Genre in Fiction: A Writer’s Search for Clarity

Genre is on my mind a lot lately.  I have to make some hard decisions about my manuscript, and decide what path to take in the revision.  The decisions I make now will directly affect the promotion of the book when it is ready to self-publish.  I have to choose carefully so my  future readers will be able to find me, and so I don’t give potential readers the wrong impression about my book.  Lets take a walk through my mind…

Some genres have to do with the setting, like Science Fiction, Fantasy, Modern, and Historical.  Add the more recent sub-genres like Alternative History, Dystopian Future, Paranormal, Steampunk, Cyberpunk, & and you end up with a place for the story to take place.

Other genres have to do with the plot, like Mystery, Romance, Horror, and Adventure.  These can be subdivided into other genres like Crime or Epic, although Epic could have more to do with length than plot. This is the path the story takes, and each genre has certain expectations placed on it by the readers.

Still other genres seem to be about the voice or tone of the story, like Literary, Young Adult, or Erotica.  There are also descriptors that are less of a genre and more of a flavor, like Gritty, Hard, Military, Sport, Steamy, Cozy, or Warm Hearted.

These lists are by no means complete, just off the top of my head and hopefully enough for you to get my point.  Humans like to slot things into categories, but the single word genre is often woefully inadequate to describe most books.  So we play mix and match, and get things like Cozy Mystery, Paranormal Romance, and Young Adult Fantasy.  But we also get Gritty Fantasy, Steampunk Romance, and Literary Adventure; which could work, or be a total disaster, depending on the writer, and the reader.  (Has anyone tried Cozy Horror?)

My opinion of my own manuscript’s genre has shifted as I’ve written it, from Science Fiction Romance to Erotic Science Fiction Romance, simply because I can’t seem to ‘look’ away from the sex scenes.  It interests me, how the two characters navigate a new relationship, including the time they spend in bed, whether it’s talking, making love, exploring some aspect of their sexuality, or contrasting the way that their cultures and species are different.  They spend time outside of bed, of course.  They both have friends, family, and jobs.

To get a better handle on the expectations of the readers of Erotica, so I could mesh it with the other genres I’m using, I did research.  What I found was a lot of people equating Erotica with porn. I keep hearing “Erotica doesn’t need a plot,” or “Erotica is just sex,” or “I don’t read Erotica, it’s trash.”  And a lot of handcuffs, but not enough feathers.  I’ve been very confused, since I didn’t realize there was such a negative perception to the word Erotic.

Maybe it’s just me, but I thought erotic meant engaging the senses related to romantic desire and sexual love.  That’s what the dictionary says. I read things in most books that I consider erotic.  The description of a first kiss, depending on the author, could be erotic, along with the feeling of lying on a blanket with your love interest while stargazing.

So I look down at my 179,194 word manuscript, trying to figure out if I can cut the sex scenes, and revise the character arcs into less racy words, but that…

Makes me want to chunk the whole thing in the trash and go back into fiber arts.

I haven’t yet, but I’ve come close.  Then I look over at the notebooks full of my other stories, waiting their turn to be developed.  They have themes and words in common with my current project.  If I take out the intimacy, I lose interest in telling the story.  This issue isn’t going to go away for me, unless I give up on crafting stories out of words.  I don’t want to give up.  Writing has become my choice of hobby, vice, and meditation.

So, I’m back to figuring out my genre.  Steamy would be misleading about the graphic words I use.  Is there such a thing as Cozy Erotica, or Spiritual Erotica? Am I really going to try to market under “Warm Hearted Hard Core Erotica Science Fiction Romance”?  Shall I add “Strong Female Lead”? How about “Don’t Read This Because It’s Confusing and Mislabled”.

That Damn trash can is laughing at me.

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Climbing the Next Step

I handed off my first manuscript to my first round of beta readers.  It was a leap of faith in myself, that I could someday tell a story well enough to publish it.  I’m not saying it was exactly like leaving the house without my infant for the first time, putting her care totally in hands other than mine, but it was.  I’m trying to not worry.  I worry.

I simply can’t afford an editor, and the time and money to find the right one (who will actually improve my work) aren’t resources I have at this point in my writing career.  So I educate myself as much as possible, learn the tools in the word program, and rely on a circle of close friends who also read/write.  They will guide me up the next step toward self-publishing.

Self-editing had become a round of avoiding the manuscript, not writing other projects because I was using my limited writing time to edit, and editing grammar in scenes I wasn’t sure should BE in the manuscript.  To re use the over used metaphor; I could see the forest, loved the trees, but suspected some of those trees need the axe.  I called in the beta-lumberjacks, because they’re ok.  Even if they wear suspenders and a bra.

I could see the non-vicious circle of self-editing becoming a comfortable home, and how so many writers live there.  Endlessly picking and adjusting, never showing their work to another person because “It’s not ready.”  I have new respect for the writers who have overcome that fear, and more empathy for those who haven’t (yet) taken that step.

To help distract myself from the counterproductive editing, I managed to pick up one of my other projects, and I’m trying to get it into the shape of a rough draft.  The feel of applying pen to paper, gliding across in loops and squiggles, is a productive effort and hugely creative.  Daily word count is so much more self-affirming. I remember this joy.

It’s crap.  But it’s glorious, visceral, and colorful crap.  Crap that can be useable, once refined.  This time, the estimated word count is manageable, something that could make the rounds for small publishers.  It’s also vampires.  Simultaneously popular AND overdone, but the story wants what it wants.  <shrug>  So, we make it fun, sexy vampire romance crap, rolling in modern cultural jokes and stereotypes, while picking apart the legends and applying science like a halogen lamp.

And my search history gets weirder…

 

The Editing Pit

 

I think unpublished manuscripts are like the Home of Dreams from the movie “The Money Pit.”  I can picture Tom Hanks laughing like a maniac as more and more time, money and work get funneled into the manuscript.

But, as he was told, again and again, “If the foundation is good, everything else can be fixed.”

Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is proving to be a daunting task, despite it’s deceptively thin appearance.  I’ve made it through the first three sections on sheer goat-headedness.  The elements seem to come in three Flavors for me:

First, rules I understand and already try to use.  (“Yes,” she whispers, as she pumps the air with her fist.)

Second, rules that I am unfamiliar with, but understand and will try to apply to my writing.  (“Hmmm.”  The writer scratches her head thoughtfully, brows crunched together, and tries to appear dignified.)

Third, rules that… can’t… brain.  more examples, plz…  halp…  (The room echoes with the sound of a head hitting a desk, while the soft pat, pat, pat of brain tissue, slowly leaking out of an ear, marks the passage of time.)

I think it’s going to take more than a single read through to get a good grasp of it all, although my worst offences seem to be related to #18.  My style seems to favor two clause sentences, giving my paragraphs a singsong sound.  I’m trying to control the urge, but it just seems to happen before I realize it.  I’m not doing it on purpose, because it can get really tedious. My brain just seems to organize thoughts this way, and sometimes I….   DAMMIT!!

My favorite section so far, Misused Words and Expressions, is full of fun, archaic words.  I feel at home, among these words, and easily grasp his points.  If I was being tested, I would expect a good passing grade, although most of what I would get wrong may be simply outdated.  I’m sure I have never applied the word ‘clever’ to a horse, incorrectly or otherwise.

However, I think the section would be better titled Pet Peeves and Things That Really Piss Me OffI swear I have felt the sting of a ruler on the back of my hand from his tone of writing.  Despite only being in the ‘F’ words, I am already flinching from a smack on the back of the head.  I know it’s coming…

For now, I keep shoveling grammar and style into the manuscript, hoping to turn it into the Dream Novel.  (Don’t laugh!)

My last post referred to a bunch of writing books by author, but not the titles.  It was a presumption on my part that everybody else has read them all, and I was last to the party.  In an effort to help those who haven’t gotten around to them, I will post an extra blog with an annotated bibliography of the books I have found helpful to date.  Look for it in the next week or two.

 

Writer Lost…

 

I finished the beta readers draft of my manuscript about 24 hours ago…

I know what is next, a little tweaking and polishing, fixing the misspelled words that even spellcheck shrugged at, and a half dozen alien slang words.  Then, let it go, into the hands of my trusted beta readers, to tell me what trees I missed while in the forest.  I know, and have been warned, to not cling, to not fiddle it to death.

I feel odd.  Empty and full.  Happy and sad.  Confused and confident.

Word count is 176,427.  Looking at the log, it took 82 non-consecutive days.  Most of the missed days were holidays; even while sick I could put aside some time for it.  The log says I started the rewrite on Oct 9th.  I don’t remember, it just seems like I was always writing it.

My brain feels like it’s a different shape, somehow, even more than when I finished the longhand first draft.  I’m wondering if it could ever go back to the original shape.  Would I want it to?  Will I feel this way after every re-write?  Every future book?

While I’m in this odd state, not ready to edit, not ready to move on to another project, I’m working on the character list/bio and a slang glossary.  May be I’ll look at the synopsis, press blurb, and jacket teaser, too.  One way or another, I will rough edit it and hand it over in a week.  That is my new goal.

Coming soon, the epic Sci-fi Romance, ‘The Contract.’

I hope…

When is a writer like a… WRITER?

Publishing.  Every writer’s dream AND nightmare.  The struggle of writing for self OR for the market.  Are your readers your employees OR your customers?

I have a Post Office receipt.  I submitted a short story to a magazine.  They wanted hard copy, complete with SASE.  I liked doing it.  It was my first submission, and how I always envisioned it.  Now I am wondering who has more trouble embracing the new world of technology, them or me?

So, now I wait, stomach in little knots.  Will I be accepted?  Published and also important, PAID?  Or, will I be rejected.  The first rejection to put on a cork board.  How many will I tally up in my career?  Which outcome makes me a writer?

The answer?  Both.

So many people never get this far, but I’m a writer because I write.  Getting paid for it no longer matters.  I will continue, just for the pleasure of manipulating words, just like I will keep eating foods that taste good.

Don’t get me wrong, I would still love to be paid.  Money buys stuff; pens, notebook paper, books, writing programs, more books, dark chocolate, and books.

But, I have already been compensated for the time I have put in; reading, researching, trying to improve my technique, reading my work with a harsher eye, and most importantly, sitting down and putting the words on paper.  The grueling day-to-day work of writing that has become a form of sustenance.

Eat, Drink, Write, Rest.

I have learned so much this year.  Pushed far beyond my comfort zones, and I do realize I have so much farther to go, just to be self published.  I am thankful for the opportunities in the modern age, and thankful there are so many other writers out there, willing to share the experience.

I am not alone.

I find myself already trying to hold my hand out to those coming up with us, to lift them higher.

You are not alone.

Word count on beta draft to date: 90,100.  That’s about 1600 per day this week.  Considering the stresses of the season, I’m content with that.  I’ve seen worse.