Deciding what genre you write should not be this difficult!!!!

Finding the Correct Genre For Your ProseOkay, admit it, we’ve all been there. You get an idea; invest time, tears, aggravation, and determination to write it all down. Then you struggle with letting it go long enough for a friend or relative to read it. You gird yourself emotionally (or at least you try to) while you listen to their feedback, then cry when in private. Despite however many edits it takes to tell your tale, one of the first questions asked by your reader is, “What genre do you write?”

You would think it would be easy to say, (fill in the blank), but not these days. Genres no longer carry the simple tags of Romance, Mystery, Suspense, Drama, and Sci-Fi. There are sub-genres to these popular book categories that muddy the waters when it comes to deciding exactly where your manuscript fits in. Not to mention, new categories seem to pop up every day. Ever heard of Science Fiction/Alternative History? Me neither, but it is out there!

So, how do you find out if your manuscript fits into one, or more, of these sub-genres?

Well let’s start with defining what a fiction genre is. Visit this link, Exploring Different Types of Genre, which is found on the For Dummies website.

To summarize, here are the two main types of literal and commercial fiction:

Commercial fiction: Attracts a broad audience and may also fall into any sub-genre such as mystery, romance, legal thriller, western, science fiction, and more. (Example: The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller. Popular authors in this genre include John Grisham, Sidney Sheldon, Danielle Steele, and Jackie Collins.)

Literary fiction: Appeals to a smaller, more intellectual audience. Works in this genre can fall into the above listed genres. The difference is the qualities it contains: excellent writing, originality of thought and style. These qualities raise it above the level of ordinary written works. (Examples: Cold Mountain by Frazier. Popular authors in this genre include Toni Morrison, Barbara Kingsover, John LeCarre, and Saul Bellow. )

The article goes on to describe the main genres, as well as list the sub-genres and its most popular authors. Visiting this link provides valuable information to help you discover where you fit in, as well as where to best promote your work when it’s published.  The site also provides links to the Writers of America website for each genre for more detailed descriptions and the accepted rules.

For those of you on a time crunch who don’t have time to read the full article, but want to find our more information about your genre, here are the links:

Mystery Writers of America        Romance Writers of America

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America      Western Writers of America

So, where does my writing fit in? While I writer Romance, because I ‘break the rules’, the stories I tell fall into several categories.

The settings are modern day which puts me in Contemporary Romance.

Though I write from the female and male point of view, the stores are mostly about women’s issues and the ability to overcome, which places me in Women’s Fiction.

My characters are not all from one race. The heroines in the first three novels of The Butterfly Memoirs are an African-American, Caucasian-African-American, and Caucasian. The heroes are Caucasian, African-American, and Hispanic. This puts me in the Interracial Romance category. Unfortunately, this is a relatively new category that is just now being acknowledged by the publishing industry. (Here’s a great blog post written by a fellow author on this topic: Interracial Romance: The Most Popular Genre No One’s Heard About.)

And last but not least, because I am an African-American author, anything I write, regardless of the topics, writing style, or genre, I am automatically placed in the African-American genre before anything else is considered.

So, where does YOUR story fit? Good luck with figuring it out!

MJ

MJ on Writing: Viewpoint Tips and Tricks

WritingOne of the first things I learned about writing was the correct way to write a scene. After years of reading I had become accustom to what is known as ‘head hopping’. For those who may not be aware of what that is, ‘head hopping’ is where two characters point of views are shared in the same scene. This is not to be confused with conversation. I am referring to the scene starting with the heroine’s POV and then in mid scene, it switches to the hero’s POV, and back again or to another character without a change in the scene or start of a new chapter. Sound confusing? Imagine how it feels to a reader!

That style of writing is no longer accepted in manuscripts today, unless of course your one of the old school authors who were allowed to do it years ago. Chances are they haven’t been forced to change. In fact, I know they haven’t. One of my favorite romance authors who have been around for years still does it in every new book. But for the new author, agents and publishers are looking for a more polished style of writing, starting with characters whose POV’s are the only one featured in a chapter. Even if you plan to self-publish, taking these extra steps to polish your writing will make your work stand apart from the rest!

So how do you make this happen? Here are a few tips and tricks to make sure you stay in one viewpoint from the beginning to end or your scene! (I write in 1st Person POV, so I will write these examples in both 1st and 3rd POV when needed.)

Make sure your reader knows who is speaking.

The easiest way to have this done is by having them addressed by name by another character in the scene. Doing this in the first few lines of the chapter will let your reader know who’s speaking:

Example:

(1st Person)

“Hey, Sara, how are you doing today?” my brother asked.

“Things could be better.” I grimaced while holding my stomach.

Or

(3rd Person)

“Hey, Sara, how are you doing today?” John asked.

“Things could be better,” she said while holding her stomach.

As mentioned above, NO HEAD HOPPING!

Doing so destroys the tension your building by staying in one character head. You know the saying, ‘the right hand can’t know what the left is doing?’ When sticking in one POV, it’s the same way. If Phil has a secret that he is trying to hide from Bob, his actions and what he says should say that to the reader, but the reader can’t know that Bob already knows that Phil is guilty.

Example:

Correct:

Phil’s eyes darted from side to side in an effort to keep from looking Bob in the eye. There was no way he would admit to eating the last slice of grandma’s apple pie. He tried his best to ignore Bob when he asked another question, and continued to stare out the kitchen window.

Incorrect:

Phil’s eyes darted from side to side in an effort to keep from looking Bob in the eye. There was no way he would admit to eating the last slice of grandma’s apple pie.

Bob knew Phil was guilty, because he refused to look at him. It didn’t matter if he answered his question or not. He was going to tell grandma.

Phil knows he’s guilty, but tries his best to hide it. If we are only in his POV, he can’t know what Bob is thinking, only assume, or in this case ignore Bob all together. What he thinks Bob knows or doesn’t know is not important. You only want to share Bob’s thoughts if/when his POV is addressed in another chapter.

Describing your character from their POV.

Every now and then it’s necessary for a character to tell the reader what they look like, what they are wearing, or describe their expressions. You have to be careful their voice does not slip into the voice of another character that may be looking at them. Try some of these tricks:

  • Have your character stand in front of a mirror and talk about what they see, but don’t be technical (and it should be relevant to the scene!)
  • Use feelings and descriptions to guide your reader into visualizing what the character is trying to say about themselves.
  • Quote another character’s thoughts about their appearance.

Example: Here’s how my character, Ebony Campbell, describe herself in the opening chapter of A Heart Not Easily Broken: (1st Person)

I smirked (facial expression) before sipping my margarita. Yasmine’s light-skinned complexion, slender ballet dancer body, long legs, and B-cup breasts suited her personality. There were times I wished my body was more like hers, though. It would make shopping for clothes a lot easier. As it was, I had been blessed with the shapely figure my Nana called ‘bootylicious’. According to her, and her photo albums, I looked just like her when she was my age, with caramel-colored skin, perfectly proportioned hips, a butt that drew major attention, and D-cup breasts, making it hard for a man to look me straight in the eye. (Opinion of others)

And last but not least, select ONE character to focus on in a scene!

In other words, don’t split up your chapter into two different points of view. Extend the scene, or shorten it, with chapter breaks instead of scene breaks. Doing so will keep the reader from missing the POV switch at the break point, because sometimes inserting *** just doesn’t do it. Doing so generally means there is a change in the scene itself, not POV.

I hope this helps! For more tips on writing, check out my page with links to previous articles on writing. Until next time, Happy Writing!

MJ

Guest Post: How I Cracked the Mystery Novel by A.T. Hicks

 For all of you writers out there who have found mystery writing as your Muses calling, author A.T. Hicks is here to help you! Read today’s guest post and find out how she cracked the mystery novel formula!  Thanks for sharing A.T.!

Mystery writing to me was as complex as the Di Vinci Code and as befuddling as Egyptian Hieroglyphics. I didn’t understand how those clever writers did it. How they came up with their daring plots and sub-plots, their nefarious characters and the resolving of the crime at the end. In other words, becoming a mystery writer was as far from my goals as climbing Mount Everest. It just wasn’t gonna happen.

But alas, my own creativity told me, I was wrong…

Now, I’m a very curious person and I’m arrogant enough to believe that I can solve any puzzle I put my mind to work on. Last year–February 2012 in fact–I told myself I was going to learn to write cozy mysteries. You know–those stories where a woman in a small village or town digs out the pie thief and the murderer of that pretty girl next-door–all while knitting mittens and drinking hot toddies. Very cute, right? But I wanted to write my own mysteries; one that was a bit more risqué. A not so cozy mystery series, if you will.

The series would be penned A Peaches Donnelly Mystery.

But before all this fabulousness could start, I had to crack the Mystery Novel Code. After weeks of studying the structure of plot, development of character and general lay of the land of many mysteries, I had one of those illuminating moments where the mystery (no pun intended!) is finally solved. And it was oh, so simple. One can use this formula to write a mystery, suspense or thriller as complex as their mind, and research, can devise.

The Mystery Plot Rules:

1) Set from the very beginning who will be murdered and why. The murder can happen at any time, but you need to have a pretty good idea of who the victim, or victims, will be.  IE: Regina is found impaled with a spiked heel the day after her big promotion.

2) Decide who the murderer is. Now, this rule is a little flexible. I have had in mind one would-be murderer, then, after getting deep into the plot, found a better, less obvious murderer. This changes from writer to writer and in the end, you’ll figure out who the best murderer is for your stories plot.

3) Decide why the murderer has murdered this person and don’t give it away! The reason why someone killed someone else can again be as complex or rudimentary or hilarious as you want it to be.

4) Sprinkle subtle clues in from the very beginning and continue to consistently sprinkle clues in most chapters. The clues should always tie neatly–and sensibly!–into the storyline. Important: be sure different clues from the victim’s life or from the crime scene tie in with a word or a line or a theme about the murderer. IE: the deceased was immoral and slept with folk’s men. Show that the killer was a fiery Bible thumper or that the killer was a mousy woman with a gorgeous husband. But in no way should these people be at the forefront of the readers mind as a suspect. A light hand is required here.

5) Sprinkle in red herrings that throw the reader for a loop. These red herrings can be in the form of jealous spouses, angry co-workers or hateful neighbors. IE: Becky had always hated Regina and when she got the promotion she was after, a nasty argument ensued. Three days later, Regina was found murdered with Becky’s spiked heel. In the mind of the reader, this makes Becky a likely suspect. They can also be in the form of something that ties a particular person to the victim. IE: Regina’s ex-boyfriend was had a restraining order levied against him because he was stalking Regina. But remember, none of these obvious suspects should ever be the killer.

6) Don’t forget to summarize what the investigator has discovered throughout varying chapters where our heroine/hero interviews a suspect or discovers a clue(s). Now, this can be done in varying ways, either through a conversation with a sidekick or partner throughout the chapter, with a bit of a mental summery of clues discovered thus far, or a bit of both. This is stylistic and up to you. But it must be done. This way the reader doesn’t get lost in the book.

7) No matter what, move the plot forward! Everything you write should be moving the investigator, amateur sleuth or hard boiled detective inexorably to the killer. The clues should stack up, perhaps leading the reader astray at times, but always leading the reader forward. There’s nothing worse than a storyline that plods along!

8) The discovery of the murderer, no matter how ridiculous or hard-boiled, should always surprise the reader. This is the fun part where all your excellent writing comes together. It should be fast-paced, fun and exciting. It should take the reader on a roller coaster ride of ‘Ohhh–yeahhhh!’ They should be remembering your red herrings and clue summaries.

I view writing mysteries as a person who puts together a thousand piece puzzle would: piece by piece. Each piece should fit neatly into the other to give the reader a tight, seamless ending that makes sense and provides them with a feeling of satisfaction.

There you have it folk. I’ve cracked the Mystery Novel Code now you can, too!

Check out A.T. Hicks novel today!

Peaches and the Gambler Silhouette (1)What does a strip club, a dead man and a Dove ice cream bar all have in common? Peaches Donnelly.

Peaches Donnelly has a major problem: she’s just been fired. Unaccustomed to filling her days with nothingness, she embroils herself in the murder of a childhood friend. However, standing between her and the solving of this heinous
crime are two pesky daughters, a selfish opera singer sister, the diet from hell and two sexy men she can’t resist.

Add to this bubbling pot a hasty decision to go undercover as a stripper and you have a story rife with drama, laughs and a little dash of danger.

Follow Peaches and the always funny cast of characters in this first installment of a rollicking series of cozy mysteries.

####

About the Author:

When A. T. Hicks isn’t penning outrageous fiction, she’s shooing a renegade tomcat out of her garden, trying to prevent her escape artist dog from slipping out under the fence once again and negotiating with her teenaged daughter to complete her chores.

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Finding the Correct Genre For Your Prose

 *The original post was done June, 7, 2011, but I felt the need to share it again. Since this post, things have changed. I have found an editor which I love dearly, and the series itself has changed from a three book series to a six book series, The Butterfly Memoirs. Also the ms title has changed from The Healing Heart to A Heart Not Easily Broken. It fits the theme of the story so much better. Please feel free to post your thoughts!*
  
This week I started edits for chapter three of The Healing Heart. This is going to sound weird, but after learning about the craft of writing, I’ve done what a lot of writers swear never to do: re-write my first story.

*Audible gasps of horror from hundreds of writes as I type*

“Why on earth would you re-write your first story?????”

Good question. I’ve read interviews and blogs of various authors – both published and non-published – who say they will never touch their first story again. Many felt their writing sucked, or because the story line wasn’t strong enough. Most said it was due to rejection letters from publishers, or because their agent kept wanting to change what the story was about in order to fit their personal tastes.  That’s something I refuse to do. Don’t get me wrong, if an editor or agent had suggestions on what to change to make it a stronger sale, and I felt it would stay true to the story without taking the heart out of it, then yes, I would do it. Since I don’t have an agent or an editor,  I’m relaying on my amazing critique partners to point me in the right direction. But change it completely? I don’t think so. That’s a decision I will make on my own.

And I did.

The reason why had nothing to do with fitting inside the neat little box of traditional romance stories. I am confident about the stories theme.  It originated as a form of personal therapy because of issues my family dealt with at the time. It was a way to keep my sanity without loosing it. My desire to write it and do it justice  inspired me to learn about writing. My determination and enthusiasm for this project has far outweighed my other creative form, floral design. I’ve studied the art of floral design for several year, it’s a talent that I can do with my eyes closed. But now my love  of reading and storytelling has completely taken over. I feel so strongly about the story and the characters that what started out as therapy turned into a three book series.  All three books were written in a nine month period from start to finish, each a minimum of 350 pages.  And those were all typed without an outline. I’ll never do that type of writing again.

Once I joined a critique group, I just knew I was well on my way to becoming a published author, whether by traditional means or self publishing.

Boy was I wrong.

The first and biggest thing I learned from my new critique partners when the began reading my story was this:  they had no idea what genre I was trying to be in.

‘ROMANCE!’, I replied.

I mean obviously. I said I wrote romance so I was, right?

Nope.

I was told my book came across as YA/Romance/Multicultural Romance/Chick Lit/Woman’s Fiction. I needed to pick one in order to establish my genre.

My mind was completely blown. My writing spirit crushed. I didn’t want to write YA because my story was going to contain adult romance themes. I wanted to write a maturation plot about an eighteen-year-old female who was learning life lessons about love, heartbreak, friendship, surviving tragedy and becoming a stronger woman because of it. But I needed to keep the theme of romance. And if this was YA, I would have to edit the love scenes down or out of the story because they’re a key part of this young ladies road to discovering herself. Her emotional attachment to the hero and what devastates her in the key part of the plot. YA was definitely NOT what I wanted.

So, diving deeper into the many, many facets of the romance genre, I discovered Chick lit/Women’s fiction.  I figured my story would definitely fit in here. But what grown woman would want to read about and eighteen-year old discovering her independence? (Okay, I admit, as a grown woman, I’ve been caught up in the Twilight Saga, have read all the books twice and own them all and can’t wait for the last movie to come out, but that’s definitely YA.)

SOOOOOOOOO…. what to do, what to do.

The first thing I did was put that story aside and went to work developing a whole new series. This one specifically for the Romance genre with Multicultural themes and adult h/h. It took a few months to write the story, but I struggled along. I fell in love with the h/h, brought the characters setting closer to home, but I still struggled on finding strong goals and conflict to catch the reader.

But then I did something that changed my writing career. I took a Writing Workshop.

Author Valarie Clark gave a workshop at the local Community Collage back in February. I had seen the advertisement for the class a year ago around the same time. But my budget wouldn’t allow it. And I’m glad it didn’t. I don’t think I would have appreciated the significance of the class as much as I did this go round. One of the biggest things I learned from her was finding your writing platform, the over all theme that made my story stand out from the rest. And lets face it, there’s a ton of wonderful, and not so wonderful, romance story’s out there. Where could I possibly fit in?

And then it hit me. My first MS. The story that motivated me to begin writing. The Healing Heart.

I spent an evening FB chatting with one of my critique partners, discussing story themes, (remember that night Erin? lol)  All of a sudden, I’ve got it. Woman’s Fiction/Romance with Multicultural characters.

Or at least that’s what I think it is. LOL…. stay tuned for more updates!

My Straight Jacket is Purple…How About Yours?

***This blog was originally published  12/2011, and was my most read blog on my old blog site. I decide to dust it of, refresh it a bit and share again. After all, I’m sure all authors can relate! :)***
I know, it’s a crazy statement, but as an author we all have an element of crazy in us somewhere. How can we not? We have to balance our lives, family, and day to day responsibilities with the art of storytelling. We create lives, personalities, likes and dislikes. It’s like giving birth without the added weight gain and late night bottle feedings.
Or is it?
If they all came like this, I’d want one!
If we don’t watch it, we drink coffee, eat snacks, and are glued to our computer screens for hours on end. Thus the weight gain. Late night bottle feedings come in the form of waking up in the wee hours of the night, turning on the bedside light or computer to jot down notes or write a scene that’s been plaguing us all day.
How do we stay sane? Where do these fictional people come from? Why are we not wearing straight jackets?????
My best guess is because we’ve learned to blend in with the rest of society. Thankfully people are intrigued by our stories and want to be entertained. Thus the reason why the straight jackets stay tucked in the corner and the psychiatrist keeps the crazy pills at bay.
But, all jokes aside, it is my opinion that writing is the truest form of self-expression, of healing, and finding a way to cope with whatever ails you. Whether you write in a diary, a memoir, take the experiences of your life, or pull from those around you. No matter what avenue you decide to take, writing can help you make it through.
How well you write is another story.
I love to create the characters in my stories. As an only child I spent a lot of time playing with my baby dolls, stuffed animals, and Barbies’. Each had a name and a voice of its own. I spent hour after hour making up stories and creating adventures to entertain myself. Each story had a Happily Ever After. From time to time I would get the tape recorder (remember that ancient form of electronics?) and make cassette tapes of these little adventures to share with my parents. They of course thought they were funny. Little did I know that form of storytelling would eventually lead to me putting stories down on paper.
I still use a recorder – digital that is – and the stories are the ones from my books. No dolls allowed; I leave that to my daughter. Now the stories are not about princess riding horses and marrying the prince. Now it’s stories dealing with real life experiences. Not all are my own, but they are real, they do happen, and there is heartbreak and pain. But through it all there is happiness and love.
As I create the heroines in my stories, I’ve come to realize something. In each character – as different as they are – there is an element of me. The woman I once was, the woman I am, the woman I secretly wish I could be, and the woman I aspire to become. Multiple Personality Disorder at its best. By telling these women’s stories I’ve found a way to work through the pain in my past and find happiness in my family and the ones I hold dear.
Along the way I’ve made friends I never would have known, and gained knowledge I never would have attained. In short, I’ve not only learned how to become a better writer, I’ve learned more about me. Writing has allowed me to make a mark of my own outside of being a wife and a mother. After thirty-eight years I have finally discovered something I love, something I’m good at, and something that unless I actually lose my mind, no one can ever take away from me.
There’s not a morning I don’t get up with an idea in my head and am anxious to get down on paper. Seeing my first story, A Heart Not Easily Broken, become a published Bestselling novel on Amazon has been a mind  blowing experience. There are days when I pull up  Amazon and look at my name and cover on the screen and go, ‘Wow, did I really write that?” What’s even more mind blowing is knowing that I am on the eve of the publication of my second novel…
If someone  told me three years ago that this would happen, I’d probably laugh and say, ‘yeah, right.’ But it just goes to show that following your dreams and not being afraid to wear that straight jacket can pay off……
As long as you write a book good enough for the ‘doctors’ to read. What can they do if they’re distracted? 🙂
Can’t believe I found purple shoes to match! LOL!
To all of you who are on various stages of your writing path, I wish you the best journey. Write your heart, write what you feel, let those characters out and onto paper. Just do me a favor, watch your back. If you don’t tell the story right, the men with those special white coats just might change their mind and take you for a ride!
By the way, my straight jacket also has butterflies!
Until Next Time, Write On!
MJ