READ IN YOUR GENRE (?!)

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“Fantasy is my favorite genre for reading and writing. We have more options than anyone else, and the best props and special effects. That means if you want to write a fantasy story with Norse gods, sentient robots, and telepathic dinosaurs, you can do just that. Want to throw in a vampire and a lesbian unicorn while you’re at it? Go ahead.” Patrick Rothfuss

 

I know what you’re thinking. We’re all thinking it: unicorns are asexual. But that’s the whole point of the quote, isn’t it? In fantasy, you can write whatever you want and there will be a place for it. Nothing will seem out of setting. (Out of character is up to you.) I’ve chosen to write in the “speculative genre” because I like making stuff up.

When I read, however, I choose novels with a strong sense of place, regardless of genre: Patrick Taylor’s Irish Country novels, Alan Bradley’s post-WWII Flavia de Luce mysteries, and anything by Fannie Flagg. There are no fantastical bits in these novels but their settings are so wholly other to me that I’m transported, and I get the same feeling I get when I read an epic fantasy.

Anyway, I put up this Rothfuss quote because I’ve been feeling guilty lately about not reading enough in my genre. You want to make sure that the brilliant idea you just had hasn’t already been done to great acclaim. (oh, how sad I was to find out that Guy Gavriel Kay wrote novels starring mosaic artists!)  You want to find offensive tropes and avoid them. You want to find something you adore so you can write the author a love note. A lot of my guilt is assuaged by the fact that the library is not stocking mass-market paperback new releases in paranormal romance and my purchasing budget is a hefty null right now, but then I thought of all the books that sucked me in. Some of them are fantasy/sci-fi, but a lot of them are not. When I read, I am learning how to write something that transports the reader into the story I’m telling, and THAT is the best part of finding a good book.

And by learning, I don’t mean osmosis. I mean I take a notebook and write down what happens in Chapter One. Chapter Two. Midpoint. Climax. What swept me up, what I skipped, what dialogue I wish I’d written. It’s part of the journey and I am absolutely committed to getting a book on the “weird shelf.”

So I’m off to the bookstore to read the backs of books!  I am in the mood to read a fairy tale. Wish me luck!

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FEEDBACK

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In April, the first 250 words of my work-in-progress were featured as the “real life diagnostics” on my favorite writing help blog, Fiction University. I love the way this author teaches the craft of story structure. And it’s free! Anyway, it was an awesome experience and you can go check out my excerpt and the comments. (she said, nervously)

Squeeeeeeak! Microphone feedback. No one likes that nail-down-a-chalkboard sound. Most of us don’t like feedback on our art, especially when it is called by its professional name, “constructive criticism.” It also has a trendy, hipster name: “concrit.” Eventually, you get to a place in your craft where you can see the problems in your own work and you stop hating the gatekeepers. There are fantastic editors for hire (and some scammers, caveat emptor) and some great fee-based peer review groups. You can also enter contests for a small fee—-even if you don’t win, you usually get feedback from the judges, either in the form of a scorecard or notes written in your document.

But what do you do if you just spent your last three bucks to buy your kids donuts they can eat in the back of the minivan on the way to the thing you’re late for?  I’m glad you asked!  First, you find a few friends who are willing to read your writing. Not all of them will be honest, but ask them where they stopped reading and started skimming. This will at least show you where they got bored. Then, if you’re lucky enough to have family who will read your stuff, listen to their comments. Don’t disdain the family/friends feature. These are the people who will show up at your future booksigning so you don’t look awkward sitting at a table all alone.

Next, read reviews! Authors are not supposed to read their own reviews on Amazon because it turns them into vampires or something, but we can! Go read all those 1 and 2 star reviews and find out what readers abhor. Poor characterization, head-hopping, telling, endings that fizzle, poor editing, etc. Then learn what all these things really mean and avoid them in your work.

(At this point, you might realize WITH HORROR that the prose that seemed publication-ready to you and your friends is really awful drivel that should be shoved into a drawer forever. Mope and move on!  Really. If you skip the moping you’ll only be moping on the inside. So take an afternoon to listen to Chopin and cry because he was taken from us so young! And then MOVE. ON.)

Then, spy. Spy on other people’s critiques. You can do this at writer’s conferences, in blogs, podcasts, etc. That’s the whole reason I submitted my stuff for critique: I learned something every week from the constructive criticism of other people’s work. One time, I was at a conference where a panel of professionals critiqued five different anonymous, unpublished submissions. The twist was that you were asked to submit TEN pages of your stuff, but they only had time to read TWO pages out loud. Before then, I had heard the phrase “hook your reader” but had no earthly idea how fast you actually have to do that. Two pages. Two paragraphs, if possible. The experience was incredible. I still refer to the notes from that night!

All writers must seek to improve their craft. Even the published ones. Good luck. And go read my little thing at the place!!