Dumped in the Middle of the Road

You’re reading along down the story highway, racing through action scenes, taking the dialogue curves at a good clip, the wind of the story’s world in your hair. All of a sudden, a truck up ahead upends its load and a pile of text pours onto the pavement, right in your path.

You’ve been stalled by an infodump.

Infodump

You come to a stop to decide what to do. You could plow right through it at slow speed, but you hate that. You could drive around, avoiding it entirely, but some of that text might be necessary to understand the story. If you’re in an angry mood, you could forget the whole book and move on.

An Infodump is one of the Turkey City Lexicon terms. It refers to a passage of text used to explain things and give background information to the reader. It can be one paragraph, or go on for several pages. It’s most common in science fiction and fantasy, where the story’s world is unlike our own, and you need to immerse the reader in it.

From a writer’s perspective, it seems so necessary to convey that information. The reader needs to understand certain things so later events in the story make sense. Many of the great writers of the past used infodumps; Herman Melville spent whole chapters that way, and it hasn’t hurt his sales. Oh, perhaps the writer could think of clever ways to work the information into the story, but who has time for that?

Better make time, you Twenty-First Century Writer, because readers these days don’t want to slow down and plow through your dump.

Here are some techniques:

  1. Delete it. What does that info add to your story, anyway? Do readers really need to know it? Are you dumping that load to help reads understand, or to show off your research or add credibility? If you can delete it, do so. If you can delete most of it, do that, and use other techniques to convey the rest.
  1. Work it into dialogue. Readers speed through your characters’ dialogue pretty fast, so inserting some of your infodump into their speech is one way to avoid slowing readers down. Caution: there’s danger here. You must not swerve into the As You Know, Bob lane. Make sure the dialogue is realistic as well as explanatory.
  1. Work it into the action. By ‘action’ I don’t necessarily mean fight scenes or car chases, but any passages where characters are doing things, moving about, or actively interacting with their environment or each other. It’s characterized by action verbs. It can be interspersed with dialogue, and often serves as a ‘dialogue tag,’ letting the reader know which character is speaking.
  1. Make it entertaining. If you can turn those smelly tons of interfering text into pure, golden fun, readers will actually enjoy the interruption. By ‘entertaining,’ I don’t necessarily mean funny, but humor is a great way to accomplish this, if you can pull it off. This method calls for considerable creativity and skill.
  1. Make it short. As a last resort, keep the infodump, but reduce its length. Readers may forgive a short, explanatory passage here and there.

I struggle with infodumps in my fiction, but it’s important to eliminate them where possible. Dump trucks are fine in real life, but when they drop their load in the middle of your story’s road, it really ticks off your readers. Not good.

Doing my part to beautify the nation’s literary highways and byways, I’m—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Join Me at BALTICON this Weekend

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All right, Poseidon’s Scribe fans, here’s an opportunity for you. I’ll be speaking, and generally causing trouble, at BALTICON this weekend. BALTICON is the major science fiction and fantasy convention near Baltimore, Maryland.

Here’s my schedule (subject to change):

Date Time Topic
Friday 10:00 PM Being Out in Fandom
Saturday 10:00 AM Engineers Can’t Write? Some Known Counter-Examples
Saturday 1:00 PM Do You Want Pulp with That?
Sunday 11:00 AM Readings
Sunday 4:00 PM Autograph session
Sunday 8:00 PM Bars, Inns, and Taverns: Fiction and Reality
Sunday 9:15 PM Book Launch: Ripper’s Ring
Sunday 10:00 PM Knowing That I Know That You Know: Xanatos Gambits and Chessmasters
Monday 12:00 PM Long YA, Short YA
Monday 1:00 PM Tropes In Young Adult SF/F

For some of the panels I’m the moderator and for others a panelist. After years of sitting in the audience at these events, now I’ll be one of the authors doing the yakking. A new experience for me.

Stop by, say hi, and listen to the wit and wisdom of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Author Interview — Diana Parparita

Poseidon’s Scribe has done it again and now presents another interview with a captivating author whose story appears in the anthology Avast, Ye Airships! Today I welcome Diana ParparitaDiana Parparita, a Romanian author living in Bucharest who writes fantasy and steampunk.

Read on for the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: When and why did you begin writing fiction?

Diana Parparita: I started writing fiction when I was four or five years old. I hadn’t learned to write yet, back then, so I dictated my stories to my grandmother, but the intent to write speculative fiction was there, even at that age. The reason why I began writing, or, rather, dictating, was that I kept making stories in my head to entertain myself, and I liked them enough that I wanted to share them with others. And I kept forgetting them, so a big incentive for writing was to have a way to remember the best stories that I’d come up with.

P.S.: What are the easiest, and the most difficult, aspects of writing for you?

D.P.: The easiest part of writing for me is writing dialogues. My characters feel very much alive to me, and tend to act as if they had a mind of their own, so they talk naturally and I can always picture what they’d say and how they’d say it. The most difficult part for me is writing action scenes. I still haven’t been able to figure out a good pacing for writing action. When I read, I tend to skip through most of the fight scenes because I just want to know how it ends, and I haven’t been able to find a way to keep the reader’s attention on the action itself, at least not my attention.

P.S.: What is your favorite genre to write in?

D.P.: My favorite genre is fantasy, because it offers me complete freedom to create any type of world and society I choose. But I’m also fond of sci-fi, for the same reason, although I find it colder than fantasy.

P.S.: You live in Romania, right? Have you used Romania as a setting in any of your stories? If not, are there other ways that living in that country has influenced your fiction?

D.P.: Yes, I live in Romania. I haven’t used Romania per se as a setting, but the setting for the stories in my Huntsfee series is loosely based on Romania. There are, however, other ways I which living in Romania and being Romanian has influenced my writing. Romania is at the border between several cultures, and has seen a good number of invaders over the centuries, and as a result, Romanian writers tend to incorporate elements from different cultures into their writing. In that respect, my writing stories set in a fictional version of the Victorian age, as well as mixing that with elements from other cultures, is in perfect agreement with my Romanian heritage. To give an example, the story I wrote for Avast, Ye Airships! is influenced by the steampunk stories I’ve read and by Victorian England, but also by Jules Verne and an Italian 19th century writer of adventure novels, whose pirates have played an important part in my adolescence. This mixture of elements from three different cultures is all very natural to a Romanian writer and to Romanian culture.

P.S.: Your story “Miss Warlyss Meets the Black Buzzard” will appear in the anthology Avast, AvastYeAirshipsYe Airships! Please tell us a little about Miss Warlyss.

D.P.: Miss Warlyss is the daughter of a governor, who grew up in a pensionnat, and she’s now being sent home to become the bride of one of her father’s political allies. Which, of course, is something she doesn’t quite fancy doing in the near future. But you’ll have to read the story to see just how she manages to avoid getting married.

P.S.: In your website and in social media, your sense of humor is evident. Do you include humor in all your stories, or are there some purely serious ones?

D.P.: I’ve written some stories that are meant to be purely serious, but I’m afraid my sense of humor does show even in those, though to a lesser degree. I tend to make fun of the worst parts of life, as a form of self-preservation, so the darker the story, the harder it is not to add a touch of humor to it.

P.S.: From your Facebook page, I gather that a cat figures prominently in your home life. Does the cat inspire any characteristics or features of any of the animals in your stories?

D.P.: Actually, the cat in question is a rather new addition to the household. We’ve only had her for a few months. I used to have a cat before her, but she never inspired any characters either. But whenever I write animals, they are indeed based on nature. I always pay close attention to animals when I have a chance, and I try to study them before I use any animals as characters. Except for the horse in the first story I’ve ever published, “Sir Joseph’s Choice,” which was heavily anthropomorphized from a psychological point of view.

P.S.: One of your published books is Doctor Edmund HuntseeHuntsfee’s Perilous Expedition into the Heart of the Flood Plains. It appears this has inspired a series, with a second story published and a third being written. What do you find fascinating about the world or characters in this series?

D.P.: What I find most fascinating about the series is the continuous study of new and original species. Dr. Huntsfee is a sort of natural historian who specializes in the study of fantasy creatures, so each story enables me to create and present in detail a new personal species. But there’s one more thing that fascinates me about this series, and that’s the relationship between two of the characters in it, Miss Ophelia Dalton and Captain Joseph Marlin. They were both created to serve very specific roles within the story: Miss Ophelia is the chaperon of Dr. Huntsfee’s friend and love interest, while the captain was meant to be in charge of the boat the expedition is sailing on. They were never meant to be a couple, and that shows even in the age difference between them, with him being about ten years younger than her, but from their first scene together, they’ve developed a special chemistry that I hadn’t planned for them to have. So now I’m very curious to see where that’s going and I want to explore that budding relationship through many other stories.

P.S.: What is your current work in progress? Would you mind telling us a little about it?

D.P.: I’m always working on several things at the same time, so right now I’m working on the third installment in the Huntsfee series, a steampunk retelling of The Little Mermaid, and a young adult novel about a girl who finds out she’s part dryad and gathers an army to free her country of an evil dictator and the dragons under his command.

Poseidon’s Scribe: What advice can you offer aspiring writers?

Diana Parparita: I think the best advice I can offer is to read the best stories and novels in the genre they want to specialize in, as well as the very best that other genres have to offer. I’ve noticed that quality is something that tends to rub off, so the more good books you read the better. Also, there’s one piece of advice that I haven’t heard enough: live! Get as much life experience as you possibly can. I have a bad record of never staying in a job for longer than a year and a half, but, apart from it looking dreadful on my résumé, this has helped me meet all sorts of people and has placed me in all sorts of environments. The pirates in “Miss Warlyss Meets the Black Buzzard,” for instance, are based on some of my co-workers from a male-dominated workplace I landed in a couple of years ago. Having lived my entire life in a female-dominated environment, it was just as much of a shock to me as it was to Miss Warlyss, and that provided me both with an understanding of her experience and with a good reference for my pirates and for male-dominated environments in general. My pirates would have never seemed authentic if I’d found a comfortable job and stayed in it all my life. So I definitely advise experiencing things outside of your comfort zone.

 

Thank you, Diana! My many readers are urged to learn more about Diana Parparita on Facebook, on DeviantArt, and at her website.

Poseidon’s Scribe

February 12, 2015Permalink

Author Interview — K.C. Shaw

The piratical fun continues! Today I’m interviewing Kate Shaw, who writes as K.C. Shaw, another fascinating author with a story in the anthology Avast, Ye Airships!

Kate writes fantasy and likes to swashbuckle occasionally. I love this quote from her website: “Weredeer, liches, and fairies vs. unicorns. All in a day’s work.”

Here’s the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: When and why did you begin writing fiction?
K.C. Shaw: I’ve been writing fiction as long as I can remember, but I didn’t get serious about it until 2007. I was working in a sales office at the time and was impressed at how persistent the salespeople were. I started treating my writing the same way: writing almost every day, submitting stories to magazines until they sold, striving hard to improve my writing.

P.S.: What are the easiest, and the most difficult, aspects of writing for you?

K.C.S.: The hardest part for me is getting pacing correct. It’s difficult to see a novel as a whole and know where tension needs to be increased, where the main character needs to stop for a moment of reflection, where plot points need to be worked in earlier. The easiest part is writing dialogue!

P.S.: How did you become interested in writing fantasy?

K.C.S.: Most of my favorite books were fantasy and SF when I was a kid, and that’s still the case. I loved Diane Wynne Jones, Anne McCaffrey, Andre Norton, Joan Aiken, Jane Louise Curry, and a thousand other writers. It was natural that I wrote what I loved to read.

P.S.: You write both novels and short stories. How do you decide whether an idea is big enough for a novel?

K.C.S.: A lot of times I think I’ve got a short story idea, and it turns into a novel! I actually prefer writing novels so I often find it difficult to write short.

AvastYeAirshipsP.S.: In Avast, Ye Airships! your story is “And a Bottle of Rum…” Please tell us a little about it.

K.C.S.: In the story, main character Jo has just acquired a new airship and wants to see what it can do. She and her friend and colleague Lizzy move in to take what they think is a helpless blimp only to discover it’s got a heavily armed escort.

P.S.: You’ve written several short stories about your steampunk air pirates, Lizzy and Jo, and they even have their own website. Any plans for a novel with those two?

K.C.S.: Yes! In fact, “And a Bottle of Rum…” is an excerpt from a Lizzy and Jo book. It’s not under contract yet so the title, Skytown, is only tentative, but I hope it will be released some time next year.

WharfRat_ByKateShaw_200x300__18221.1420220732.1280.1280P.S.: Your latest novel is Wharf Rat. Please introduce us to Rone, the protagonist.

K.C.S.: Rone is an elf, but not the kind Peter Jackson would want to film. He’s a dock whore, a small-time thief, and he can’t even read. I had fun writing about someone so different from the usual elf, while still making him sympathetic.

P.S.: What is your current work in progress? Would you mind telling us a little about it?

K.C.S.: I’ve got two projects going right now. The first I can’t really talk about yet except to say it’s the text of a game that’s going to be fantastic! The latest release date I’ve heard is early 2016. I’ve just started world-building for my other project, a novel where all the characters are dragons and humans don’t even exist. It should be a lot of fun.

Poseidon’s Scribe: What advice can you offer aspiring writers?

K.C. Shaw: When you finish a project, especially a longer one like a novel or series of short stories, don’t be afraid to give yourself some time off. Writing every day is important, but your brain needs downtime to recharge too. Schedule a few weeks to read other people’s books instead of writing. Before you know it you’ll be getting new ideas and will want to start a new project

Thank you, Kate! Readers of my blog can find out more about Kate on her websites here and here, and on Twitter and Goodreads.

Poseidon’s Scribe

February 3, 2015Permalink

Fiction Elements by Genre

In earlier posts I’ve blogged about the various elements of fiction (Character, Plot, Setting, Theme, and Style). I’ve also blogged a bit about the various genres of fiction. Here I thought I’d explore how the various genres emphasize certain elements and de-emphasize others.

For the chart, I used the genres listed in the Wikipedia “List of Genres” entry. As the entry itself points out, people will never agree on this list. Even more contentious will be my rankings in the chart for how much each genre makes use of each fiction element.

Fiction elements vs GenreFor each genre, I assigned my own rough score for each fiction element. I’ve placed the genres in approximate order from the ones emphasizing character and plot more, to the ones emphasizing style and theme more.

Go ahead and quibble about the numbers I assigned. That’s fine. There’s considerable variation within a genre. Also, the percentages of the elements vary over time. If we took one hundred experts in literature and had them each do the rankings, then averaged them, the resulting chart would have more validity than what I’m presenting, which is based on my scoring alone.

But the larger point is that the different genres do focus on different elements of fiction. In my view, character is probably the primary element for all but a few genres. Theme is probably the least important, except for a limited number of genres.

Of what use is such a chart? First, please don’t draw an unintended conclusion. If you happen to know which elements of fiction are your fortes, and which you’re least skilled in, I wouldn’t advise you to choose a genre based on that.

Instead, look at the chart the opposite way. Find the genre in which you’d like to write, and work to strengthen your use of its primary fiction elements in your own work. You might even glance at the genres on either side of your favorite one and consider writing in those genres too.

I can’t seem to find online where anybody else has constructed a chart like mine. Perhaps the only one you’ll see is this one made by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

September 28, 2014Permalink

Author Interview — C. A. Szarek

Chrissy-140 I’m pleased to welcome author C.A. Szarek.  She writes in the fantasy, paranormal, romantic suspense, and Young Adult genres.

C.A. is originally from Ohio, but got to Texas as soon as she could.  She is married and has a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice.  She works with kids when she’s not writing.  She’s always wanted to be a writer and is overjoyed to share her stories with the world.

 

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Sword’s Call (King’s Riders Book One) is available now from Gypsy Shadow Publishing.

Collision Force (Crossing Forces Book One) just released on June 28, 2013 from Total-E-Bound Publishing.  Bad boy FBI agent and feisty widowed police detective collide pursuing a human trafficker in small town Texas on their way to true love.

Poseidon’s Scribe:  When and why did you begin writing fiction?

C.A. Szarek:  Oh gosh, I have been writing since I was very young. Poetry when I was seven or eight, and then stories that slowly wended themselves into novels when I was about fourteen.

P.S.:  What are the easiest, and the most difficult, aspects of writing for you?

C.A.:  Hmmm, a hard one. The most difficult part for me is telling my inner critic to be quiet so I can just write. Sometimes I question too much: The story, myself, where the scene is going. I think the best part is making up stuff. Hehehe. Bringing life to characters, making them real people. Making them have feelings and emotions and making them real.

P.S.:  What inspired you to write Collision Force?

C.A.:  I’m not sure it was any one thing specifically.  I have a law enforcement background, and I have always been interested in this type of story. I watch tons of cop shows on TV, so I thought I could write one! I “met” Andi and Cole a long time ago, when I was about seventeen. So, they’ve been with me for years. But it was good I waited to write their story. I didn’t have the expertise to write it back then.

P.S.:  What is the audience you’re trying to reach with that book?

C.A.:  Well, it is a romantic suspense novel, a mix of a good cop story and a love story, so I would assume women would be into it.  But I know a few guys who have checked it out and have liked it, so who knows?

P.S.:  You’re an author of fantasy, paranormal, romantic suspense, and YA.  Why do you prefer those genres?

C.A.:  I never set out to write multi-genres. But when a good story occurs to me, I write it. But I have always been a fantasy girl. It’s fun to make up your own world, but it’s difficult, as well. But I like my romantic suspense world of Crossing Forces (that’s my series title) as much as I love the world of the King’s Riders (my fantasy series)

P.S.:  Every Tuesday, your blog features interviews or guest posts from other authors, and it usually gets many comments; why do you think that regular feature has become so popular?

C.A.:  I’m not sure. I love authors and books and reading as much as I love writing, so I love to share all the authors I know with the rest of the world. I try to promote, promote, promote. I hope everyone will check out my friends’ books as much as I want them to check out my own. I think if we all work together to get the word out, we can all succeed.

P.S.:  Without giving too much away, what is your current writing project?

C.A.:  I am working on Chance Collision, which is the 2nd book in my Crossing Forces Series. It is Pete and Nikki’s story and I am loving it so far.

P.S.:  What advice can you offer to aspiring writers?

C.A.:  Don’t ever give up. Rejection happens. If you want it bad enough, you keep going. Always.

Thanks so much, C.A.!  I wish you every success. My readers can find out more about C.A. Szarek at her website, her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.  Her site at Gypsy Shadow Publishing is here.

                                              Poseidon’s Scribe

Conveying a Sense of Wonder

One of the things that drew me into fiction as a child was the sense of wonder I experienced when reading certain fiction, notably that of Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke and later science fiction writers.  The question is, how does a writer evoke that in readers?

First, let’s try to define it.  The book Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction defines it this way:  “a feeling of awakening or awe triggered by an expansion of one’s awareness of what is possible or by confrontation with the vastness of space and time, as brought on by reading science fiction.”

Although often associated with science fiction, that emotion needn’t be.  Rachel Carson’s book The Sense of Wonder was about sharing a love of nature with a child.

I like the associate with childhood.  To children the natural world is new, and they experience that sense of wonder more often.  Then it fades as we age and it takes more than mere nature to astonish us.  Here’s an example of that fading-with-adulthood phenomenon.  How many times have you heard the finale of the William Tell Overture (the Lone Ranger theme) by Gioachino Rossini?  Ho hum, right?  But do you remember the thrill of that first time you heard it?  Can you image what audiences of 1829 felt the first time that finale ever played, anywhere?

Up until Jules Verne and authors who followed him, adults most often experienced the sense of wonder in religious contexts, or in fantasy literature.  Through his writing Verne showed the world what engineers and scientists of the time were bringing about—a better understanding of the natural world, and the amazing things man might do to achieve his ends.  Verne showed readers something new and vast, and it had nothing to do with God or dragons, but with people.

Arthur C. Clarke was another science fiction author who captured the sense of wonder better than most.  He carried the science far beyond Verne did, and showed a future humanity achieving, through engineering, the capabilities of gods or wizards.  It was Clarke who said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

For writers seeking to induce the sense of wonder in their readers, then, how do you do it?  I think there are four elements involved:

  • A “thing” that is new in some way, or an old thing in a new context
  • A powerful description of that thing, emphasizing its newness
  • One or more characters confronting the thing
  • A depiction of the awe felt by one or more of the characters.  How does the thing make the character feel?  Again, you’re striving to recreate in words the amazement a child feels for something new.

If you do this well, if your characters are compelling, if the thing is truly worthy of awe and you’ve described it and your characters’ impressions well, then your readers will feel the wonder of it right along with the characters.

In my fiction, I strive to create this sense of wonder, most often in association with technology.  Many of my stories are historical, so the characters see something outside their experience, but not necessarily beyond that of modern readers.  I confront my characters with such things as a flying trireme, a clockwork lion, a giant mechanical elephant, a steam-powered oared galley in the 1st Century, and steam-powered human limbs (coming soon).

Is there anything to this “sense of wonder” stuff, in your opinion?  Have you experienced that feeling from reading fiction?  Have you tried writing it into your fiction?  Leave a comment and let me know.  Wondering about the answer to these and other questions, I’m—

                                                           Poseidon’s Scribe

November 18, 2012Permalink

Book Review – Something Wicked This Way Comes

Ray Bradbury died June 5th of this year, a day this universe lost a literary giant.  I just finished reading Something Wicked This Way Comes for the first time.  I have read some other Bradbury works, including Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, The Illustrated Man, Now and Forever, and The Martian Chronicles.  His short story “The Flying Machine,” in part, inspired my story “The Sea-Wagon of Yantai.”

I listened to the Recorded Books version performed by Paul Hecht, ©1962 by Bradbury, renewed 1997, and ©1999 by Recorded Books.

The novel takes place in a Midwest town in the month of October sometime in the early to mid-1900s.  A traveling carnival comes to the town and strange things happen, including the disappearance or alteration of some townspeople.  Two boys and one of their fathers start to believe the carnival is evil and try to find a way to deal with the problem.

That synopsis sounds inexcusably bland, and doesn’t at all convey the magical experience of reading the book.  Bradbury’s works are always poetic, alliterative, and metaphorical, and this novel is no exception.  You find yourself swept along with the cadence of the words, caught up in whatever web Bradbury chooses to weave, and you’re glad of it.

The work deals with eternal themes of good and evil, as well as old and young.  With the first, he examines the weapons wielded by forces evil and good.  With the second, he explores the absurdity of the old wanting to be young and the young yearning to be old.

No one better expresses that delight, playfulness, curiosity, and sense of wonder of being a young boy in a Midwest town, than Ray Bradbury.  I was once such a boy and can relate.  The details he recalls and sensations he can–with lyrical prose–rekindle, resonate within me.

I’m not sure whether to classify the novel as horror or fantasy.  Perhaps it’s a horror…poem?  In any case, I loved it and give it my highest rating of 5 seahorses, the first work I’ve reviewed to have earned that rating.  Do you disagree with my review?  Leave a negative comment and you may find out “by the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes,” and that something is–

                                                  Poseidon’s Scribe

 

Pioneers and Giants

For this blog post I’m dividing the great writers into two categories–pioneers and giants.  I define pioneers as those who start a new genre of fiction by themselves, and giants as those who come along later and take an existing genre to new heights and greater popularity.

Here is a table listing a few literary genres and some of the pioneers and giants in each one:

Genre

Pioneers

Giants

Adventure Heliodorus, Homer Edgar Rice Burroughs, Alexandre Dumas, Ian Fleming, H. Rider Haggard, Victor Hugo, Emilio Salgari, Robert Louis Stevenson, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jules Verne
Comedy Aristophanes Douglas Adams, Joseph Heller, William Shakespeare, R. L. Stine, Kurt Vonnegut
Crime Steen Steensen Blicher, Edgar Allan Poe Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie
Fantasy Homer Marion Zimmer Bradley, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Stephen King, C. S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien
Historical Chariton of Aphrodisias Pearl S. Buck, Ken Follett, Robert Graves, Eleanor Hibbert, James Michener, Baroness Emma Orczy, Ryotaro Shiba, Leo Tolstoy
Horror William Beckford, Ann Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis Stephen King, H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, R. L. Stine, Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde
Mystery E.T.A. Hoffmann, Edgar Allan Poe Jiro Akagawa, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Erle Stanley Gardner, Dashiell Hammett, Kyotaro Nishimura, Edward Stratemeyer
Philosophical St. Augustine Albert Camus, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Hermann Hesse, Aldous Huxley, Soren Kierkegaard, Stanislaw Lem, C.S. Lewis, Jean Paul Sartre, Ayn Rand, Voltaire
Political Plato Edward Bellamy, Benjamin Disraeli, Franz Kafka, Sinclair Lewis, Thomas More, George Orwell, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Jonathan Swift, Voltaire, Gore Vidal
Romance Chrétien de Troyes, Sir Thomas Malory, Ann Radcliffe Barbara Cartland, Jackie Collins, Catherine Cookson, Janet Dailey, Eleanor Hibbert, Debbie Macomber, Stephenie Meyer, Nora Roberts, Denise Robins, Danielle Steel, Corín Tellado,
Satire Aristophanes Ambrose Bierce, Anthony Burgess, Candide, Joseph Heller, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut
Science fiction Jules Verne Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Orson Scott Card, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, H. G. Wells
Steampunk James Blaylock,  K. W. Jeter, Tim Powers Paul Di Filippo, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling
Thriller Homer, John Buchan Dan Brown, Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, Michael Crichton, Ian Fleming, Ken Follett, Frederick Forsyth, John Grisham, Robert Ludlum, Alistair MacLean
Urban Robert Beck TN Baker, Kole Black, De’Nesha Diamond, K’wan Foye, J.Gail, Erick Gray, Shannon Holmes, Pamela M. Johnson, Solomon Jones, Mallori McNeal, Miasha, Meesha Mink, Jeff Rivera, Big Rob Ruiz, Sister Souljah, Vikki Stringer, Nikki Turner, Anthony Whyte

You can quibble with the names in the table and that’s fine; I don’t pretend that it’s 100% accurate or complete.  But as I look through the table a couple of things are apparent:

  • There are a lot of genres, and probably more for you to invent.  (I didn’t list all genres, or very many subgenres.)  There will be more pioneers.
  • Just because a genre is old (the pioneer long dead) doesn’t mean new, modern giants can’t emerge.  It’s never too late to be a giant.

In general, the pioneer lays down some of the rules for the genre and takes the first tentative steps within its boundaries.  The pioneer faces the difficulty of convincing a skeptical publisher to take a risk on a book that doesn’t fit in any known category.

But it is the giants who really explore the full extent of the genre and help to popularize it for more readers.

Perhaps one day you’ll be looked upon as a great author.  Which type will you be–a pioneer or a giant?  There’s glory in both.  Which would you rather be?  Let me know by clicking “Leave a comment.”  Hoping to become one or the other, I’m–

                                                              Poseidon’s Scribe

September 18, 2011Permalink

Write What You Know? Really?

One of the oldest sayings about writing is “write what you know.”  Its originator is unknown.  Is this good advice, or bad?

This much is certain; it’s a lucky thing some great writers didn’t actually follow that advice.  For one thing, we never would have had any science fiction or fantasy, since no writer has gone through the experiences of characters in those sorts of stories.

Or have they?

In one sense, all characters encounter problems and experience emotional reactions to those problems, then seek to find a resolution to those problems.  All writers, all prospective writers, and even all people have done these things.  Maybe you haven’t battled menacing wyverns with a magic sword, but you’ve felt fear, had adrenalin rushes, struggled to overcome a difficulty, experienced a feeling like all is lost, grabbed for one last chance, and felt the triumphant glow of victory.  You’ve had the sensations your character will have.  Even though you’re writing about a heroic knight in some never-time of mystical wonder, you’re still—in one sense—writing what you know.

I suspect some long-ago teacher coined the maxim after first giving students a writing assignment and listening to a student complain about not knowing what to write.  The answer “write what you know” isn’t a bad one in that circumstance, since the students aren’t seeking wider publication, and writing about something familiar can free the student from worrying about research or getting facts wrong.

For a writer who is seeking publication, we’ll have to amend the adage.  Write what you know, so long as:

  • It’s not just a list of boring events from your real life;
  • You give us (your readers) an interesting plot and engaging characters;
  • Your descriptions grab us and insert us right into your setting, your story’s world; and
  • Your writing touches something inside us and helps us feel what your main characters feel.

So what you know may be that ugly incident at the school playground from third grade, but don’t give us the play-by-play of that.  Please.  Instead, use the feelings of that long-ago afternoon, but make the events happen in a different time and setting, with different characters.  If your setting is a far-flung planet and your characters are wearing space suits and packing blaster pistols, you might want to do some research to ensure plausibility.  But if you’re true to the emotions you felt on that playground, they’ll come through as genuine in your story and your readers will connect.

So, Beginning Writer, if you’re stuck and don’t know how to get started, try writing what you know, then edit it into what readers want to read.   Just some more free advice from—

Poseidon’s Scribe