Genre Bending

One of the things that catches me up at the end of a project is selecting the best genre for the book. Seems like it should be a no-brainer but it isn’t really. Of the five complete novels I’ve written in The Bucks County Series, all of them have a romantic component, so I’ve listed them under the romantic suspense genre. Nevertheless, all but one are crime stories: mysteries with clues to be followed and criminals to be apprehended. The one exception —Run For It— is even more hard to define; there are elements of suspense and romance, but no crimes get committed nor are there secrets to uncover. What is that? Realistic fiction, maybe? The thing is, I feel like I might be misleading the reader by including the ‘romance’ part in describing the genre.

Do romance readers expect steamy sex scenes? Or is that now classified as erotica? While the stories I write include the development of romance/relationships between my main characters, I abstain from depicting any sort of physical relationship beyond kissing. I think a romance reader might be a little disappointed. In any case, writing romance was never my objective, it was to write a good story in which a relationship might develop. In fact, I have nearly removed the romantic components from two of the five books because I felt the stories could stand on their own without it. I just liked the books better with the relationship left in.

I’m not a good, traditional romance writer and I know it. And perhaps that’s because I’m not particularly traditionally romantic myself. Candlelight dinners? I like to see what I’m eating. Chocolate? Ok, I’ll take the chocolate but not one of those samplers – half the stuff is inedible in those things. Flowers are nice but eventually they will dry up and all the petals will fall off and make a mess. I can never remember where I keep the vases anyway. New jewelry is lost on me – I always wear the same favorite pieces every day. You see what I mean… I feel like a hypocrite writing those sorts of things into my books. My characters feel as silly as I do in traditionally romantic situations.

So how does a romance go in a book by Meg Sorick? Most of my female leads are self-rescuers – they don’t actually need their men to bail them out of their crises. That is not to say my male leads are not capable of rescuing; I like strong male characters, just not Neanderthals. No offense Neanderthals (I hear that’s actually a thing … Neanderthal DNA showing up in all the ancestry testing everyone is having done to find out your real lineage, not the one your grandma lied about. But I digress…) Anyway, except for the non-mystery in my collection, the women find themselves as the target of some sort of criminal activity: burglary, stalking, attempted murder, and finally vandalism/arson. The men are there to help follow the clues, discuss possibilities and ultimately assist in solving the mystery. This is how I like the relationship to develop — the couple works together to overcome an obstacle or withstand a series of terrible events. They will genuinely like and respect each other, they will definitely be attracted to one another and they will learn to trust each other with their very lives. Not a bad formula, I would say. But then I arrive back at the original issue: how to classify the stories I write. I have some thinking to do. And I may give romance a rest altogether after I finish my next stand alone book —a historical novel set partly during World War One. I have plans for a sweet romance in that story, but after that? I think I should part ways with love…

Self Editing – Being Brutal

“If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favorite scene, or your very best idea or set piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable.” – Joss Whedon.

When I decided to begin writing a few years ago, I began reading as much as I could on the craft of writing as well. Believe me, there is no shortage of advice out there. Occasionally, I would find one bit of information, which in just a few words or sentences, would convey a profound truth. The above quote from Joss Whedon is one such gem.

I soon discovered that stories and the scenes within them can get away from us as we write them. This is how it happens to me. One of the ways I like to combat the dreaded writer’s block is to write ‘garbage’ scenes. If I can’t figure out how to get to my next plot point, I will keep going by writing my characters doing mundane things like having dinner, doing their laundry, shopping or something like that. This often helps me think my way through to the important stuff and the garbage can be edited out later. Occasionally, though, I will have written a part that I rather like. Perhaps something funny happens at the grocery store or the washing machine malfunctions and hijinks ensue. I may have crafted a witty or clever bit of dialogue between two characters, or maybe the conversation my character has in his head is poignant or thought provoking, giving us a glimpse into their background or personality. It seems a shame to cut that stuff out.

Unfortunately, just because we love it doesn’t mean it will work for the story. And that is why we have to be brutally honest with ourselves. Ask: does this scene help the story move along? Do we need to know this information? Does it help the plot develop? Or is it apropos of nothing? And don’t mistake what I mean, garbage scenes aren’t necessarily garbage writing, they are just not useful to the story. And there is no reason not to save the scene to modify for future use in another project. Nevertheless, extra material that does not in a substantial way contribute to the plot, the background or the atmosphere of the story has to go. Snip, snip…

Another experience you may have, especially if you are the sort of writer who has a detailed plot worked out ahead of time, is that you reach a point in the story where a flash of inspiration hits you and you see the story winding down a completely different path. This new idea is much better from the one you began with and you decide to go with it. The trouble is that not everything you’ve written previously will now work with the direction you’re taking. If you read along with Breaking Bread, you may remember this happening in the midst of that story. I did quite a bit of brutal revising about halfway through it. However, the revisions were absolutely worth the time and effort as I am much happier with it now. (Just got word from my editor that he’s happy with it, too!) The worst thing you can do is ‘force’ the new plot to conform to the previously written material. It will be messy, it won’t flow naturally and very likely, it won’t make a whole lot of sense. Remember, writing is not a sprint to the finish. You may walk, trudge, limp or even crawl across the finish line, as long as you cross it with the best manuscript you are capable of writing.

Wishing you happy writing and productive (even if it’s brutal) editing.

(Blah blah image via TV Tropes.)

The plot thickens…

“…coincidences to get your characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it is cheating.” – Emma Coates; Pixar story artist.

I read that advice some years ago and never forgot it. Whether you write by the seat of your pants (pantser) or you meticulously plot out your story (plotter), you eventually will come to a point where you write yourself into a corner or your plot hits a wall. You have a couple options: scrap it and start over from the point you got yourself into that mess, or write yourself out of it. If you choose the latter, the challenge is writing a solution without taking the shortcut of using coincidence to bail yourself out.  Not only does it ask too much of the reader, it just begs them to roll their eyes and put down the book with a heavy sigh and an ‘oh brother’. image

One helpful way to avoid figuratively standing on tiptoe in your painted-in corner is to use a timeline spread sheet or plot diary, if you will. What I mean is, make notes for yourself along the way that keep track of the plot points that build your story. Most of the time you will catch the issues with the story before they become major rewrites or too complicated to resolve without resorting to the implausible.

Why it’s important:

  • Avoid writing things ‘out of time‘: If Johnny doesn’t say (X) until chapter 4, Susie isn’t going to know about it in chapter 2.
  • If you are dropping clues or innuendos, having a spreadsheet will help you distribute them throughout the story at critical places.
  • It helps you set a good pace for the action. You don’t want all the intrigue or action bunched together with big stretches in between when nothing happens. The plot should progress like a sine wave, with a build to the action and a rest before the next bit. Or like stairs, where the intrigue builds until the climax.
  • It will keep you from ‘speeding’ through time. In other words, certain events need a minimum length of time to unfold in order to be realistic. Days, weeks, months may need to pass to bring a romance to fruition. The same is true with a criminal investigation or a legal case.

Whatever method you use to record your plot, include the dates, the chapter and page number and space for detailed notes on what was happening. So even if you don’t meticulously plot out your story ahead of time, plotting along the way will help you avoid wasting time later with lengthy revisions and corrections.

I wish you happy writing and productive editing!

Header image via imglip, David Tenant image via Pixabay.