Tag Archives: genre

Emotional Roller-Coasters

roller coasterStow any loose belongings, settle in, buckle up, and hold on for a wild ride.

Great stories are emotional roller coasters that carry readers out of space and time to another place where they can be dropped into pits of despair or thrown high enough to taste glory. They hurl readers through dizzying loops and heart-stopping drops. The vicarious ride explores emotions that readers could never dare consider in real life, but that are necessary to understand nonetheless.

I am not a romance writer, nor am I a horror writer. However those genres prove so successful because they push the limits of opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. Just as people flock to the wildest rides at Disney to experience the thrills they can’t get anywhere else, readers flock to stories that push the uttermost limits of the emotional journey.

Great stories are the ones that tap into our emotions. The ones that make us feel the story are the ones we love, the ones that really affect us, the ones we can’t put down. So as a writer, I need to know how to craft a story to tap into emotions of love and romance while also understanding how to drag my readers down into the shadowy catacombs of terror. Without those emotions, stories feel weak, boring, uninspiring.

The best stories are the ones we can relate to, and therefore ones we feel the emotional impact of the greatest. Since we’re talking horror and romance this month, let’s look at a few examples.

JawsJaws. Brilliant. Even now, when I hear two simple notes played on the piano, it triggers memories of the movie. For years after watching Jaws as a kid, I couldn’t help but think of sharks every time I entered the water, any water. Even though I knew there was no way a shark could swim inland hundreds of miles to an isolated lake where my family was swimming, I’d still catch myself looking around for fins in the water. That movie touched on universal fear of being helpless in the water and prey to a creature of the deep. Who hasn’t ever felt that fear? Because it is so universal, everyone can relate to the characters in the movie, everyone can feel their fear.

That’s why horror movies use the dark so much. That fear of the darkness and monsters hiding just out of sight is another universal fear, one that we can tap into across the entire audience.

Great love stories are a little harder, I think. People love different qualities, and love is often very complicated. Then again, some love stories have proven successful through the ages. For example, Pride & Prejudice is one of the most popular love stories of all time. Jane Austen proved she could draw in her audience and tap into their emotions better than almost anyone. Her stories have spawned an entire industry of copycat stories, most of which are set in Victorian England, although other recent successes in that genre include Downton Abbey and North & South. What makes them work?

Pride and PrejudiceA few of the obvious components include:

– Protagonists that the audience can relate to, who have to overcome challenges that people still recognize today. It’s their struggle to overcome those difficulties that make the audience love them and root for them.

– These stories are accurate representations of human nature. The culture and times may be different, but human nature remains consistent. We see people we know in these stories, which allows the audience to connect better.

– Happy endings. People love to claim they don’t need a happy ending, but there’s a reason happy endings work.

The most powerful stories are the wildest of the vicarious emotional roller-coaster rides. The best love stories transport the audience to another time and place, tightly connect them to protagonists whose struggles are relatable and, after torturing those poor characters almost beyond the limits of endurance, return to a happy place that allows the audience to complete the emotional cycle and climb out of the story back to normal life in a good place, coming away refreshed and uplifted.

On the other hand, the best horror stories take the characters on rides that throw them into a pit of evil where they struggle to survive as most of their companions are killed. The emotional ride drags the audience down into powerful terrors they would never face any other way and, after driving them to the breaking point, bring them home safe. That’s why most horror stories end with the one survivor destroying the evil incarnate and limping out of the darkness into the dawn of a new day. The reader arrives home safe, emotionally spent, satisfied, and newly grounded to face their normal life.

The value of those emotional rides cannot be over stated. How much easier is it to deal with mundane challenges of our everyday lives after surviving the man-eating shark or the aliens or the zombies? How difficult are the challenges we face in relationships compared with the obstacles overcome by Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy?

So get emotional. It’s the only way to make it real.

Working the Convention Circuit

This is one of those “you should” blogs that, if you know me, you know I generally hate. But I’m going to do it anyway because I’m willing to take the heat for being a hypocrite for a topic I believe is worth the sacrifice. So here goes, and it’s a bit of a daisy chain, so bear with me.

If you’re a new writer, with at least a handful of published short stories to your name or even a novel or two, then you should give serious consideration to working the convention circuit.

Back in July of 2009, I got laid off from an IT gig and decided to chase a writing career. The first thing I did was write some short stories and submit them. I also wrote a novel—the less-than-well-known Chemical Burn. Over the past four years, these efforts have borne fruit. However, if they were all I accomplished in that time, the odds are I wouldn’t be writing this blog right now for the simple reason that the folks at The Fictorians wouldn’t know who I am.

Let me explain.

In October of 2009, I attended MileHiCon, a local and well-established genre and writing convention with a strong author-track. As a result of my participation, a number of wheels were set in motion. MileHiCon is where I met Kronda Seibert and the “heart” of the local steampunk population. As a result of that meeting, I was able to write three episodes of a steampunk Internet radio show and laid the foundation for the Penny Dread Tales anthology series. I wouldn’t be writing steampunk if it weren’t for that convention.

At MileHiCon I also met Sara Megibow of the Nelson Literary Agency (which had benefits later) as well as David Boop who has introduced me to much of the Front Range writing community in one way or another. This also led to my involvement with the Broadway Book Mall.

At a convention in 2010 I met Peter J. Wacks, which opened the door to a contract for Steampelstiltskin with Fairy Punk Studios and laid the groundwork for a relationship with an international best-selling author (more on that later). I also started picking up a fan-base and found a home with the steampunk community. As a result of that, I established a recurring attendance invite with AnomalyCon and locked in “premiering” each new Penny Dread Tales (PDT) anthology at the convention. PDT has now become a staple at the con, with a growing list of “bigger-name” contributors as a result of its growing exposure. It was in this cycle of cons that I also met Guy De Marco for the first time, and that relationship opened up even more doors.

2011 was more of the same, and in 2012, I extended my reach a little and—thanks to Guy—hit OsFest in Omaha Nebraska. That’s where I met Travis Heermann. It was also in the 2012 con season that I met Angie Hodapp (also of the Nelson Literary Agency), and that opened doors to making a proposal to the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Board of Directors as well as teaching a seminar on writing action scenes (with Travis Heermann) at the Colorado Gold Conference this year.

2013 saw my reach deepen into the writing community. I’ve met writers, agents and publishers. I’ve got a growing list of contacts, fans, and even editors asking for my work. My relationship with Angie Hodapp and Sara Megibow over at the Nelson Agency opened the door for me to submit a query directly to Sara, and while she didn’t accept that manuscript, the door is open for me to submit directly to her when I finish my next manuscript.

On top of it all, at CoSine in Colorado Springs this year, I met for the first time Kevin J. Anderson. You may know that name. As a result, I now do book designs and eBook conversions for Word Fire Press, and as a result of that chain of events, I’ve been able to work on books by authors like Frank Herbert, Brian Herbert, Kevin J. Anderson and, coming soon, Alan Drury. I even did a WordFire Press version of the eBook for Clockwork Angels. My work with Anderson also got me into Superstars, which led to me being invited to become a Fictorian.

The daisy chain goes on and on, so what’s the message here?

That if you’re planning a career in the writing biz, you should start meeting, greeting, and carousing with people in the writing biz. That’s how you make contacts. It’s how you open doors. That’s how you create opportunities for your writing projects.

Most people think the writing business is all about getting “picked up”… about writing a manuscript in solitude, submitting a query, and finding out six months later that you’ve been offered a contract by an agent or even one of the “Big 5.” I won’t deny that this method works… but you’d have as much a chance trying to get struck by lightning in a thunderstorm.

The odds are against you, so how do you up the odds?

You hit the convention circuit, plain and simple.

 

Q

The Heart Wants”¦

Cinderella

… what the heart wants. Right? As a kid, fairy tales were the reading fare. You know – Rapunzel (prince saves girl from evil witch and they live happily ever after), Sleeping Beauty (prince saves girl from evil witch and they live happily ever after), Snow White (prince saves girl from evil witch and they live happily ever after), Cinderella (prince saves girl from evil witch and they live happily ever after). The list goes on. And as a kid, I thought that was the height of romance.

So, when I hit my teen years, I had a firm foundation of romantic beliefs built up. What did I read then? I read Harlequin Romances (boy and girl have struggles, fall in love and live happily ever after). My allowance money went to belonging to a Harlequin book club. I chose the Historical club. Every month I got a box of four to six novels that were some combination of medieval romances, western romances and regency romances. I’d start with my favorite, the medievals, move on to the westerns and then read the regencies.

I read them voraciously and then would have to wait weeks for the next box. Back then, I’m not sure if my library carried romance novels or not. I don’t remember looking. Libraries do now though, I’m happy to say. In between, I’d read fantasies, sci-fi, biographies and whatever else my parents had sitting around. But it was all on hold once I got my new box of romances.

I’m grateful for Harlequin romances for taking up where my fairy tales left off and providing me and millions of women with stories that give us what our hearts want. Not to mention being a major market for romance writers for decades. I still read Harlequin’s and my first dreams of writing included being published by them.

Fast forward thirty years and what do I read and write? Romance. Despite three failed marriages, and the occasional jaded cynic’s hat I wear, beats the heart of a die-hard romantic. My favorite movies are romantic. My favorite storylines in other genres are the romantic ones. Even when dramas and stories end on a sad or bad note, I always think – we just need one more chapter, one more scene and this can be fixed. They can have a happy-ever-after. I know it.

Is it naïve? Maybe. But what I love about romance is that no matter the journey I go on – thrilling, sweet, harrowing, magical, tragic – I KNOW that at the end, everything will be okay, the couple will be together and all will be right in the world. Okay, it probably is really naïve. I don’t care. I’m a happier person because of it.

This may be a really strange analogy, but bear with me. Romance is like a good natural disaster flick (2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Armageddon) which I also love. They’re hopeful. They end on a positive note. And I want that.

Natural Disaster:

  •  Everything is going wrong (global temperature shift/giant asteroid is about to destroy earth)
  • We rise to the occasion and fix the problem (mankind joins together in global effort to save earth)
  • When all is said and done, regardless of the fact that maybe the majority of mankind has died horrifically, mankind triumphs and earth survives. YAY!

Romance:

  •  Everything is going wrong (boy and girl have conflict – internal and external)
  • We rise to the occasion and fix the problem (boy and girl each overcome their own character flaws and whatever else is preventing their relationship)
  • When all is said and done, regardless of the problems encountered, love conquers all. YAY!

This is why I write romance. My heart wants happy endings. Now though, I want modern fairy-tales where boy and girl save themselves and each other from bad choices/tendencies and work to keep their happy-ever-after happy. That seems more realistic, less naïve and still hopeful.

 

What do ya’ll think?

 

It’s More Than Just Sex

Woman Reading a DiaryThere was a time when romance was mostly identified as housewife porn and bodice-rippers. Those days are long gone, let me tell ya. Romance has evolved and is more popular than ever.

Nowadays, there are many sub-genre’s within romance. To name just a few:

  • contemporary
  • multicultural
  • suspense
  • action
  • religious – which could include Christian, Amish… maybe Druid (I saw a guest post that had a Druid book albeit not romance, but what the heck.)
  • the paranormal / fantasy range – which could include vampires, witchcraft, shape-shifters, time travel, mythology, futuristic and sci-fi
  • historical – which could be western, regency, medieval and specific to regions like Scotland, England, Ireland… even Rome and Greece are starting to make appearances
  • young adult
  • the clean / not-sexed up variety – not to say these aren’t fraught with chemistry and tension, but any sex would happen behind closed doors and the reader is not privy to it
  • erotic – which could include BDSM, all manner of gender pairings and threesomes plus (although, please do not confuse this with erotica… it’s a pet peeve and others can disagree with me, but IMHO Erotic Romance is about the romance and happens to have explicit sex scenes while Erotica is primarily about the sex. One is not better or worse, they just have a different focus.)

So, with all the sub-genre options out there, how does one know it’s a romance rather than a (Pick your genre) with romantic elements? Well, it’s not just sex. There are rules to follow and elements that can’t be ignored.

First, as L.L. Muir mentioned in her post on YA Romance, a romance needs to be at least 51% about the relationship and its journey to a Happy-Ever-After (HEA). The other stuff (like action, history, sex, etc..) is nice but in a romance, you should be able to take those elements out and still have your basic story of persons meet, persons fall for each other, persons have bumps along the way to HEA.

Last month, I talked about the characters and their traits that go into a romance: the hero, the heroine, the sidekick and the antagonist or villain. We need them, we need to love them, we need to root for them to get together.

We also need conflict. Internal and external. Our lovers need to have internal issues that keep them from having successful relationships, thus far. Issues they will resolve or come to grips with in order to be with each other. Maybe our hero has trust issues, maybe our heroine can’t commit. They’ll realize through their journey that the other is worth the effort to overcome these personal problems and they’ll be better people for having each other in their life.

The external conflict may be that they have diametrically opposed goals and one of them is going to have to change something in order to overcome this barrier. Think You’ve Got Mail. Meg Ryan wants her little bookstore to continue, but can’t in light of Tom Hank’s big box book store opening around the corner. This is a problem. How will they overcome it? That’s the journey. We have no doubt they will (cuz it’s a romance), we just don’t know how.engaged couple holding on hands - view from backside

Which brings us to that HEA. Yes, we know the persons in question will end up together. We take great satisfaction in that. We crave that happy ending. What we also crave is the optimism that comes along with it. Sure, they struggle. Sure, they may even hate each other at some point, but love and hate are a very thin line apart. Sure, they have ups and downs and bumps and bruises. But – and it’s an important “but’ – we know when we turn that last page, they will be together, love will triumph and Happy-Ever-After is achievable.

I know that optimism, that hope, feeds me. I can relate. I can believe that despite my own dubious history of relationships that love can conquer all. I just haven’t found Mr. Right … yet J

Love is, after all, universal.

What did I neglect to mention? Or what about romance appeals to you?