Saturday, April 29, 2006

Crossing Genres

(Sin City ~ A perfect example of a Romantic Horror)

When it's MORE than Just a Fantasy
Every genre has core elements that make that genre that genre. In order to Cross Genres properly, you need to know each of your genre’s distinctive elements and make them Equally Important in the story.

Simple, no? However...

One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen in every genre of fiction: IGNORANCE.

“Most of the common mistakes come with any writing that isn't so good—bad characters, bad plots, bad writing. The ones which are peculiar to alternate histories (fantasy and sci-fi) are bad research and bad extrapolation.”
-- An Interview with Harry Turtledove

How do you expect to cross genres properly if you don't even know the genres you're working with?

Contrary to popular belief, even if you're writing pure Heroic Fantasy, just making it up as you go is NOT good enough!

On writing Heroic Fantasy:
“…The consequence of making that assumption [research is not necessary for a completely made-up world] is, inevitably, a sleazy product. It may be bought by an editor hard up for material, but it will carry none of the conviction, the illusion of reality, which helps make the work … memorable. At best, it will drop into oblivion; at worst, it will stand as an awful example. If our field becomes swamped with this kind of garbage, readers are going to go elsewhere for entertainment and there will be no more…”
-- On Thud and Blunder by Poul Anderson

Genre Ignorance
Genre ignorance is where the author writes a story in a genre they know nothing about.

Someone writes a Historical Romance, when they’ve never read any Romances.
This shows up as a beautifully detailed Historical with barely a drop of real Emotional Passion. They would have been better off writing a Historical Adventure.

CLUE: It’s all about the Relationship. Really.

Someone writes an Erotica story, when they’ve never read any real Erotica.
This shows up as a sloppily detailed journal entry written in first person POV, and present tense, with lousy grammar, and no emotional content beyond amazement. Even worse, the descriptions involve actual numbers and letters. "She was 5'6" and a DD." They would have been better off writing a Xenthouse Letter.

CLUE: It's not: "The characters had SEX." It's: "What happened BECAUSE the Characters had sex."

Someone writes a Sci-Fi, when they’ve never read any Sci-Fi’s.
This shows up as a beautifully detailed Adventure, with hardly a drop of real Science anywhere. These stories are normally labeled Futuristics, as the only Sci-Fi they have going for them is the Setting. They would have been better off writing a Western, or a High Seas adventure, a historical War story, or just about any other kind of Adventure you can think of.

CLUE: “If you can take the Science out of the Fiction and still have a viable story in another genre, you did it WRONG.” -- Isaac Azimov

Someone writes a Gothic, when they’ve never read any Gothics.
This shows up as a beautifully detailed Romance, with hardly a drop of deep dark Emotional Issues anywhere. They would have been better off writing a Historical Romance.

CLUE: It’s all about the Angst. Really.

Someone writes a Mystery, when they’ve never read any Mysteries.
This shows up as a beautifully detailed Adventure, with a barely real criminal and hardly a drop of a real Investigation anywhere. Or worse, the readers KNOWS “whodunit” by the end of the fourth chapter because the author was foolish enough to give “whodunit”, a Point of View.

CLUE: It's all about NOT being able to figure out "whodunnit" until the bitter end. Seriously.

Mystery readers read Mysteries to match their wits against the Author’s. If they guess the answer too quickly, the author has done the worst thing they could possibly do to their reader – DISAPPOINTED Them. They would have been better off writing a Suspense adventure.

Planning to write a Vampire Romance or Vampire Erotica?

WARNING! ~ Most hard-core vampire readers won’t touch a Vampire Romance or a Paranormal Romance, or a Gothic Romance for that matter, with a 10-foot pole and they're damned choosy with their Vampire Erotica too.

Why not?
~ The Vampire reader is a Purist, and more often than not, Goth. To the hard-core Goth crowd, Vampires are more than mere entertainment they’re an Icon, and very often, represent a personal obsession with Death.

To put it bluntly, these readers have already read just about everything there is to read about vampires; fiction and non-fiction, in addition to classic Gothic literature. These folks have VERY intimate knowledge about anything and everything to do with vampires and Gothics, so it’s blatantly obvious to them, when an author hasn’t done their research on Vampires, or has no clue on what Gothics and Horrors are really about.

CLUE: To a vampire obsessed Goth, a vampire has meaning, and ANGST. They want their vampires to be VAMPIRES brooding over the nature of Life and Death, not just a hot guy with pointy teeth.

On the other hand, the die-hard Romance reader is perfectly happy with a romantically inclined hot guy with pointy teeth – but you better get the Romance right! Erotica readers are also cool with hot guys (or girls) with pointy teeth, but they're reading to Get-Off, so the characters had not only better be attractive, the sex had better be explicit.

And that’s just Vampires. Fantasy and Science-fiction have their share of fanatical purists too.

The easiest way to FIX the Ignorance problem?

There’s no excuse for Lack of Research.

If you think the readers won't notice when you get something Wrong, you are sadly mistaken. I can't tell you how many readers have come to me because they looked up an obscure little fact I tossed into a story and were astonished that I was Accurate.

Avoid hate-mail, do your damned research, and do it BEFORE you write.

The advent of the Internet has made looking anything up a freaking breeze. Anything you could possibly want to know is up on somebody’s website somewhere. is your friend, seriously. USE IT.

"What has all this to do with Crossing Genres?"

Well, before you can combine two genres, you need to KNOW the two genres you're working with because BOTH of them must be equally important in the story to BE a Cross-Genre.

The Rule of Cross Genre Fiction:
When you Cross Genres, if you can take either genres’ identifying elements out of the Fiction and still have a viable story in the genre that’s left – you did it WRONG.”

The Genres
(Broken down to their simplest common denominators)

Character driven = Drama
Gothic – mysterious circumstances caused by repressed/hidden issues
Romance – intimate circumstances caused by love issues
Horror – life and death circumstances caused by despair/madness/hate issues

Premise driven = Consequence
Science Fiction – scientific elements and human values
Fantasy – fantasy elements and mythic values
Paranormal – supernatural elements and Karmic values
Erotica – sexual elements and emotional values

Setting driven = Exploration
Contemporary – set in the present-day
Historical - set in the past
Futuristic – set in the future
High Fantasy – set in the Mythic past

Plot driven = Action
Mystery – a crime and investigation quest
Suspense - a contemporary heroic quest
Adventure – a heroic quest
Sci-Fi - a futuristic heroic quest (space opera)

Okay, there you go. You now know what makes each genre tick. What’s next?

Let’s play: Mix and Match!
Take any genre from one of the four drives, and another genre from any of the Other three drives, and put them together.


“What if I wanna use two genres from the SAME drive?”
Go ahead, be my guest. The three DRAMA drives work fine paired up with any of the other DRAMA drives, however you’re going to find it a little tough to pair up the rest of them.

All right, once you’ve picked your two genres, simply use ALL the elements of BOTH and you’ve got a perfect cross genre.

Premise driven = Consequence - Science Fiction: scientific elements and human values
Character driven = Drama - Gothic: mysterious circumstances caused by repressed/hidden issues

= The Matrix - A Gothic Sci-Fi

Let’s define The Matrix:
Scientific elements = Computer Generated Reality and Villains
Human values = Knowledge verses Ignorance < -- Premise
Mysterious circumstances = Strange coincidences that couldn’t possibly be Natural
Repressed/hidden issues = The True nature of Reality

Get it? Wanna do it again?

Premise driven = Consequence - Paranormal: supernatural elements and Karmic values
Character driven = Drama - Gothic: mysterious circumstances caused by repressed/hidden issues
Setting driven = Exploration - Contemporary: set in the present-day

= Constantine - A Paranormal Gothic

Let’s define Constantine:
Supernatural elements = Demons and Angels
Karmic values = Actions verses Motive/Intent < -- Premise
Mysterious circumstances = A sudden increase in demonic activity.
Repressed/hidden issues = Faith
Set in the present-day = New York City

One more time!

Premise driven = Consequence - Romance: intimate circumstances caused by love issues
Premise driven = Consequence - Horror – life and death circumstances caused by despair/madness/hate issues

= Sin City - A Romantic Horror

Let’s define Sin City:
Because we used Two Premise driven genres, we ADD the premises together, and ADD the Circumstances together.

Intimate circumstances + Life and death circumstances = Sex and Murder
Love issues + despair/madness/hate issues = The insane lengths one will go to when in Love. < -- Premise

Got it now?

Ruling Elements
Many cross genres are ruled by one genre or the other. It doesn’t have to be that way, but it frequently is. For example, Romance tends to outweigh any other genre its paired with. Why? Publishers' insistence, or rather, their Marketing Department's insistence. Romance readers outnumber all other readers. In other words: specifically to generate Profit.

By the way, the genre Romantic Suspense was originally an attempt to grab some of the Mystery readers. (Increased Readers = Increased Profits) Unfortunately, Mystery readers tend to be Purists. They read Mysteries for the Puzzle the story represents and for no other reason. While they don’t seem to mind a bit of hanky-panky in their stories, they will NOT put up with a story they can guess in a few chapters, or a story that isn’t actually focused on the Mystery to be solved.

Romantic Suspense failed at grabbing the Mystery readers completely BECAUSE their stories weren’t actually Mysteries. They were mystery-flavored action-adventure romances. See what I mean about Genre Ignorance?

However, adding a PLOT to a Romance made the genre a hit with the Romance readers, who had gotten very, very bored with only Historicals or Contemporaries to read.

Oddly enough, this discovery of adding a fully functional plot to a Romance, plus the rise in interest in Women's Erotica via the "Black Lace" novels and the Red Sage's "Secrets" anthologies, led to the birth of another whole genre:

Erotic Romance
The big secret behind the overwhelming popularity of Erotic Romance is neither the Romance nor the Erotic elements, but the fact that there’s a THIRD genre in the mix. This third genre is the PLOT that ties the Romance and the Sex together.

Which genre? Any of them, each of them, ALL of them. Erotic Romance is a genre of Cross-genres.

Romance + Erotica + Genre = Erotic Romance
  • Romance + Erotica + Sci-Fi = Erotic Sci-fi
  • Romance + Erotica + Fantasy = Erotic Fantasy
  • Romance + Erotica + Mystery = Erotic Suspense
  • Romance + Erotica + Pulp Fiction = Erotic Romance
  • Romance + Erotica + Horror = Erotic Horror
What made this Genre of Cross-Genres so hot a sale?

Contrary to popular (Publisher) belief, Romance readers are NOT purists. As long as there’s a sexually-explicit Romance and a vaguely Happy Ending they’ll take any genre it comes in.

At this point in time, the only deciding factor between one cross-genre of Erotic Romance and the next is the author’s Skill, seriously. A skilled Erotic Romance author can make ANY cross-genre of Erotic Romance profit.

In Conclusion...
To create a true Cross-Genre, ALL the genres involved must be equally important in the story to BE a Cross-Genre. However, doing it Wrong doesn’t mean it won’t get published. It just means you “missed the point” of crossing your genres.

Even so, I’m firmly of the opinion that if you’re going to do something, do it RIGHT.

Why? Because if you do it Wrong, and someone else does it Right, guess who’s gonna grab all the readers?


DISCLAIMER: As with all advice, take what you can use and throw out the rest. As a multi-published author, I have been taught some fairly rigid rules on what is publishable and what is not. If my rather straight-laced (and occasionally snotty,) advice does not suit your creative style, by all means, IGNORE IT.

Morgan Hawke

Dear Morgan ~ a Cover Letter?!?

Morgan Hawke
~ Mad, Bad, and Dangerously in the Know!

----- Original Message -----

"Dear Morgan,
-- The submission guidelines specifically request that you include your writing background in the cover letter.

What should you say when you have NO writing background? Do I just say: "I have no writing background, this is my first book." Or should I write something flowery that sounds good, but pretty much states the same thing?"

-- Aspiring Author

Dear Aspiring...
-- What do you tell your potential Publisher?

The blunt TRUTH.
Beating around the bush may be polite in some circles, but it's not a good idea when you're dealing with an Editor. They don't have time to plow through a hunk of text to find out if you're a Name Brand author or just fresh new talent.

Your cover-letter is, in fact, a snap shot of YOU, as much as it is the book you want them to look at. Polite never hurts, but flowery will only make the editor reading your letter expect a very verbose novel -- something that's going to take a ton and a half of editing to weed out all the extra fluff.

Honesty is Always the Best Policy.
Padding, or Embroidering your credentials is also a Bad Idea. This is the Age of the Internet. The truth about your publishing credits, or your lack of them, is not something you can hide for long.

Also, the person reading your manuscript is an Editor. Whether they work for a magazine or a publishing house, you can be rest assured that YOUR Editor has seen THOUSANDS of manuscripts from rank beginner to polished professional. They will know in One Glance how much writing experience you actually have.

The last thing a potential Publisher wants working for them is a Lia... Ahem... Someone that is Less than Honest.

Cover Letter Format:
Good afternoon Mr. (LAST name of the editor you are (e)mailing, this letter to),

This is who I am, and where I live. This is where I heard about you.

I would like to offer you my book, My title, at this word-count length/this many pages. Whether or not it's ever been published before.

This is how much experience I have writing. (Newspapers, magazine articles, story post sites, fan-fiction, and contests count.)

My book in detail:

My title
The story's genre
My log-line

My book blurb.

My first three chapters and my detailed plot synopsis can be found on the following/attached pages.

This is how much I would like to work with you, and how willing I am to take what editing help I am offered.

Very Sincerely,

My REAL Name
My Pen Name (if you're using one)
My email
My phone number
My websites (ALL of them)
(And for Pete's sake -- Don't forget to SPELL CHECK your Letter!)

Okay, what DIDN'T I put in there?

My life history, my family life, my job, anything embarrassing, anything self-loathing, anything that might make them think I wouldn't be absolutely positively devoted to writing for them, anything that might make them think I wouldn't have the TIME to write for them.

In short -- Only what they ASKED FOR in as short, and tight, and Professional a fashion as possible. If they want anything Personal, they'll ASK.

Think of your Cover Letter as a Job Interview cuz guess what? That's exactly what it is.

Morgan Hawke
Smut-Writer - and Damned Proud of it!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

An Opening Hook?

(cover to Assassin Apprentice)

An Opening Hook?
-----Original Message-----
"We constantly hear people talk about a hook. I was just wondering, how important is an opening hook? How close to the opening does it have to be? Seriously, how many people pick up a book or story and put it back down after the first sentence or paragraph? Do we have some forgiveness here? I would think that a published, well known author might not need one."
-- Writer in Waiting
Let’s break this down and tackle each, one at a time.

"I was just wondering,
how Important is an Opening Hook?”

How important? Vitally important.
"57% of new books are not read to completion. Most readers do not get past page 18 in a book they have purchased."
--Jerrold Jenkins
This means you have 4500 words to hold your reader -- AFTER they buy your book.

However ~ in order to GET someone to buy your book, most potential readers decide what books they’ll purchase by:
  1. Cover Art*
  2. Back Cover Blurb
  3. Inside Excerpt
  4. First Page (first 150 words)
  5. Last page (A LOT of buyers will not buy a book with an Unhappy Ending no matter how good the meat of the story is.)
-- In that order.

If your first page is dull and boring, you’re more or less screwed.

* Note on Cover Art
– Although it is the first thing assessed by a potential buyer, Cover Art actually carries far less weight in the final purchasing decision than any of the others. Cover Art is merely a tool to catch the eye and make the buyer pick up the book for consideration.

Most readers have learned that few covers actually have anything to do with what the book is about, so if the cover art stinks, but the rest is interesting, they’ll buy it.

“How close to the opening does it have to be?”

To GET them reading, your hook should be the First Three Paragraphs on the First Page.

According to Les Edgerton in Hooked:
...intentionally look for an opening that 'hooks' the reader by creating a question.

Not sure if this is sound advice? Try this little exercise by Ed Lists:
In one of my crits, I suggest writers take their top ten favorite stories/novels and read the first three paragraphs. What were you, as the reader, thinking about by the end of those three paragraphs?  Odds are, it was a question--you wanted to learn more about something in those paragraphs (the character, the plot, whatever). 

To KEEP them reading, you should have a hook --a Question-- at the end of every single chapter.

“Seriously, how many people pick up a book or story and put it back down after the first sentence or paragraph? Do we have some forgiveness here?”

Survey says…!
“As a reader I generally give a new book (before I've bought it) the first paragraph to get my interest, sometimes less. I'll almost always put down a book that starts with a description of landscape, as lots of fantasy seem to.”
“As a reader, I always open the book to the first page and start reading (in a book shop before I buy the book). If the writing style is awkward, or the wording is boring, I'll put the book down and keep looking.”
“Weather report beginnings are a turn off for me. But something subtle, interesting, or thought provoking, in the first paragraph is enough to keep me reading, for a while.”
“I'll only grant ‘forgiveness’ to an author who has entertained me in the past, and even then I'm not all that lenient.”

Most if not ALL potential buyers have only one interest when buying a book to read: PERSONAL ENTERTAINMENT. If the reader is not grabbed on the first page, your book goes back on the shelf in favor of one that DOES grab them.

The only books allowed to be dull and boring on the first page, are text books designed strictly for education. (They’re expected to be dull and boring.)

“…I would think that a published well known author might not need [a hook]."

Being published and well known does NOT mean that a reader won't put a book down that doesn't interest them, and there are ALWAYS people that have never heard of you.
“If a book is going nowhere after initially getting my interest, I'll stop reading, and never pick up another book by that author again.”
“If I'm not ‘into’ it after 15 pages I usually give up.”
“It's the author's job to keep me interested from the very first line to the very last, because if they can't, there are plenty that can and I'd rather be reading their books.”

Never forget! Your book is in direct competition with every other book in that store, therefore you should avail yourself of every trick you can think of to Get that Reader – and then Keep that Reader.

“What is a HOOK anyway?”

Very simply, it’s what makes the reader turn the page. It’s the Mysterious Circumstance, the Precarious Situation, the Horrible Turn of Events, etc. that drives the Reader to Keep Reading to discover: “What will happen NEXT?” More commonly known as: SUSPENSE.

There is a Reason why MYSTERIES are the Number One selling genre – they keep the reader guessing right up to the last page.

“But I’m not writing a Mystery!”

So what? I don’t write mysteries either, but I do have a Mysterious Circumstance, a Precarious Situation, a Horrible Turn of Events -- a hook -- at the end of every chapter. And I never give anything away until the last possible second.

“But what if I'm writing Literature?
They rarely (if ever) have hooks?”

Once upon a time they didn't, (like 10 years or more ago.) They DO NOW or they don't get past the publication editor. A book without an opening hook certainly won't make it past an agent.

These days agents and editors ask for Partials manuscripts, that's 60 pages - 4 chapters - not whole manuscripts. Not a whole lot of room to impress someone. What they DON'T tell you, is if you don't hook them on the First Page, they won't even bother reading the REST.
Publishers toss Booker winners into the reject pile
They can’t judge a book without its cover.
-- Jonathan Calvert and Will Iredale
The Sunday Times, London UK, January 01, 2006
Publishers and agents have rejected two Booker prize-winning novels submitted as works by aspiring authors.

One of the books considered unworthy by the publishing industry was by V S Naipaul, one of Britain’s greatest living writers, who won the Nobel Prize for literature.

The exercise by The Sunday Times draws attention to concerns that the industry has become incapable of spotting genuine literary talent.

Typed manuscripts of the opening chapters of Naipaul’s “In a Free State” and a second novel, “Holiday”, by Stanley Middleton, were sent to 20 publishers and agents.

None appears to have recognized them as Booker prizewinners from the 1970s that were lauded as British novel writing at its best. Of the 21 replies, all but one were rejections.

In Conclusion:
If you expect your manuscript to get past an agent, or a publishing editor, you need to make your story engaging, and compelling to read at the Opening Line.

If you want to make your READERS ask for More, you you need to make your story engaging, and compelling to read, from Opening Line to the Closing Chapter.

Morgan Hawke