Genre???

 

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The first time I mentioned to someone that I wanted to become an author, I was asked what genre I was interested in.

Genre???

I didn’t even know what genre meant!  That’s how new I was to this whole writing thing!!!

In case you are new—and we all have to be at some time—here is a common definition:

A genre is a category of composition. Within each genre, pieces have similarities in subject, style, and form. 

Here is a current list of major writing types:

FICTION:

Classic, Crime, Drama, Fable, Fairy Tale, Fan Fiction, Fantasy, Folklore, Graphic Fiction, Historical, Horror, Mystery, Mythology, Realism, Science Fiction, Short Story, Suspense, Tall Tales, Westerns

NON-FICTION:

Biographies, Essays, Personal narratives, Textbooks, Self-help, Journalism

When you begin to write, it is good to have a clear picture of your genre. (Most people write in the genre they most like to read, but that is not always the case.)

If you are writing because you love to write, first and foremost—if self-fulfillment or getting your message “out there” is the motivating factor, then you are free to write in any genre you’d like.

However, if your primary motivation is to make money, then consider the following as they are the most widely-read genres:

Contemporary Romance

Mystery-Suspense/ Thriller/ Horror

Fantasy and paranormal

Young Adult

Science Fiction and Magical Realism

In the coming weeks, I will attempt to feature each of these genres in this blog.

Remember:  Knowing our genres will help us understand our reading audience—one of the most important factors contributing to our success as writers.

 

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ECHOES

 

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One of the first books I can remember reading as a youngster was Heidi.

I was fascinated by the life she led on the mountaintops with her grandfather. I begged my parents to take me on a trip up north so that I could hear my voice echo from the  mountains in northern Arizona.

ECHOES.

Who would have guessed that, years later, I would loathe them???

With so many different words to choose from, writers have little excuse for using the same ones over and over again.

There are a number of self-editing programs out there. Each one is able to help authors avoid this pitfall.

In the program I use, this is found under REPEATS (words) and ECHOES (phrases).

Much to my dismay, I always find that I am guilty of many of these on any given page.

Why do I find myself using the same words so often?

I think it is because once I have used a certain word, it is in the forefront of my mind. Then, when the next occasion presents itself, it is on the tip of my tongue, ready to be quickly and conveniently typed onto the page again.

For example, I actually used the word slipped FIVE times in two consecutive paragraphs—each time, referring to a different one of its multiple meanings:

He slipped into (Got into the car easily).

He slipped. (Fell).

He slipped her five dollars. (Gave someone money without others noticing).

He slipped. (Not meaning to, he revealed a secret.)

He slipped up. (Made a careless mistake).

When my editing program flags one of these multiple uses within close proximity, I often use my Thesaurus to find possible substitutes.

Just another one of those pitfalls authors need to avoid…

Readability Defined

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Have you ever chosen a book to read for pleasure, but it drove you nuts because you had to keep a dictionary nearby to help you decipher the meaning of such uncommon vocabulary?

Did you finally toss the book aside and choose one that was easier to read and understand?

What you experienced was a high readability level.

Readability is 1) How well the text is laid out, visually and 2) How well the words and sentences can be understood.

Readability looks at sentence length, syllable density, cultural references, word choice (word familiarity, the complexity of vocabulary and syntax). It even considers font size, line height and length.

All of these factors, put together, yields a score approximating how many years of schooling readers need in order to be able to understand your writing.

Newspapers typically strive for an eighth grade readability level. This will be easily read by a broad audience. The Nielson-Norman group suggests this should be the aim of most general fiction writers.

So, how do you make your writing easier to understand?  

Use shorter sentences made up of short, more common words.

The Dr. Seuss book Green Eggs and Ham has a Grade 1 readability. Perfect for this children’s book.

Romeo and Juliet yields a score of 3.2  Every high schooler should be able to understand it, adding to its popularity throughout the years.

If you are interested in testing out your own writing, here are the most noteworthy scoring systems out there:  Coleman Liau; Flesch reading ease score; Flesch-Kincaid grade level; Fry graph readability formula; and the Gunning fog index.

There is a free readability Test Tool at: www.webfx.com/tools/read-able.

There is a time and place for every kind of writing—books that will appeal to many different audiences. If your writing is more literary, you may want to consider increasing your work’s readability index.

The Infamous “Twist”

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I asked my granddaughter what she enjoyed most about the series of books she is currently reading.

“That’s easy” she told me with a sparkle in her warm brown eyes. “Each one has an exciting twist.

Ah, yes. The unexpected. The change the reader hadn’t anticipated. 

I actually wrote my first book, Runaways, around just such a surprising event.

Some readers told me that the twist in The Choice was the fact that they knew what was coming, but didn’t think I would dare actually write about it.

And, so it goes. Each book must have one. 

Because we writers love to put that sparkle in our readers’ eyes.

Avoid a Time Warp

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One of the most difficult things for me to remember when I am writing, is to show the passage of time.

As I work at my computer, the stories flow continuously, so I often need to go back as I edit and insert time “markers” for readers. (This is especially important because most people read a chapter or so at a time. They need reminders as to where they are on the story’s timeline).

So, just how do authors deal with the passage of time in their books?

Well, some authors actually date their chapters, such as “Monday. 9 A.M.”

Some label them by the year: 1942.

Some by the season: Summer, 1950.

Still others use the age of the main character: Eighteen.

However, most often authors simply use phrases (usually in the first paragraph of a chapter or scene) which denote passage of time.

Later that morning, the next day, or the following day.

She glanced at the bedside clock. Was it already seven?

The sun dipped behind the mountains.

He had just enough time to shower and dress before his eight-thirty meeting.

She rushed into the baby’s room. Had he really slept through the night?

You get the point: avoid reader confusion by showing the passage of time where necessary.

Do it subtly. Do it creatively. Use a variety of techniques. 

Action!

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“Help! Someone help!” Luanne screamed as the masked man swiped at her once again with the gleaming blade of his knife.

Elizabeth read the supermarket ads.

Sweat beaded on Paula’s forehead as panted through another contraction.

Sandy settled down with a new paperback.

Lightening zigzagged through the darkened sky as rain pelted the frightened boy.

 

“Drop your reader in the midst of the action” is one of the very first writing “rules” I heard. (Running a close second to “Show, don’t tell.”)

That’s good advice. 

Face it, a book is a lot more exciting when, like a blockbuster movie, there’s a lot of action.

The examples above, show varying degrees of action. Writers need to strive for this a good percentage of the time.

Conflict is a great way to generate action.  Man vs. man; Man vs. animal; animal vs. animal; Man vs. the universe; Man vs. the occult and so on.

But, even action needs to be offset now and then, with periods of more introspection, internal dialogue, description, and conversation (unless it’s a heated argument—then, that’s action!) 

Everyone needs to experience “down time” every once in awhile. That’s true of readers, too. So be sure to include some softer scenes in your writing as well.

I don’t know that there is a formula or a magic percentage that anyone has come up with, but for myself, I try to start each chapter with action and end them with a cliffhanger.

What better way to keep the reader turning pages?

Then, I vary the scenes within each chapter with description, conversation, and action which keeps the story rolling along.

Once I finish writing a book, I give it a rest for a few weeks and go back to reread it before the final edit. I look for quite a number of things on my checklist, but first of all, I am sensing whether or not the story has varying amounts of action that make it an exciting and satisfying experience for the reader.

 

While You Are Sleeping

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I have heard that while we sleep, our brains are still busy—problem-solving… working things out… trying to make sense of things.

So at the end of my writing day, when I failed to come up with a page-turner final sentence to my chapter, I decided to put it to the test. 

I crawled into bed, reviewing what I had just written in my mind. I turned out the light and told my brain to take the night shift.

I woke the next morning, excited about the possibilities of what my brain had come up with. I reread yesterday’s work from start to finish. That’s when the thoughts started pouring in.

I kid you not.

When ideas just won’t come, give your body a rest, while allowing your brain time to work things out.

See you in the morning!