Marcy’s Blog

Five Reasons Genre Matters

fictiongenresfinalBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I’ve heard writers argue that genre mattered back in the days where the only path to publication was going through a traditional publisher. With the rise of self-publishing as a viable option, they say, we don’t need to understand genre anymore.

Here’s why that’s not true.

Reason #1 – Traditional publishing is still the right choice for some writers. If you pitch to an agent, they want to know genre because most of them represent certain genres, and most publishing houses publish only certain genres of books (or they have lines devoted to particular genres). If an agent reps only urban fantasy, for example, and you send them your epic fantasy, you’ve wasted their time and yours.

Reason #2 – Genre matters even if you plan to go indie. If you self-publish and upload your book to retailers, what category are you going to put it in? If you manage to get into bookstores or libraries, what shelf will it belong on? It has to go somewhere. Also, readers do look at the top 100 lists on their retailer of choice. They might love your book if they found it, but if you don’t put it in the right category (aka genre), they might never find it.

Reason #3 – Genre helps you find your ideal reader, the people who are most likely to turn into diehard fans, because people who read books similar to yours may enjoy your books as well. This knowledge allows you to better target any ads you might run, and gives you an idea of who would be best to partner with for joint promotions.

Reason #4 – When the average person asks you what your book is about, they’re really asking first to know what genre it is. They want to know if it’s a mystery or a fantasy or a romance. Only after that do they want to know the plot. Because if you give them the plot before the genre, the first thing you’re going to hear is “So it’s a mystery?” or “So it’s a fantasy?” People need to categorize to make sense of the world around them.

Reason #5 – If a reader comes to your story expecting one thing, and you don’t give it to them, they’ll be disappointed. If you’re craving chips and someone tricks you into eating a piece of cake instead, you’re probably not going to feel satisfied. You need to know what readers expect so you can meet (and exceed) those expectations or so you can help them adjust their expectations. As well, if you plan to write to market (selecting a genre niche and writing a book that you know will hit the expected tropes), you can’t do so without first knowing your genre.

Genre still matters. Genre will always matter.

If you’re confused about genre or simply want to gather some inspiration for what genre you might want to try writing in, then you’re in luck.

Fiction Genres: A Busy Writer’s Guide is now available!

This mini book will demystify genre so we can better understanding what we’re writing and who might want to read it. In Fiction Genres, you’ll learn what qualities make a book one genre rather than another, and you’ll discover the smaller “genres” that fall under the larger umbrellas of fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, suspense, thriller, and romance. For each, you’ll also see examples of published books or authors whose books exemplify the genre.

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Overusing Names in Dialogue

overusing-names-in-dialogue

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I wanted to go back to one of the basics today because this topic seems to be one that every new writer struggles with. (And those of us who are veterans could always use a reminder.)

Overusing names, titles, and pet names in dialogue is one of the fastest ways to make our dialogue sound clunky.

Titles are things like doctor or mom. Pet names include sweetheart, dear, love, you get the idea. For the rest of this, I’m just going to say “names” but it includes all of these.

Let me give you a little example of what this sounds like…

“Hey, Maggie, you have to see this.”

“What is it, sweetheart?”

“I’m not going to tell you, Mags. You have to come look.”

Yes, I’ve exaggerated slightly for this example. Most writers wouldn’t use names in every line of dialogue, but I’ve seen some come close.

I have a few guesses for why writers fill their dialogue with names. Some are probably trying to avoid overusing dialogue tags. Some probably think it sounds more realistic. Some are probably trying to minimize confusion about who’s talking to whom in scenes with multiple characters.

Whatever the reason, it immediately makes our dialogue sound artificial and awkward. It doesn’t sound like the way a real person would talk.

You can test this out. Keep track of how many times in a day you call someone by name (and, if it ever happens, note the circumstances around it). Pick another day and track how many times someone else calls you by name (and when that happened).

You’ll find that if it happens at all, it happens extremely rarely and in specific types of circumstances.

  • It’s the beginning or end of a conversation, and we’re saying hello or goodbye.
  • We’re trying to get someone’s attention.
  • We’re angry or upset and using their name for emphasis, almost as a weapon.
  • We’re trying to establish premature intimacy – this last one is one you’ll often hear from conmen or salesmen.

If we’re going to use names in our dialogue, these are the only times we should use them, and those uses should be strategic. For most writers, a good guideline is to avoid using names in dialogue at all.

So my editing tip is to go through your current manuscript and hack out the names you’ve used in dialogue, rewriting what’s around those sentences as necessary to make sure the speaker stays clear. You’ll find your dialogue sounds better almost instantly.

How do you feel about direct address in dialogue? Is this something you’ve struggled with?

Interested in learning more about writing great dialogue? You might be interested in Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide.

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Avoiding Pointless Conflict in Our Stories

conflict

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

As part of my mini-series on goal, motivation, and conflict, we’ve already talked about the antagonist’s role in building conflict in our story. This week I want to look at good conflict vs. bad conflict.

Alongside the antagonist standing in our character’s way, our character is also going to face other challenges in reaching their goal. It could be other people, it could be physical obstacles, it could be puzzles they need to solve or clues they need to gather. We call these challenges conflict.

Here’s the tricky part for many writers. As Dwight Swain said in Techniques of the Selling Writer, “conflict for conflict’s sake” is useless. It hurts our story rather than helping it.

To put this another way, not all conflict is created equal. The best way that I know to help writers understand good conflict that turns their story into a page-turner is to explain bad conflict that annoys the reader and makes the story feel pointless and slow.

So here are the top three offenders when it comes to bad conflict.

Bickering

There’s a difference between characters disagreeing over how to handle a real problem that they need to solve and characters that seem to be arguing simply for the sake of arguing.

If our characters bicker over minor differences, this is bad conflict. (I’d argue it isn’t even really conflict.) If you want an argument to have any chance of working as conflict, it needs to stem from deep, fundamental differences in your characters’ belief systems, morals, or end goals. Petty squabbling isn’t interesting, and it can make our characters seem childish and stupid.

Another expression of this type of bad conflict is a character that argues or disagrees even when doing so isn’t in their self-interest. A character shouldn’t randomly pick a fight if doing so hampers reaching a much more important goal. 

Our characters should get along at least some of the time.

When you’re thinking about adding an argument for conflict, consider where what they’re fighting about sits on each character’s personal value scale. Is achieving the goal more important to them than the particular thing they’re fighting about? If so, delete that argument.

If the content of what they’re arguing about is more important than the end goal, then the argument works as conflict (e.g., a character whose moral compass says I won’t kill for any reason vs. a character who believes killing in pursuit of their goal is a time where the end justifies the means).

Misunderstandings

If our characters could sit down and resolve their misunderstanding with an adult conversation, we don’t have conflict. What we will have is annoyed readers.

Misunderstandings only work if there’s a strong reason these two characters can’t talk it out. By strong reason, I mean something like one of them is a POW and can’t communicate with the outside world.

Rabbit Trails

Rabbit trails are conflicts that are unrelated to the goal. These conflicts might be fascinating in a different story where they actually matter to the long-term goal, but when they only serve as a detour, they actually slow the story down and cause readers to lose interest.

Here’s an example. Let’s say we have a pair of archeologists who think they’ve located the hiding place of the Holy Grail.

Good Conflict: One of our archeologists is kidnapped by a drug cartel that plans to torture him for information because they also want to find the Holy Grail and sell it to the highest bidder.

Bad Conflict: One of our archeologists is kidnapped by a drug cartel that is kidnapping random people will the plan to force them into becoming drug mules to smuggle their product across the border.

Do you see the difference? One roadblock is random and unconnected to the larger goal. This type of conflict will frustrate the reader because they’ll want to get back to the real story. The other roadblock increases tension and keeps the story moving because the conflict is intimately connected to the larger story goal.

Do you have any questions about conflict? I’d love to answer them either in the comments or in another post.

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out my Busy Writer’s Guides such as Description, Deep Point of View, or Internal Dialogue.

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Dialogue, Description, and Point of View Box Set

howtowritebox2By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I’d hoped to release my second Busy Writer’s Guides box set months ago, but it’s finally available! I’ve put together Dialogue, Point of View in Fiction, and Description this time.

Dialogue, point of view, and description are foundational skills you need to master to create vivid fiction that balances your character’s internal life with the external story world in a way that keeps readers turning pages.

The books in this set put writing craft techniques into plain language alongside examples so you can see how that technique looks in practice. In addition, you’ll receive tips and how-to exercises to help you apply what you learn to the pages of your own story. Most importantly, every book in the Busy Writer’s Guide series cuts the fluff so that you have more time to write and to live your life.

In this box set you’ll find…

DIALOGUE

To write great fiction, you need to know how to write dialogue that shines. You know the benefits strong dialogue can bring to a story—a faster pace, greater believability, increased tension, and even humor. But you might not know how to achieve it. In Dialogue, you’ll learn techniques and tricks for making your dialogue shine, as well as practical editorial steps you can take to polish your dialogue.

POINT OF VIEW IN FICTION

Point of view isn’t merely another writing craft technique. Point of view is the foundation upon which all other elements of the writing craft stand—or fall. In Point of View in Fiction, you’ll learn how to choose the right POV for your story, how to avoid POV errors, how to choose the right viewpoint character, and much more.

DESCRIPTION

Description in fiction shouldn’t be boring for the reader or for the writer. Description will help you take your writing to the next level by exchanging ho-hum description for description that’s compelling and will bring your story to life, regardless of the genre you write.

Grab your copy at your preferred retailer:
Amazon
Apple
Kobo
Smashwords

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Commonly Confused Words of the Month: “I Could Care Less”

editors-cornerBy Chris Saylor

Remember back in my first post, when I told you that I believe you need to know the rules so that you can know when and how to break them? In my Commonly Confused Words of the Month feature, I’m going to be going over words and phrases that you might want to use in dialogue to show something about your character, but you never want to use elsewhere.

This month I’ll be looking at the phrase I could care less.

The correct phrase to use is actually I couldn’t care less. This is because I couldn’t care less is what you would say to show that you really have no thoughts left to give for whatever it is you’re discussing. You’re showing the maximum amount of apathy that you can possibly show.

I could care less, on the other hand, indicates that you still have some regard for the situation at hand. You have thoughts left to give for whatever it is you’re discussing. You’re showing that you still care about the situation at least a little bit.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most you could care about something and 0 meaning you don’t care at all about something, I could care less means you fall in the 1 to 10 range, and I couldn’t care less means you’re at 0.

This is not a regional thing. It is more common to hear this phrase misused in some regions, but could and couldn’t cannot mean the same thing or language ceases to have any meaning at all.

Is there a word or phrase that you often hear that bothers you? Share it in the comments below and I’ll be sure to address it.

Every Saturday for the foreseeable future, I’ll be here in the Editor’s Corner, simplifying some of these grammar concepts for you and showing you how they specifically apply to your fiction. Coming up next week is The Importance of Using Contractions.

Want to hire Chris for a proofread or copy edit? You can find out more about him at https://saylorediting.wordpress.com, or you can email him to talk about rates and availability at christopher.saylor21 [at] gmail.com. You might also want to check out the book he co-wrote with Marcy, Grammar for Fiction Writers, available at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, or Apple iBooks.

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Understanding Goal, Motivation, and Conflict: CONFLICT (PART 1)

signpost-conflict

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been talking about goal, motivation, and conflict and how they work together to fuel your story. Today we’re moving on to the final of the three.

Conflict comes down to who is standing in your character’s way and what your character will have to endure to achieve their goal. Today I’m going to talk about the who.

Every story needs an antagonist, but not every story needs a villain. A villain is “bad.” An antagonist is just someone (or something) who’s standing in the way of your main character achieving their goal.

This sounds obvious, but there are, surprisingly, a lot of ways where we can go wrong with this part.

I’m going to give you the most important elements that you need to get right about the antagonist.

  • Our antagonist needs to be stronger than our protagonist at the start of the story.

If our antagonist isn’t stronger, then the story isn’t going to be very exciting. Our protagonist will succeed too easily.

  • Our antagonist’s goal needs to be in direct conflict with our protagonist’s goal.

Think about this like two people playing tug-of-war. There’s no way they can both win that match. Whoever pulls the other across the line first, wins. The other loses. We need the same win-lose scenario in our book. If we don’t have it, our conflict will be weak.

For example, if we’re writing a mystery, the protagonist wants to catch the murderer and the murderer wants to escape. Only one of them can succeed.

In Star Wars, Luke and Darth Vader were fighting over who would control the universe, the rebels or the empire. Only one of them can succeed.

  • Our antagonist needs their own equally strong motivation.

“Because he’s evil” is not a motivation. If we want to create an antagonist who’s more than a cardboard cutout, we need to understand why he’s fighting just as hard as our hero to achieve the goal.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Christopher Vogler, and he says “The villain is the hero of his own journey.”

Our antagonist is trying to do what they think is best in the same way that our main character is trying to do what he or she thinks is best. Even if they’re a true villain, they usually won’t see themselves as the “bad guy” because they can rationalize their actions, the same way we can often rationalize away our wrong actions if we’re not careful.

To your antagonist, it’s your main character who is the “bad guy,” the problem that’s standing in the way of achieving their goals, desires, and dreams.

What about society, nature, or self as the antagonist?

You can write a story like that. Castaway with Tom Hanks or Andy Weir’s The Martian both have nature or an environment as the antagonist. Those stories are much more difficult to write though.

Understand you’ve created an additional challenge for yourself, and make sure that you amplify your conflict. The risk with stories where the antagonist is the self, society, or nature is that there won’t be enough strong, urgent conflict on the page or that the conflict won’t be clear enough to understand and follow.

One thing that can often work is to choose a figurehead if your antagonist is self or society. Choose someone who will represent those antagonistic forces and give them a human face. Katniss in The Hunger Games was fighting against a decadent, oppressive society, but the human face of that was President Snow.

I’ll go over these external forces more in the next post where I talk about what your character needs to endure to achieve their goal.

Do you have other tips about antagonists or conflict that you’d like to share?

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Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out my Busy Writer’s Guides such as Description, Deep Point of View, or Internal Dialogue.

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Using Whom in Fiction

editors-cornerBy Chris Saylor

Deciding whether to use who or whom is one of those tricky areas of writing. How do you keep track of which word goes where? The answer is actually pretty simple: who is used as a subject, while whom is used as an object.

One way to remember when to use these words is to look at the words being referred to or the words that could fit in the same spot. For example, you would use whom in the same place you would use him or them. On the other hand, you would use who in the same place as he or she. It’s not always that simple, but that’s a good way to remember. For example:

Who:

“Who ate the last piece of cake?” I asked. “It was supposed to be mine.”

(If you answered that question, you’d answer “He ate the last piece of cake” and then point your finger at my father-in-law.)

Whom:

“To whom does this cell phone belong?” asked Mrs. Rodriguez.

(The answer would be “The cell phone belongs to him.”)

However, in one of my first posts, I talked about breaking grammar rules. In fiction, you can probably safely use who in most cases, but you could use whom in dialogue to show a character that is pretentious or an old-school English teacher.

Do you have any tricks for deciding when to use who or whom that you would like to share? If so, add it to the comments!

Every Saturday for the foreseeable future, I’ll be here in the Editor’s Corner, simplifying some of these grammar concepts for you and showing you how they specifically apply to your fiction. Coming up next week is Commonly Confused Words of the Month (I Could Care Less).

Want to hire Chris for a proofread or copy edit? You can find out more about him at https://saylorediting.wordpress.com, or you can email him to talk about rates and availability at christopher.saylor21 [at] gmail.com. You might also want to check out the book he co-wrote with Marcy, Grammar for Fiction Writers, available at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, or Apple iBooks.

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Creating Single-Author Box Sets: Part One

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Janice Hardy Fiction UniversityOne of the important elements of a successful indie author career is putting out as many products as possible (without sacrificing quality). The more items we have for sale, the better our chances that someone will stumble upon one of them or find one that interests them. Box sets are a great way to increase the number of products we have for sale without too much additional work.

I hope you’ll join me today for my regular guest post at Fiction University where I’ll be starting my mini-series on creating box sets.

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out my Busy Writer’s Guides such as Description, Deep Point of View, or Internal Dialogue.

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Homophone of the Month: Complement vs. Compliment

editors-cornerBy Chris Saylor

Most of us learn to speak the language before we learn to read it. As such, it’s no surprise that, when two words sound the same, we sometimes have a difficult time telling them apart. Usually these words are spelled differently but pronounced the same way. We call these homophones.

For one of my monthly features, I’ll be covering homophones. I’m going to explain the different meanings, and whenever I can, I’ll give you little tricks to help you remember the difference between them. If nothing else, you’ll at least realize going forward that these two words might be confused, and you’ll know when to look up the correct meaning.

Today we will be looking at complement vs. compliment.

According to Merriam-Webster, complement means “something that completes something else or makes it better” or “the usual number or quantity of something that is needed or used.” Below are two examples of the word:

My wife is an amazing person, and she complements me well. (She both completes me and makes me better.)

The ship’s complement of Marines readied itself for battle.

On the other hand, compliment means “a remark that says something good about someone or something” or “an action that expresses admiration or approval.” Below is an example of the word:

My wife complimented me on my shirt and tie combination. (She said it looked good.)

Now to try to help you remember the difference. For complement, remember that it takes at least two things to complete each other, and so the word has two E’s.

What words do you have trouble telling apart? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll make sure to feature them later.

Every Saturday for the foreseeable future, I’ll be here in the Editor’s Corner, simplifying some of these grammar concepts for you and showing you how they specifically apply to your fiction. Coming up next week is Using Whom in Fiction.

Want to hire Chris for a proofread or copy edit? You can find out more about him at https://saylorediting.wordpress.com, or you can email him to talk about rates and availability at christopher.saylor21 [at] gmail.com. You might also want to check out the book he co-wrote with Marcy, Grammar for Fiction Writers, available at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, or Apple iBooks.

Image Credit: Dave Di Biase/www.freeimages.com

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Understanding Goal, Motivation, and Conflict: MOTIVATION

signpost-motivation

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Last time we talked about goal in the triad of goal, motivation, and conflict. This week, we’re going to take the next step by talking about motivation.

Motivation is one of the most powerful forces in fiction. Our readers will follow our characters through anything as long as they believe the motivation.

Motivation is the why. Why does your character desperately want to achieve their goal?

This ties tightly into why the goal is important. It’s what’s at stake. What do they stand to lose if they don’t achieve their goal? That’s going to be part of what motivates them to reach it.

What’s easy to forget about motivation is that it comes on two levels—the external, conscious level and the internal, subconscious level. The best stories will have both and they’ll work together.

The external, conscious level is the obvious why.

The internal, subconscious level is the underlying need that your character probably isn’t even aware that they’re trying to fill.

I’ll give you a really simplistic example just to make the difference clear.

The character wants to get a raise at his job (his goal) so that he can buy a bigger house (his external motivation) because he believes that will earn him respect from his family (his subconscious need).

That one’s pretty obvious, but the connection doesn’t have to be blatant as long as the dual motivations work together.

An example that I really like is from the movie White House Down. The main character is ex-military, and he’s in the White House on a tour with his daughter when terrorists attack. The main character’s external goal is to save his daughter and the president from the terrorists who’ve taken over the White House. His external motivation is that if he doesn’t save his daughter, she’ll likely die, and if he doesn’t save the president, the terrorists will be able to launch nuclear weapons and start a world war.

His internal motivation is that he desperately needs his daughter to be proud of him and to prove to her that she can count on him.

Another way to look at this is that the external motivation is our plot and the internal motivation is our character arc. That internal need is the true driving force of the plot, and what our character experiences on the outside forces them along their internal arc and forces them to grow. We are all driven by our internal needs, whether we’re aware of them or not. 

Here’s why understanding the difference between external motivation and internal, subconscious motivation (the need) is so cool.

Your character might fail at their original external goal, but as long as that failure still meets their internal need or motivation, you’re going to have created a satisfying story.

Next time we’ll talk about how conflict interacts with goal and motivation! (If you missed last week’s post about the goal, you can find it here.)

Do you have any other tips about character motivation that you’d like to share?

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out my Busy Writer’s Guides such as Description, Deep Point of View, or Internal Dialogue.

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