Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sci-Fi/Fantasy and Romance?

Science Fiction and/or Fantasy
and ... Romance?
-----Original Message-----
How many pages are too many to wait for the hero/heroine to meet for the first time in a Sci-fi Romance? Are 50 pages or three chapters too long? Don’t you have to do a set up to show the worlds before they meet?
-- A Sci-Fi Romantic
Any time you market a book as a "Romance" no matter the sub-genre, (SF, Fantasy, Suspense, but most especially Erotic Romance,) the Romantic Couple should meet by the end of the first chapter, roughly 2500 words in.

Why so soon?

"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 only have 18 pages, (4500 words) to grab your reader, an agent, or an editor, and interest them enough to Keep Reading.
  • When writing a Romance you have to get the reader interested in the heroine, AND the hero by page 18.
  • If you're writing a Romantic Suspense, a Romantic Fantasy, or Romantic Sci-Fi, you have to get the reader interested in the heroine, the hero AND the plot by page 18.
  • If you're writing an Erotic Romance of ANY sub-genre you have to get the reader interested in the heroine, the hero, the plot, AND the sex by page 18.
"Does establishing my couple early really matter to the readers?"
While there ARE Romance publishers that will let you take longer to establish your couple and their setting, if you’re writing a Romance your reader EXPECTS to be grabbed and their attention held by your romantic couple BEFORE the 18th page. That's why they're reading your book -- for the Romance. Everything else is gravy.
-----Original Message-----
…I just finished a book today that took 30+ pages to get the hero and heroine together, it was filled with back-story about the heroine, things that could have been worked into the narrative at a later point. I honestly wouldn't have finished it except I had doctors appointments and no other unread books. I'd have missed a good read too.
-- A Romance Reader
-----Original Message-----
…I have a rather short attention span. Only when I'm forced by circumstances beyond my control will I finish a book that doesn't grab me right away.
-- Another Romance Reader

Of particular concern here is...
Establishing the setting of a Sci-Fi universe.
-- Setting up a world isn’t like setting a stage. You don’t need to show every single thing in place before the actors walk on. All you need are the immediate surroundings with an occasional stray thought to elucidate what's being viewed, or used. Fantasy & Sci-Fi thrive on ACTION, therefore, instead of Info-Dumping at the beginning, sprinkle your set up in while something is happening…

The opening lines from LOST STAR – (Coming Soon to Loose Id)
“Look you rusting pile of antique junk! I’m trying to save your ass here! Let me in!” Aubrey grabbed his throat, gasping for breath, and choked. The air on the freighter’s sub-engineering deck was thick and foul with smoke from melted metal and fused wiring. “Morris! Are you listening to me?” He slammed his bruised fist against the control console, nearly knocking over the small light he’d rigged. Most of the lights had gone out in the first hit from the marauders. He didn’t want to think about how close they had come to losing all life-support too.

“I hear you tech-engineer.” The ship’s tired and masculine mind-voice shimmered with a touch of annoyance across the wire jacked into the back of Aubrey’s skull. “You do not have clearance for access. You are not the nav-pilot.”

Aubrey fought to calm his beating heart, not that his heart was listening. “Morris, your nav-pilot is dead. He’s dead with everyone else that was on your bridge. If you don’t let me in, we’ll be boarded, and you’ll be torn apart for scrap!”

“I am already scrap…” Crushing depression and electronic interference colored the electronic mind voice.

“I know you’re old, Fate, damn you! But you’re not dead yet!” Aubrey scrubbed a hand through what little hair he had left, nearly dislodging the jack in the back of his skull. Damned military-issue buzz-cut, freaking itched. He leaned over the panel. “Morris, please! Let me in! There isn’t anybody else with an array to talk to you and I’m not fucking ready to die yet!” His breath hitched. Fate, he hadn’t even reached the legal age to drink yet. He closed his stinging eyes and took a deep breath. “And neither are the rest of the men on this ship. If you want to die, then fine, die! But let me save the ones who want to live first!”

Anger flickered deep in the ship’s sentience. Anger that his tech engineer would even think he would allow his people to die.

Aubrey held his breath. If the ship still had a temper then there was still a chance. If he could get access to the ship’s controls, he could use the freighter’s fully functional pulse cannons to clear a hole and try for a jump. If the ship didn’t kill him with a power burst instead.
The opening lines from VICTORIOUS STAR (Loose Id Books)
First Lieutenant Victoria Stark grimaced at the image on her holographic display. “So, this is where the captain has seen fit to abandon me.” The small orbital way-station looked like a floating heap of crumbling junk that had somehow fallen together, but had yet to drift back apart. Trash and debris from wrecked ships trailed its orbiting wake. The moon it circled didn’t look much better. The surface was pocked with craters and crashed ships.

She snorted. “I’ve seen worse.” She had, but not by much. She shut down the holographic transmission and stroked the instrument panel. “I’m going to miss you, lady,” she said with sincere regret.

The lights in her cabin dimmed just a few degrees.

A slight smile curved Victoria’s lips. The Adamant would miss her too. Her ships always missed her, just as she always missed them.

A knock came at the door.

Victoria sighed. This was it; this was good-bye. “Come,” she called out.

The door opened and a white-uniformed yeoman snapped a sharp salute. “We’re ready for you, Senior Nav-Pilot Stark.” He stared at her austere black coat. “Nav-Pilot?”

“Former senior nav-pilot. They relieved me of duty, remember?” Victoria smiled grimly. “I get to wear civilian togs.” She pulled on her supple black gloves. There was no way in hell she was going to walk onto that station in a burning white, screaming target of a uniform, especially on the wrong side of the Imperial border. She wasn’t suicidal.
The opening lines from FALLEN STAR (Loose Id Books)
Fallon stared up at the deeply shadowed towering steel walls of the alley’s dead end and ground her teeth. The door that was supposed to be at the end of this alley was nowhere to be found. “Damn it all, this isn’t where I’m supposed to be!”

Most of the lights in the station’s industrial deeps had gone out, or been shot out, so it was hard to see as a rule, even with her night-sight eye augmentations. The worst part was that everything down in this steel maze of pipes and installations looked pretty damned uniform, right down to the corrosion stains. There was no telling how far off course she actually was.

She needed directions, and fast.

In three steps she reached the steel wall of the alley and a long pipe with a faded and peeling telecommunications logo. She lifted her knee and selected a slender tap from the array of small, delicate tools tucked into the battered leather of her tall boots. A swift punch with another one of her tools broke the pipe’s casing and then it was just a matter of uncoiling her hotwire, jacking the tap into the communications wires, and shoving her wire into the data port at the base of her skull.

Her internal communications program spat code into the wire.

She looked down at the grimy steel floor, sweeping a gloved hand down her black skin suit. She cringed in disgust. The suit was smeared with filth and the seams were torn in a number of places. All the pipes she had crawled through and the roofs she had nearly fallen from to avoid her pursuer had really taken a toll on the once-sleek leather. It was going to cost a fortune to replace the damned thing, but she didn’t have much of a choice. She needed it for work.

“Station Master, spit it out and make it quick.” The voice was electronic and annoyed.

She grinned. “Hey, Peter, this is the Fallen Star.”

“Izzie! Where in fury have you been, wench?”

She rolled her eyes and shook her head. “I miss you too, but right now, I’m in a jam. I need directions and quick.”

“Stand by for subliminal download.”

“Standing by.” A trickle of white noise was introduced over the line. Fallon nodded. “Receiving download; thanks, Peter.”

All too often, really good books never get finished because the reader gets distracted and puts the book down BEFORE they reach the Good Parts, the parts worth reading. This is why you really ought to hook your reader as soon as you can, preferably the first line of the first page, with an additional hook at the end of each chapter. In a Romance, that hook is traditionally the romantic couple.

However, your hook doesn’t have to be your Romantic Couple! There are other ways to hook your reader.

Milieu, Idea, Character, & Event
The OTHER Elements to a Sci-Fi/Fantasy
All stories contain four elements that can determine structure: Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event. While each is present in every story, there is generally one that dominates the others.
From How to Write Science-fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
(This book is available in just about every bookstore, and Amazon.)
  • Milieu – A strange, new world.
  • Idea – Questions in need of answers
  • Character – Characters with troubling human issues
  • Event - Disruptions in the world’s balance
Any one of these four can be used as the hook to keep your readers reading.

Milieu story: Milieu stories always follow the same structure: a stranger who sees things as we would see them is somehow stranded in a strange place, sees interesting things, is transformed by what he sees, and goes back home a new man. The Stranger is the viewpoint character. The Milieu is seen through his eyes, since he will be interested in, and surprised by, the same strange and marvelous (and terrible) things that surprise and interest the audience.

The character is transformed by his experiences in the strange new world, but he does not stay--and attempts to return home. Other stories are told along the way, but however much we care about those events, the closure we expect at the end of the story is the main character’s departure.

"Planet of the Apes"
The “Harry Potter” series

Idea story: These stories deal with the exploration and / or a quest for answers. Idea stories start as close to the point where a question is first raised and end soon after the question is answered. Most mysteries stories follow this structure, but a great many science fiction stories employ this structure to explore large questions about man's transformation and relationship to science and the rest of the cosmos.

The Matrix”
"2001 A Space Odyssy"

Character story: These stories show the personal transformation of a character with an internal conflict or issue. This is most often reflected by a change in their role in their community. The Character story is more about dealing internal conflicts, facing personal issues, rather than facing external conflicts, or enemies.

The story begins at the point when something happens to MAKE the character begin the process of facing a deep and troubling issue, and ends by successfully dealing with it or failing to deal with it. To complicate matters, a person's role in their community often defines, and is defined by, their relationships with others. A change in the main character’s role will change their roles too, therefore much of the plot can come from the other characters' resistance to change.

“Shaun of the Dead”
"Flowers for Algernon

Event story: These stories focus on the restoration of the proper order of the universe. The traditional Adventure tale, this is the most common, and most popular form of story. Joseph Campbell defined this as the monomyth -- the common story pattern that most myths, legends, and fairy tales follow.

Something is wrong in the fabric of the universe; the world is out of order. In the ancient tradition of the Romance (as opposed to the modern publishing category), this can include the appearance of a monster (as in Beowulf), the unnatural murder of a king by his brother (as in Hamlet), or the reappearance of a powerful ancient adversary who was thought to be dead (as in Lord of the Rings). In all cases, the "golden age" has been disrupted, and the world is in a state of flux.

The Event story ends at the point where a new order is established, or the old order is restored. The story begins, not at the point where the world becomes disordered, but rather where the character (the chosen one) becomes involved in the struggle.

“Independence Day”
"Lord of the Rings"
"Star Wars"

In Conclusion…
Any time you market a book as a "Romance" no matter the sub-genre, (SF, Fantasy, Suspense, but most especially Erotic Romance,) the Romantic Couple should meet by the end of the first chapter, roughly 2500 words in. (Yes, I'm repeating myself, but it bears repeating.)

If you are writing a Fantasy or Sci-Fi with Romantic Elements, you are free to hook your reader with something else:
  • Milieu -- Exploration of a strange, new world.
  • Idea -- The quest for Knowledge
  • Character -- The inner transformation of a character & their relationships
  • Event -- Repairing the disruption of the world’s balance
-- No matter how wonderful your world is, no matter how fantastic an idea you present, no matter how cool your characters are, no matter how perilous your world-shaking event is, you STILL have only 18 pages to catch that reader and hold them if you want them to finish your story!

Morgan Hawke


  1. Great post, as usual. And I think I'm violating the chapter rule but not the word count ruse - must remember to check.....



  2. Hey Maura!
    -- Don't worry about the chapter rule. Even I don't always follow the chapter rule. What's important is capturing the readers' interest and keeping them reading.

    It doesn't matter HOW you do it; an H/H meeting (emotional investiture), a Problem (Idea), a quirky Character, interesting scenery (milieu), or with action (Event), as long as you do it before the 18th page.

  3. Fucking brilliant and helpful as usual. ;)

  4. I've read your blog for a long time and I have to say thank you. I finally managed to plot an entire story that I actually like and it doesn't feel contrived like previous (abandoned) attempts have. Your posts on plot and character crafting helped me figure out why my stories were lacking. I'll be going back to your posts on writing as I try to fill in the outline. Thank you so very much.

    I also haven't been by the blog in a little while. I love your new banner.

    (And I don't mean to make it seem as if only certain articles have helped. I've read all your articles and stories.)

  5. romblogreader said...
    "Fucking brilliant and helpful as usual. ;)"

    - Thank you, and you're welcome!

    Mary Ellen said...
    "I've read your blog for a long time and I have to say thank you..."

    -- You're very welcome! I'm so glad my articles proved helpful. When I was a beginning writer finding easy to understand -- usable -- advice was near impossible. I've made it my mission to take the mystery out of fiction writing.

    If you bump into a piece of advice somewhere that just doesn't make any sense, let me know and I'll carve it down into something more User-Friendly.

  6. Morgan, I wasn't sure about the best way to contact you, so here goes:

    1. First let me say that I was never so thankful that I bought HARD CANDY (because Angela Knight was my favorite author). After reading Fortune�s Star, and then Victorious Star and Fallen Star, you're at the top. Victorious Star is a continuous re-read, and I�ve just about talked my husband into reading one of my �romance� novels.

    2. Now, I just finished reading Winter�s Kiss, and I loved the beginning and I loved the end. Something, though, was missing in the middle. In lieu of the car crash, I was expecting a couple of hide/seek or stalk/hunt scenarios; in fact, she could have captured him in one of the scenarios! (After rubbing herself down with salad oil to disguise her scent, I was definitely expecting her to be pursued by a very determined tiger.)

    3. At this point, you�re thinking �now who�s the expert�, but the story could be another re-read/keeper if it get�s REAL exciting (and then republished separately). Even towards the beginning of the story when she was bathing and there was a glass window above the tub (that didn't need to be frosted), I really xpected a prowling tiger to be observing and possibly participating.

    4. Bottomline---I can�t wait for another book in your Imperial Stars series!

    Carol Z.

  7. "...I just finished reading Winter's Kiss, and I loved the beginning and I loved the end. Something, though, was missing in the middle."

    It's called PLOT. Plot was missing in the middle. That's what happens when you write to a REALLY tight word-count. Something has to go so something else can stay. In this case, my publisher wanted sex, so the sex stayed and a hunk of the plot went missing.

    Welcome to the wonderful world of brick & mortar publishing.

  8. Hey Carol Z

    "...the story could be another re-read/keeper if it gets REAL exciting (and then republished separately)."

    That will never happen.
    - Kensington publishing owns that story and the world it exists in, for the next ten years. I could possibly cut a deal with Kensington to expand on the story, but the machinations of brick & mortar publishers means that even if I gave them the full manuscript tomorrow, it still wouldn't see print for a year and a half, at the very least.

    I'm sorry I disappointed you. I work hard to do better.

  9. Hey:)
    And how do you think it works in the cross-genre field - like the urban fantasy\romance thing that quite popular now. Does the attraction factor lean towards the H&H or towards the fantasy-plot?

  10. "Hey:)
    And how do you think it works in the cross-genre field - like the urban fantasy\romance thing that quite popular now. Does the attraction factor lean towards the H&H or towards the fantasy-plot?"

    Any time the word ROMANCE is involved, you're going to draw Romance readers, and Romance readers ALWAYS read for the relationship first.

    Remove the word Romance and the PLOT will be the draw.

  11. And authors like Kim Harrison or Lilith Saintcrow? There is quite a lot of romance readers who like them, although they aren't directly marketed as romance, it's part of the appeal, and they work that appeal in their promotions. Still fantasy first?

  12. "...authors like Kim Harrison or Lilith Saintcrow? ...they aren't directly marketed as romance..."

    That's your answer right there. They aren't DIRECTLY marketed as Romance, so the romance readers don't Expect the Romance to be in the lead. This way, when the romance takes the back-burner to the plot, the romance readers don't flinch BECAUSE it's not technically a Romance.

  13. Actually, I just remembered--there was a little uproar on some popular reviewer's blog a while ago about how that kind of books should not be marketed to romance readers as "crossgenre romance" because they don't always contain the romance-like ending. I believe she even brought up Lilith Saintcrow's futuristic demon series as an example.

    You know, the farther I go into my writing explorations, the more often I discover you were right about pretty much everything^__^qb

  14. "Actually, I just remembered--there was a little uproar on some popular reviewer's blog a while ago about how that kind of books should not be marketed to romance readers as "crossgenre romance" because they don't always contain the romance-like ending..."


    "You know, the farther I go into my writing explorations, the more often I discover you were right about pretty much everything^__^qb"

    - Oops... Sorry. (cheezy grin)

  15. And some fantasy readers complain about how "you can't read female authors because it's always about men & sex for the heroine." You just can't satisfy everyone, huh? XD

    I meant I feel your methods working for my own writing. But in a sort of backwards way, since I seem to be unable to analyze my own writing until it's finished. No such problem with other people's writing. But it's like for me the process itself is more organic than methodical. I don't mean planning ahead, I mean using specific predetermined patterns (like blocks or arcs) in my own planning. When I start thinking like "here has to be the black moment, there goes internal conflict" -- it strangles my creativity. I need to internalize the structure so that it comes through unconsciously later, like some sort of intuition. (That's why I suck at worldbuilding, I still do. It requires creating a detailed structure and keeping to it)

  16. Btw, if you are interested, here's one of those discussions :)

  17. Yes:) I like that community, though I'm only allowed to watch and comment. Yet.

  18. Hi Morgan,

    I am not sure if you remember me or not, but I met you at the RT Convention in Daytona Beach, FL back in 2005. I picked up a book of yours called Hungry Spirits at your table and if my memory serves me correctly, you asked me if I was sure I wanted to read this book. My memory is a little rusty, however I believed you mentioned something along the line of it being very 'dirty' and shocking? If you remember my joking response I said" Sure, the dirtier it is the more I like it because I am perverted that way." lol Anyways I really wanted to say I LOVED that book. My god I never knew a ghost could be soooo naughty. Makes me wonder where I can find a ghost like Ryudo for myself. lol You are Da Bomb girl, I swear and I will be looking for more books of yours to read. You got another diehard fan here. lol

    I also read your blog today and found your advice to be very helpful. I am working on my first book and even though my friends told me I got some talent, I knew I have a lot to learn.

    Thanks again


  19. Sort of sounds like Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey to me...

    A good read is the Writers Journey...I found that helpful...

    Came across your website...interesting information...

  20. Sara,
    -- I'm thrilled you liked 'Hungry Spirits'. It was a fun book to write, though a little intense in places. I'm really glad you find the blog helpful too -- good luck on your writing!

    I look forward to seeing you again, perhaps at the next RT?

  21. LostInScotland,
    -- "Sort of sounds like Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey to me..."

    It should. ALL adventure stories follow this mythic cycle pattern, more or less. The Hero Cycle comes from the dawn of human civilization, and speaks directly to the collective unconscious, (Carl Jung.) In other words, this story pattern is practically instinctual. It's just that old and ingrained on the human psyche.

    This is why adventure stories that Don't follow the pattern, don't feel...right.

    I agree with you on Christopher Vogler's "Writer's Journey". It's one of my staple writing books. If you check the article "Good for your Writing ~ A Book List" you'll see it among other truly good books.

  22. Ooo,.. I would love to go to the next RT. But at this point I wouldn't
    know right now but I shall try. *smiles* In the meantime, me thinks I
    have been going through a morgan hawke withdrawl. LOL I shall be
    hunting for more books. Any suggestions?

  23. I know in my recent writings I've stopped violating that chap/word count rule. I recently cut 6k into 3k to get characters together and my betas like it much better than original story.

    Talk soon love :) Great article!