking amazing post and I’m glad about that because I was born and raised in the bible belt, which means I can only write love scenes in my books when all of my family is dead. That and in Texas, romance involves a gun show or ammo sale.

To mix things up a bit, Alex is assisting me through the holiday season. His free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story helps you with creating intriguing novels and shorts. And this time, he is here to melt your hearts and minds with a fresh outlook at romance in fiction. Please cheer for him once again!

Yay, Alex!

***

Texans *rolls eyes*. If you are a gal, let me ask you one question about romance.

Imagine a guy is courting you. Which one of the following two scenarios do you find more romantic?

  1. He composes a minnesong for you and plays it on his mandolin under your window
  1. He invites you to the movies and to dinner

Take a moment to post your answer in the comments below. I’m not going to pompously prescribe you a “correct” answer, but instead have a second question for you (this post is getting worse than “Who wants to be a Millionaire?” right?).

Tell me, what do you think about the following love scene:

Heavy rain was pattering down on the streets.

“Wait, wait,” he suddenly shouted from behind, running after her. “You forgot something…”

Under her umbrella, she turned around surprised, with an expectant look on her face: “What is it?”

Panting he stood before her: “You forgot to give me a chance to tell you that I love you. More than I have ever imagined that I could love someone!”

“Oh, Mike!” She fell round his neck. Suddenly teardrops were mixing with the pouring rain: “I promise to love you forever, every single day of eternity.” She sighed. “Being with you is… like magic.”

They kissed passionately under the open sky, lost in a bubble of time and space, not even noticing the heavy waterfalls pouring down on them and getting them soaking wet.

Did this scene touch you deeply? Did it really get to you?

To me, it did nothing.

What you just read is a pile of cliches we have seen a thousand times before, all pressed into one single scene. I just fed you a learned code instead of serving you fresh fiction; yes, I force-fed you a learned code like traffic signals or like the bell that trained Pavlov’s dogs. The signals above are intended to get you salivating romantically… ring, ring!

Cliched setting? Check (“Heavy rain was pattering down on the streets.”)

Cliched expressions? Check (“I promise to love you forever, every single day of eternity”)

Cliched feelings? Check (“…I love you. More than I have ever imagined that I could love someone”)

Cliched comparisons and similes? Check (“Being with you is… like magic.”)

In short, the snippet above contains too many cliches and relies way too much on what the author thinks romance should be.

Fiction needs to speak truth, it needs to be raw and bold and unconditional, it has to touch our inner beings– like love. It should’t be a preformed template.

Here is the problem though: No feeling in fiction is harder to convey than love. That’s because being in love is a feeling that escapes any description– it’s too exciting; too strange; too magnetic; too rare. Pain, joy, disappointment, anxiousness are all easier to describe than love. They are more one-dimensional, more common and most of the time not as overwhelming as love.

Because love is so difficult to describe, many writers circle around it. Instead of taking a shot at painting the feeling itself for you, they give you placeholders you recognize from movies: “Ah, they are saying they will love each other forever! That’s how it works in romance novels, so that must mean it’s real love.”

So how can you do it better?

This post aims to show you a couple of ways to craft more authentic love scenes, drawing from deep inside. Also, because I know stereotypes can be hard to detect, you can find a free, downloadable goodie here to help you check your story for cliches and any other imaginable problem (it uses test questions).

Let’s take a look at refreshing ways to craft love scenes.

Romance Image 1

 

1. Use Commonalities

There is one thing all romances share in real life, and that’s definitely not a cliche: It’s the lovers’ commonalities.

The type of these commonalities might be completely different from romance to romance: One couple could be very similar in character, but very different in lifestyle; another one could have the same hobbies, but sport very divergent world views.

Common features and differences are what makes romance exciting; use the tension between the opposites and the attraction of the same to craft an emotional rhythm in your scene– or maybe it’s the tension between the same and the attraction of the opposites…?

One great ingredient of a love scene is two people “discovering” each other. Discovering commonalities is an exciting process and often lets love grow, so play with it. Let them be like magnets: Repelling when approaching each other from the wrong side, but attracting each other strongly when approaching from the right side.

2. Less Is Often More

The finest notes in good love scenes are often spoken without words, or they are articulated in a delayed or shortened way. It’s because we are operating on emotionally delicate ground: A lot of desires, reservations, suspicions and fears play into our notion of romance.

Don’t just let your characters plainly say what they are about! This rule holds true for all dialogues, but the difference in a love scene is that you have very believable reasons to not let your figures talk, be it awkwardness or reservation. Operate with unspoken words, silence, a sentence much too short at the right time.

You can let body language speak for itself.

This technique should force your reader to read between the lines; to turn on her own imagination, which is the most amazing thing you can do for her: Let your reader watch her very own movie.

Here is a quick example:

“Sometimes I feel like there is nobody to turn to,” Joe said. “Like… like the world is an empty place. Do you know what I mean?”

Scarlet just stared at her shoes.

“Nobody,” he said.

3. Draw from Your Very Private Experiences

Draw from your private treasure trove of experience instead of from experiences movies and TV shows have pre-canned for you.

Don’t commit the error we were just talking about and sidestep the challenge. Don’t fall back on cliches because you feel like you don’t have the ability to describe something on your own terms, following your own laws.

In other words: Risk something!

Anger, hurt, attraction, admiration, enthusiasm, guilt: Let your characters experience, express and withhold a broad range of emotions, a variety of complex feelings– love is complicated.

Think of all the emotions you could send your characters through. Try to express things the way they felt to you personally when you were there, not in the way you have seen others describe them.

The word “love” is so overused it has become one giant cliche in itself. You can find it everywhere, be it in movies, novels or song lyrics, not to speak of oversized ads or everyday language. So try not to use it. Instead, it makes much more impact to just describe what love does to your characters.

Using your private experiences also means that you will have to get naked and expose bits and pieces of your private feelings for everybody to see.

Luckily, nobody knows which parts stem from you personally and which parts are just made up. And contrary to an actor, you don’t have to pour out your soul directly in front of an audience, but have the laptop screen between you and your readers to protect you.

Snail

4. Let Men and Women Talk Differently

There is a big misconception about men and women.

Maybe it’s just a misconception of language, because when somebody says, “Men and women are equal,” this person is only half right: We are equal in value, but not equal in nature.

We don’t feel alike. We don’t act alike. We don’t talk alike.

For example, can you quickly tell if the following phrase likely comes from a man or from a woman?

“Do you think he/she looks better than me?”

How about the following one, man or woman?

“If he does this again, I will teach him some manners!”

You might call this a cliche, but I can’t remember ever overhearing a woman saying the second sentence. I have heard men uttering similar statements though– we just have big egos…

So keep in mind to lend different voices to your guy and your gal. In other words, let the differences between men and women get into your scene and make sure the romance in your story becomes as complicated and as awesome as romance is in real life…

Use the Power of Authenticity

When you write your next love scene, keep these four signposts in mind, and your scene will make a powerful impact and touch your readers deeply; for sure more deeply than a cliched movie and dinner date.

You can see so much phony fiction around, a fresh approach will make you stand out like Johnny Depp amongst a stage full of cheap Elvis impersonators.

Take a risk and indulge in the power of truth– your readers will feel so strongly for your story, they will be ready to dive deeply into it and to love and suffer with you.

Alex Limberg is blogging on Ride the Pen to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Create intriguing stories with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story or check out his creative writing prompts. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

Hey, it’s Kristen again and now it’s your turn: What are your own secrets for love scenes? Have you found a trick that works really well? Did you ever use a very personal experience in a romantic scene and did it feel awkward to “expose” yourself? Do you love love scenes? Hate them? Are you like me and can’t write love scenes until every living member of your family dies? Gotta love goring up in the bible belt.

Alex is going to be guest posting a few more times, so if there are any other topics you’d like HIM to explore, put them in the comments!

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, 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.

 

Image courtesy of Lisa Weidmeier WANA Commons.
Image courtesy of Lisa Weidmeier WANA Commons.

I’d hoped I wouldn’t have to go here, but alas, here we are. Today, 50 Shades of Grey the MOVIE will open for…*record screech* Valentine’s Day. Nothing says I love you like predatory emotional manipulation, sociopathy, abuse and non-consensual sex acts.

Find THAT on a Hallmark card.

And yes, I know there have been other kinky books like this, but 50 Shades sold over 100 million copies and the movie (despite ZERO plot) is expected to gross in excess of $60 million which means I just threw up a little in my mouth this “story” has tipped from fringe to mainstream and that scares me more than a little bit.

No, I didn’t read the book. I don’t need to. Nor do I need to watch gang-rape prison porn to know it probably is unhealthy for the future of women (or even men). Guess what? I didn’t have to eat the chicken I forgot in my fridge to know it would probably make me sick.

Some stuff just stinks and that should be enough to warn us away.

And I’ve debated even blogging about this because I try to make it a policy to never talk badly about any story or book. I also hate EVEN MORE attention given to this crap than it’s already garnered, but my conscience won’t let me remain silent. We are playing with fire.

Redefining the POWERFUL Man

Image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of JonoMeuller
Image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of JonoMeuller

I watched the trailer and instantly felt the bad juju *Spidey senses go NUTSO*.

Grey doesn’t choose Ana because she is a confident, assured woman who can emotionally handle this sort of contract, um relationship, um abus…ok, hell I got nothing. A confident woman would have told him where to put his private jet.

What gets me is he sees a woman girl who clearly already has a low opinion of herself and he pounces. Wow, sounds like the beginning stages of a relationship that is going to end with a body bag, jail or at least a restraining order. He smells blood in the water and goes for it, wanting to dominate a woman who, frankly, is just looking for “love.”

And this is my old curmudgeon self coming out. HOW is that a powerful man?

I know they give him all the accoutrement of “powerful.” The surface stuff like custom suits, a job where he never really works, fast cars, etc. But, to me, that isn’t power. That’s actually small man-part behavior (which is actually deep insecurity manifesting in a fancy watch).

Powerful men. REALLY powerful men? They empower women. They don’t prey on and victimize them. It reminds me of my formative years and the movie Dirty Dancing. Sexy? Yes. Push social boundaries? Sure.

But?

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In Dirty Dancing Johnny Castle pushes Baby (Jennifer Grey 😀 ) beyond her comfort zones, but it’s in a way that makes her more whole as a human being. He always makes sure she is truly on board and always makes her safety a priority. Remember the fancy lifts? Practicing the lifts in the lake so if she fell she’d be okay?

And all the older gals go, “Awwww, I LOVED that scene.”

Johnny pursues Baby because he likes her as a human being, and, instead of preying on her, he protects and nurtures her. THAT, in my book is a powerful man. Not some trust fund baby assclown with a closet full of leashes and too much free time.

Abuse is NOT Power

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There are so many things that scare me about this book and it would take more than one post to explore them. But women have faced thousands of years of not being able to defend themselves against victimization and rape and now we have a cultural phenomenon that is redefining sex and blurring the lines of consent (which are already pretty damn blurry, especially after a drunken frat party).

I kid you NOT. I am waiting for the 50 Shades Defense when some poor college girl is brutalized and the guy’s defense is, “Well, she did sign a contract.”

And not only is this a sticky wicket for women, it’s a train wreck for men. When millions of women are fanning themselves over this crap, men are left even more confused and more vulnerable. Pair this with super destructive pop hits like Blurred Lines?

I have a son and pop culture really should be handled with care. I recall being in the car with a family member who has two impressionable sons. Blurred Lines comes on and they are all humming to it. I gasp and turn it off then asked, “Have any of you paid attention to the WORDS to this song? It’s a date rape song and it is unacceptable.”

And now it is clear why Kristen wasn’t invited to the parties in high school and college.

But you’re an animal, baby, it’s in your nature
Just let me liberate you….

Let me liberate you? How about I show you what a TRIANGLE CHOKE is?

Image via http://totaljujitsu.com
Image via http://totaljujitsu.com

Lowering the Standards of Expectations

It’s Grey’s lines like, “I don’t do romance” that kinda more than piss me off. Women used to be worthy of courtship and eventually a ring and a commitment. Then we decided to break glass ceilings and we’ve been fighting a battle of, “If a woman doesn’t want to be married she must be frigid or a lesbian versus any woman who wants a ring and a commitment is just out to trap a man.”

There is also the, “Women who want to be married are settling.” And was already seriously confusing without this tripe.

I remember living across from a young couple and the pretty blonde had been living with this jerk guy for EIGHT years. She wanted to be married and he wanted all the benefits of a marriage without any of the legal obligations (like having to part with HALF his stuff or having to pay alimony if they broke up).

And he’d been dangling a potential ring/proposal in front of her for EIGHT FREAKING years.

Well, I am just not ready yet, but I probably will be…

Later, Dude. Tempus fugit.

And trust me, back when I was dating, that crap was a nightmare to traverse. But, at least I could expect some romance. Now? A man who doesn’t DO romance is…sexy?

In my book he’s selfish and lazy and move on. Characters like Ana have opened a WHOLE ‘notha can of worms when she refuses to tell Grey NO or to stop or even that he’s crossing a line and hurting her because “then she’d lose him” *gags* and tolerates the intolerable.

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No one to HEAR you? How in 50 Shades of HELL is this remotely acceptable?

Ladies, when a man controls what you say, wear or who your friends are? That is BAD.

DANGER—Abuse NEVER has an HEA

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Thing is, in the book maybe it can end well. In life? A guy who won’t take no and wants total control, AND has unlimited funds when the woman does not? Watch Discovery ID and we can see the end to this story. Usually it involves an unidentified body found in a cooler in the desert.

Or, feel free to re-watch the sequel to 50 Shades, made back in 2002—“Enough.”

In fact, years ago I knew a woman who was in this sort of relationship. It began as sexy and exciting until he killed her dog (who was trying to defend her from his blows) and then he broke her jaw. She ended up working as a prostitute because every time she moved and tried to work legitimate employment? Her ex found her and hospitalized her for leaving.

The REAL Man

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My husband is a GIANT. At six foot six, he’s well over a foot taller than me. This is the man who was in Special Operations and on a military shooting team, but I’ve spent every summer helping him rescue mice, lizards and geckos out of glue traps. The man even rescues rattlesnakes who want to sun on our porch at the ranch.

And KITTENS. OMG, the KITTENS!!! Kittens are his kryptonite.

Meet, "Odin" my anniversary present and Cat Number FOUR
Meet, “Odin” my anniversary present and Cat Number FOUR

We are one cat short of Hubby being the Crazy Cat Lady. He also works extra hard so his wife can take Brazilian Ju-Jitsu and is almost always in the audience cheering me on. He isn’t afraid of a strong woman and even encourages me to be stronger.

I really hope this 50 Shades phase passes, but…

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I hope that you will spend your Valentines Day doing or watching something truly romantic. If you and your partner want to add some spice and roughness? I recommend taking a Brazilian Ju-Jitsu class together 😀 .

Additionally, I recommend checking out The Atlantic post by Emma Green, Consent Isn’t Enough: The Troubling Sex of 50 Shades.

So *cringes* what are your thoughts? Do you think 50 Shades grossly misrepresents BDSM? Do you see the same perils? Am I overreacting? Feel free to disagree just please be polite. Is this a dangerous trend? First with Twilight making stalking “sexy” and now this?

I know many who’ve read this book and love it are older, but should we be concerned about how this might mainstream for our youth and affect their perceptions of “relationships”? How it might even impact victims in courtrooms? Is this type of story confusing for men and women? Is this even more devolution of what we consider to be “romantic”? Or am I jumping at shadows?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of FEBRUARY, 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).

 

For the past several weeks we have been exploring structure and why it is important. If you haven’t yet read the prior posts, I advise you do because each post builds on the previous lesson. All lessons are geared to making you guys master plotters. Write cleaner and faster. I know a lot of you are chomping at the bit right now to get writing. All in due time. Today we are going to talk genre and why it is important to pick one.

Understanding what genre you are writing will help guide you when it comes to plotting your novel. How? Each genre has its own set of general rules and expectations. Think of this like stocking your cabinet with spices. If you like to cook Mexican food, then you will want to have a lot of cumin, chili powder and paprika on hand. Like cooking Italian food? Then basil and oregano are staple spices. In cooking we can break rules … but only to a certain point. We can add flavors of other cultures into our dish, but must be wary that if we deviate too far from expectations, or add too many competing flavors, we will have a culinary disaster. Writing is much the same. We must choose a genre, but then can feel free to add flavors of other genres into our work.

Ten years ago, when I first got this brilliant idea to start writing fiction, I didn’t do any planning. I knew zip nada about the craft, and, frankly, was too stupid to know I was that dumb. To make matters worse, I tried to write a novel that everyone would love. It was a romantic-thriller-mystery-comedic-memoir that would appeal to all ages, both men and women and even their pets and houseplants. I am here to help you learn from my mistakes.

I believe there are three kinds of writers. One type of writer is the Born Genre Author. This type of writer knows the genre he wants to write from day one. He is a born horror author or fantasy author, or whatever. This type does not start on a horror novel and then suddenly start thinking that YA is more his stride…or maybe sci-fi…or literary fiction. This author’s laser-focus is a tremendous asset, but tunnel-vision can get him in trouble. The greatest weakness I see with this type of writer is that they often don’t read outside their genre and so their work can lack that je ne sais quoi that makes their writing stand apart from others in their genre. Of course, this is easily remedied if this type of author can make a conscious effort to diversify.

Another type of author is like I used to be (and still have to fight). Meet The Dabbler. We love everything and have a hard time making up our minds. We love all kinds of writing, but this lack of focus can hurt our platform and spread us too thinly to be effective. Dabblers also are bad about making the mistake of trying to write a book that is all genres and what they end up with is an unpalatable mess. On the flip-side, though. Dabblers who can finally choose a genre usually are very innovative creatures because they have the knack and ability to draw flavors of other genres into their writing. The trick is getting them to pay attention and focus long enough.

Then there is the third kind of writer, The Profiteer. These writers are in the business for all the wrong reasons, and, because of that, usually never end up finishing, let alone publishing. They are writing for the money and fame and often are genre-hos. They keep a finger in the wind searching for what is currently hot. Vampires? Chick-lit? Whatever is flying off shelves, that is The Profiteer’s  new love. Of course what this writer doesn’t understand is that by the time they finish the novel, land an agent and that book makes it to print, the trends will have changed. But most Profiteers fall by the wayside, so that’s all I will say about them.

Just as nailing the log-line is vital for plotting, we also must be able to classify what genre our novel will be in. Now, understand that some genres are fairly close. Think Mexican Food and Tex Mex. An agent at a later date might, for business reasons, decide to slot a Women’s Fiction into Romance.  Yet, you likely will NEVER see an agent slot a literary fiction as a thriller. They are too different. That is like trying to put enchiladas on the menu at a French restaurant.

Part of why I stress picking a genre is that genres have rules and standards. For example, I had a student drop out of my Warrior Writer Boot Camp because I told her that her hero could not be the Big Boss Troublemaker (main antagonist) in her romance novel. I advised her that the hero could be an antagonistic force, but that she had to choose another person to be the BBT. Why? Because the genre of romance has rules, and guy and gal MUST come together at the end and live happily ever after. This cannot happen if the heroine defeats the hero.  Great love stories generally do not involve the hero being beaten up by a girl. I didn’t make the rules, but I can help a writer understand those rules and thereby increase his/her chances of publication success.

Understanding your genre will help immensely when it comes to plotting. It will also help you get an idea of the word count specific to that genre. I am going to attempt to give a very basic overview of the most popular genres. Please understand that all of these break down into subcategories, but I have provided links to help you learn more so this blog wasn’t 10,000 words long.

Mystery—often begins with the crime as the inciting incident (murder, theft, etc.), and the plot involves the protagonist uncovering the party responsible by the end. The crime has already happened and thus your goal in plotting is to drive toward the Big Boss Battle—the unveiling of the real culprit. Mysteries have a lot more leeway to develop characters simply because, if you choose, they can be slower in pacing because the crime has already happened. Mysteries run roughly  75-100,000 words. Mysteries on the cozy side that are often in a series commonly are shorter. 60,000-ish. I’d recommend that you consult the Mystery Writers of America of more information.

Thriller/Suspense—generally involve trying to stop some bad thing from happening at the end. Thrillers have broad consequences if the protagonist fails—I.e. the terrorists will launch a nuclear weapon and destroy Washington D.C. Suspense novels have smaller/more intimate consequences. I.e. The serial killer will keep butchering young blonde co-eds. It is easy to see how thriller, suspense and mystery are kissing cousins and keep company. The key here is that there is a ticking clock and some disastrous event will happen if the protagonist fails.

So when plotting, all actions are geared to prevention of the horrible thing at the end. Thrillers can run 90-100,000 words (loosely) and sometimes a little longer. Why? Because some thrillers need to do world-building. Most of us have never been on a nuclear sub, so Tom Clancy had to recreate it for us in The Hunt for Red October (Clancy invented a sub-class of thriller known as the techno-thriller).

Pick up the pacing and you can have a Mystery-Suspense. Think Silence of the Lambs. A murder happens at the beginning, and the goal is to uncover the identity of the serial killer Buffalo Bill (mystery), but what makes this mystery-suspense is the presence of a ticking clock. Not only is the body count rising the longer Buffalo Bill remains free, but a senator’s daughter is next on Bill’s butcher block.

When plotting, there will often be a crime (murder) at the beginning, but the plot involves a rising “body count” and a perpetrator who must be stopped before an even bigger crime can occur (Big Boss Battle). These stories are plot-driven. Characters often do not have enough down-time to make sweeping inner arc changes like in a literary piece.

Pick up the pacing and raise the stakes and you have a Mystery-Thriller. Think Killing Floor by Lee Childs. The book begins with a murder of two unidentified people at a warehouse, but if the killers are not found, what the killers are trying to cover up will have global consequences. And I am not telling you what those consequences are b/c it would ruin the book :D.

When plotting, again, there is often a crime at the beginning with rising stakes, and the protagonist must stop a world-changing event from happening (Big Boss Battle). The focus of your plot will be solving the mystery and stopping the bad guy.

For more information on this genre, consult the International Thriller Writers site.

Romance—Guy and girl have to end up together in the end is the only point I will make on this. Romance is all about making the reader believe that love is good and grand and still exists in this crazy world. The hero cannot be your main antagonist.  Romance, however, is very complex and I cannot do it justice in this short blurb. If you desire to write romance, I highly recommend you go to the Romance Writers of America site for more information and that you join a chapter near you immediately. This is one of the most amazing writing organizations around and a great investment in a successful romance-writing career.

Word count will depend on the type of romance you desire to write. Again, look to RWA for guidance.

Literary Fiction-is character driven. The importance is placed on the inner change, and the plot is the mechanism for driving that change. Literary fiction has more emphasis on prose, symbol and motif. The events that happen must drive an inner transformation.

Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Road is a good example. The world has been destroyed and only a few humans have survived. The question isn’t as much whether the man and the boy will survive as much as it is about how they will survive. Will they endure with their humanity in tact? Or will they resort to being animals? Thus, the goal in The Road is less about boy and man completing their journey to the ocean, and more about how they make it. Can they carry the torch of humanity?

When plotting for the literary fiction, one needs to consider plot-points for the inner changes occurring. There need to be cross-roads of choice. One choice ends the story. The character failed to change. The other path leads closer to the end. The darkest moment is when that character faces that inner weakness at its strongest, yet triumphs.

For instance, in The Road, there are multiple times the man and boy face literally starving to death. Will they resort to cannibalism as many other have? Or will they press on and hope? Word count can vary, but you should be safe with 60-85,000 words (The Road was technically a novella).

Fantasy and Science Fiction will involve some degree of world-building and extraordinary events, creatures, locations. In plotting, world-building is an essential additional step. How much world-building is necessary will depend on what sub-class of fantasy or sci-fi you’re writing. Word count will also be affected. The more world-building, the longer your book will be. Some books, especially in high-fantasy can run as long as 150,000 words and are often serialized.

Consult the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for more information.

Horror—This is another genre that breaks down into many sub-classifications and runs the gambit. It can be as simple as a basic Monster in the House story where the protagonist’s main goal is SERE-Survive Evade, Rescue, and Escape. The protag has only one goal…survive. These books tend to be on the shorter side, roughly 60,000 words.

Horror, however can blend with fantasy and require all kinds of complex world-building. Clive Barker’s Hellraiser is a good example. Stephen King’s horror often relies heavily on the psychological and there is weighty focus on an inner change/arc. For instance, The Shining chronicles Jack’s descent into madness and how his family deals with his change and ultimately tries to escape the very literal Monster in the House.

Horror will most always involve a Monster in the House scenario. It is just that the definitions of “monster” and “house” are mutable. Word count is contingent upon what type of horror you are writing. Again, I recommend you consult the experts, so here is a link to the Horror Writers Association. The Dark Fiction Guild seemed to have a lot of helpful/fascinating links, so you might want to check them out too.

Picking a genre is actually quite liberating. Each genre has unique guideposts and expectations, and, once you gain a clear view of these, then plotting becomes far easier and much faster. You will understand the critical elements that must be in place—ticking clock, inner arc, world-building—before you begin. This will save loads of time not only in writing, but in revision. Think of the romance author who makes her hero the main antagonist (BBT). She will try to query, and, since she didn’t know the rules of her genre, will end up having to totally rewrite/trash her story.

Eventually, once you grow in your craft, you will be able to break rules and conventions. But, to break the rules we have to understand them first.

I have done my best to give you guys a general overview of the most popular genres and links to know more. If you have some resources or links that you’d like to add, please put them in the comments section. Also, for the sake of brevity, I didn’t address other genres, like YA or Western. If you have questions or advice, fire away! Any corrections? Additions? Questions? Concerns? Comments? I love hearing from you. What is the biggest hurdle you have to choosing a genre? Do you love your genre? Why? Any advice?

Make sure you tune in for Wednesday’s blog where I continue walking you through blogging for platform :D. What do we blog about to gain a fan base?

Happy writing!

Until next time….

Give yourself the gift of success for the coming year. My best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books! Enter to win a FREE copy. Check out Author Susan Bischoff’s blog.

Today is Free-for-All Friday, so it’s my choice for topics. Today I am going to do something a tad unusual. A book review. Now I don’t get asked to do a lot of these. I think it has something to do with my reputation preceding me. When you earn nicknames like “The Shredder” and “The Death Star,” you generally don’t have writers lining up around the block to hand over their baby. Fair enough. I do tend to be picky. Almost ten years as an editor has made me more than a little odd, and I do find it tough to read fiction without my Inner Red Pen tagging along. But I am a HUGE fan of Jody’s blog, so I figured I’d show some writer support and read her book. Boy am I glad I did!

I enjoy fiction and usually read a few chapters a day. I take the good and the bad. But, every once in a while, I am blessed with a rare opportunity to remember my life before the red pen, to recall how it felt to be a reader held captive by a story. This past Sunday, I cracked open Jody Hedlund’s The Preacher’s Bride. It’s a Christian Romance and really not the genre I ever read in my spare time. I figured out on page one that likely there wouldn’t be a single autopsy, explosion or car chase. But, the funny thing is that even though this book was so far from what I normally would read for pleasure, it caught me on the first page and didn’t let go until I had finished.

I sat glued to my couch all day. I would say, “Okay, I’ll just finish this chapter, and then I’ll get up.” Yeah, well I did that all the way to the end of the book. I read from 10:00 Sunday morning until 9:00 that night. Just to give some perspective, that has happened only 3 times in 8 years, and I generally read at least a book a week. Jody is a master of tightening the noose of conflict and suspense. Readers will love The Preacher’s Bride for the story, and writers should love her for the lessons her story can teach all of us about writing great fiction.

Jody’s novel breathes new life into the pages of history. The Preacher’s Bride is set in England right before the Puritans will be forced to leave for America to escape persecution. Jody drops the reader right into this historical setting and makes it once more alive and real, filled with real people with real lives and real problems. This love story is surrounded by death, disease, persecution, loss and hardship. Thus, when love does emerge, it is like the lone bud that struggles through the winter snows to remind us that life is good and right and worth fighting for.

Jody’s characters are rich, vibrant, and distinct. Her protagonists are wonderfully imperfect and multi-dimensional. I love how this story glorifies so many of the character traits that modern society overlooks—being a hard worker, having a heart for service, and genuinely giving to others. The heroine isn’t supermodel beautiful, but has tremendous qualities of the heart that make her beautiful, and better still, identifiable. The hero is flawed and real and noble. What’s the best of all is that Jody’s antagonists are deliciously wicked and create gripping conflict throughout. This is a romance with substance and grit that will leave you breathless. Jody does a brilliant job of layering conflict in a way that never allows the reader to grow too comfortable.

I highly, highly recommend this book, no matter what genre you normally read. The Preacher’s Bride is a page-turning treat that will make you laugh, cry and cheer. Great stories are great stories, plain and simple. Like all great stories, The Preacher’s Bride will leave you feeling encouraged and inspired, and we all could use more of that :D.