About Marcy Kennedy

Posts by Marcy Kennedy:

The Fine Line Between Forgiveness and Accountability

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I’m going to admit up front that I haven’t been a huge fan of the Transformers franchise. I loved Transformers as a child, but I felt the first of the more recent movies was okay, and then the second two went downhill from there.

So I went into Transformers: Age of Extinction (movie #4) not expecting much. I only went because my husband loves the special effects and REALLY wanted to see them on the big screen.

And then I had to eat crow. Nicely roasted and basted with a raspberry-chipotle sauce of course, but crow nonetheless.

It wasn’t a perfect movie—far from it—but the dialogue made me laugh (in a good way), and I found myself drawn in by a new wrinkle. Optimus Prime was fed up with humanity and was tired of waiting for them to change.

Gone was the sacrifice-for-the-humans-at-any-cost Optimus from the past movies. He’d been disappointed and betrayed one too many times, and all he wanted to do was collect up the surviving Autobots and leave Earth for good.

Cade Yeager, the inventor and single father who is trying to help the Autobots, begs Optimus to give humanity a second chance. He claimed that screwing up is part of what humanity does. It’s what makes us human.

On one level, I agreed with Cade. Humans make mistakes, and we should be willing to forgive people for those mistakes. We should give second chances.

On another level, I disagreed because it sounded like Cade was arguing we should not only always forgive those who make mistakes but that we should continue to help them indefinitely, no matter how many times they make the same mistake and no matter how much we’re hurt by that mistake.

It’s the line between forgiveness (which I believe should always be extended) and allowing someone to walk all over you, never holding them accountable for their actions.

I know that the Transformers couldn’t hold humanity accountable or there wouldn’t have been a movie, but Cade’s answer felt trite. So many of the Transformers had been wrongly slaughtered, despite all they’d done in the past to save humanity. A “we’re humans and we make mistakes” reply didn’t cut it for me. And I had to wonder, is that how our society really feels now? Is there no place left for justice and accountability? Are we really expected to give infinite chances?

I believe mercy needs to be balanced with justice, and help needs to be balanced with accountability.

What do you think? Am I right or wrong? Is this how our society views mistakes, wrongs, and accountability now?

Interested in knowing when my novel is available to buy? Sign up for my newsletter. I give my newsletter subscribers exclusive discounts and freebies. I never share your email, and you can unsubscribe at any time!

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

Have You Committed Word Crimes?

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

My next Busy Writer’s Guide is now out, and to celebrate, here’s some Weird Al Yankovic!

Now, if you’re wondering why I’m playing a song about word crimes to celebrate the release of my newest book, it’s because the book is Grammar for Fiction Writers

Grammar for Fiction Writers

It’s not your same old boring grammar guide! This book is fun, fast, and focused on writing amazing fiction.

The world of grammar is huge, but fiction writers don’t need to know all the nuances to write well. In fact, some of the rules you were taught in English class will actually hurt your fiction writing, not help it.

Grammar for Fiction Writers won’t teach you things you don’t need to know. It’s all about the grammar that’s relevant to you as you write your novels and short stories.

Here’s what you’ll find inside:
Punctuation Basics including the special uses of dashes and ellipses in fiction, common comma problems, how to format your dialogue, and untangling possessives and contractions.
Knowing What Your Words Mean and What They Don’t including commonly confused words, imaginary words and phrases, how to catch and strengthen weak words, and using connotation and denotation to add powerful subtext to your writing.
Grammar Rules Every Writer Needs to Know and Follow such as maintaining an active voice and making the best use of all the tenses for fast-paced writing that feels immediate and draws the reader in.
Special Challenges for Fiction Writers like reversing cause and effect, characters who are unintentionally doing the impossible, and orphaned dialogue and pronouns.
Grammar “Rules” You Can Safely Ignore When Writing Fiction

Due to popular demand, I’ve made Grammar for Fiction Writers available in both print and ebook form.

You can buy Grammar for Fiction Writers at Amazon.com, at the Amazon site for your own country, at Kobo, or at Smashwords. More sites will be coming soon! Like all the full-length books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series, it’s priced at $2.99 at Amazon.com. If you’d like to buy it at Smashwords for $2.99, use the coupon code FB64J. (That coupon code is good until the end of September.)

I’d appreciate it if you’d share this post on Facebook, Google+, or wherever you hang out. And remember to add your favorite writing hashtag when you tweet! (Suggestions: #amwriting #amediting #writetip #MyWANA)

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

5 Guidelines for Approaching Book Review Bloggers


Image Credit: Michael Leach (freeimages.com)

Image Credit: Michael Leach (freeimages.com)

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Last month I talked about self-published book awards as one means to help build word of mouth and credibility for your book. Today I want to talk about another important method for letting readers know our book exists and (hopefully) that they’ll enjoy it—blog reviews.

I know blog tours have become a debated topic of late. Are they worth it? Aren’t they worth it?

In this post, I’m not talking about you running a blog tour where you do interviews and guest posts. I’m talking about approaching book review blogs to have them review your book.

If you follow these guidelines, you’ll increase both your chances of a review and your chances of a good review.

Join me today at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University for the 5 Guidelines for Approaching Book Review Bloggers!

I hope you’ll check out the books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series, including Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction and How to Write Dialogue.

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

Behind the Scenes: Elementals and Tricky Mother-Daughter Relationships

Melinda VanLoneToday I’d like you to welcome special guest Melinda VanLone. Melinda writes fantasy and science fiction, freelances as a graphic designer, and dabbles in photography. She currently lives in Rockville, Maryland, with her husband and furbabies. When she’s not playing with her imaginary friends you can find her playing World of Warcraft, wandering aimlessly through the streets taking photos, or hovered over coffee in Starbucks. And today she’s taking us behind the scenes into a world where people wield elemental magic.

Take it away Melinda…

I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of elementals, probably because in the online game I play, World of Warcraft, my character is a mage who has a water elemental for a pet. He protects her by shooting at the enemy, and provides companionship just by always being there. Sort of like a dog, but without the messy business of poop removal. When I first toyed with the idea of elementals, nothing seemed right because they seemed more like pets than people. I had a hard time ascribing desires and goals to something like that.

For the Xannon series, I took my love of the elements and gave the ability to the people instead, letting them be human first, with the ability to harness elemental power second. Just as some people tap into a natural musical or athletic ability, the people in the Xannon world all tap into one element or the other to fuel their natural magical ability. Most humans tap into one main element and, to a lesser extent, one other element. Tarian taps into Water and Air very strongly, and to a lesser extent, Fire, which is what makes her so powerful. Controlling three elements is extremely rare. Her sister Calliope is mostly Air, with water as secondary. It’s all hereditary, like having blue eyes or blonde hair, which means they came by their skills because of their parents.

The twist, of course, is that in general nobody knows who the father of the Keeper (heir to the House of Xannon) is, because of the Succession Ritual. Multiple partners donate their abilities to the child, which means Tarian’s strength is a blend of several men, plus her mother (a fierce and strong power all by herself). The same will be true for any of Tarian’s children. In Stronger Than Magic, Tarian’s journey toward motherhood begins and the spark of possible magical abilities swirls around the conception. Air, Earth, Water, and Fire. Four elements. A child who could wield that might be the strongest magical user ever in existence. Stronger, perhaps, than the Ancients themselves.

I suspect raising such a child might be a bit…problematic. How do you teach a child to control their magic when they’re stronger than you are? And once she’s grown, what might she accomplish?

That is what the House of Xannon series is all about. The cycle of life, mother to daughter, over generations, and the power of love to bind, protect, energize, and strengthen.

Promise Of MagicTarian’s story begins in Stronger Than Magic. Tarian Xannon fights demons like the rest of us. This time, the demon just happens to be real.

When Tarian Xannon is attacked by a demon-like creature, she realizes her talent with water, air and fire, while strong, might not be enough to protect herself or her family. She also learns that some things are stronger than magic, and worth fighting for.

Finding Flame introduces Macari, an air daemon who can walk the Corsaerie, a manifestation of pure Air energy that contains every event that has ever taken place, both daemon and human. When Tarian’s exploits cause ripples that spread through the Corsairie into the daemon plane, Macari is sent to investigate the cause of the chaos. She must report her findings before the mark of Air fades from her hand or be banished from her home forever. But the journey seems impossible, the human plane full of danger, and the way home is not easy. All that has been is written on the Wind, but can the past show Macari the way to a better future?

Tarian’s story continues in Promise of Magic. Despite the advanced stage of her pregnancy, Tarian has some explaining to do. Fulfilling her Agreement with the Carraig was an issue of honor—but it led to complications. Tarian embarks on a dangerous mission which could cost her the life of her unborn daughter, end in disaster for all planes of existence—or save the world.

Some promises are deadly to keep. Will the promise of magic be one of them?

If you could wield one elemental power, which would you choose?

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

Have You Orphaned Your Dialogue?

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Image Credit: Debbie Schiel (www.freeimages.com)

Image Credit: Debbie Schiel (www.freeimages.com)

Have you orphaned your dialogue?

You might think the question is odd, but orphaned dialogue is dialogue where the reader isn’t sure whose speaking, and it happens more than you might think. As the writer, we know exactly who’s speaking. We forget the reader can read only our words, not our minds.

Today I’m going to explain three ways we orphan our dialogue and how we can make sure it doesn’t happen. But first, some reminders.

If you’ve already read my How to Write Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide, then you’ll remember that every time you have a new speaker, you need a new paragraph, even if the dialogue is only one word long.

I hope you’ll also recall that I recommended you usually place your beat (the action) before your dialogue or at the first natural pause in the dialogue. If you choose to break this rule, I advised you to make sure you had a good reason for it.

These aren’t arbitrary guidelines. They’re recommended because they make your writing flow better and sound more natural, but also because they help you avoid orphaned dialogue. As we walk through the different ways dialogue can become orphaned, and you’ll quickly be able to see in some of the examples how following these guidelines could have avoided the problem.

So without further delay, here’s how we orphan our dialogue.

#1 – Too Many Lines of Unattributed Dialogue

We can have a speaker “claim” their dialogue using either a tag (like said or asked) or through an action beat.

Action Beat: My brother patted Luna’s head. “You dog looks like an alien.”

Tag: “Your dog looks like an alien,” my brother said.

However, not every line of dialogue needs a tag or a beat to identify the speaker. If you have only two speakers in a scene, you can leave up to three or four lines unattributed.

Frank tossed the apple to Mary. “An apple a day and all that.”

“I don’t like apples.”

“Everyone likes apples.”

“Not me. They crunch. I don’t like fruit that crunches.”

Frank held up a hand. “Give it here, then. No sense letting it go to waste.”

Orphaned dialogue can happen when we leave dialogue unattributed for more than three or four lines. Three or four lines is the most people can easily keep track of. Once you go beyond that, you risk the reader needing to count backward through the dialogue to figure out who’s speaking. (Three is a guideline, not a rule. Occasionally you can have more, but you need to be very careful that it’s not confusing.)

#2 – Scenes With Multiple Speakers

Scenes with multiple speakers are especially problematic because we need to be certain it’s clear who each line of dialogue belongs to. An unattributed line of dialogue could belong to anyone present. Let me give you an example to show you what this might look like and how following the two guidelines of a single speaker per paragraph and placing the beat before the dialogue makes sure we’re not leaving our dialogue orphaned.

In this example, we have three characters. Dorene, Dorene’s son Edgar, and the nun (Sister Mary Martha) who has come to speak to Dorene about Edgar’s behavior in school.

Dorene sighed and shuffled over to her stove. She fished around in the cupboards above.

“Do you mind if I have a cup of tea while we talk?”

She glanced at Sister Mary Martha.

“Would you like one?”

Sister Mary Clarence shook her head. Dorene fumbled with the lid on the kettle.

“I would like one.”

Edgar peeked hopefully at Dorene. Dorene scowled.

“I didn’t ask you.”

It’s almost impossible at times to know for sure who’s speaking. We can guess, but it’s not clear, and as soon as something isn’t clear, you risk losing the reader. Here’s how it should have been written.

Dorene sighed and shuffled over to her stove. She fished around in the cupboards above. “Do you mind if I have a cup of tea while we talk?” She glanced at Sister Mary Martha. “Would you like one?”

Sister Mary Clarence shook her head. Dorene fumbled with the lid on the kettle.

Edgar peeked hopefully at Dorene. “I would like one.”

Dorene scowled. “I didn’t ask you.”

I didn’t change any of the wording. All I did to make sure our dialogue wasn’t orphaned was follow the guidelines about beats and paragraphing. Now, even though we have multiple characters in this scene, it’s absolutely clear who is speaking what.

#3 – Writing About Two Characters in the Same Paragraph

But the sneakiest of the forms of orphaned dialogue is when we write about two characters in the same paragraph and then tack on a line of dialogue at the end.

Ellen waved her arm above her head, and Frank sprinted towards her. “I’ve missed you.”

Who said “I’ve missed you”? It could be Frank or it could be Ellen, and the reader has no way to tell which one it really is.

Ellen waved her arm above her head.

Frank sprinted towards her. “I’ve missed you.”

Now we know that it’s Frank who says “I missed you.”

When it comes to avoiding orphaned dialogue, always ask yourself, “If I hadn’t written it, would I know who was speaking?

Do you have any tips you’d like to share for avoiding orphaned dialogue? Is this something you struggle with?

Want more help with dialogue? Check out my book How to Write Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide. In it you’ll learn how to format your dialogue, how to add variety to your dialogue so it’s not always “on the nose,” when you should use dialogue and when you shouldn’t, how to convey information through dialogue without falling prey to As-You-Know-Bob Syndrome, how to write dialogue unique to each of your characters, how to add tension to your dialogue, whether it’s ever okay to start a chapter with dialogue, ways to handle contractions (or the lack thereof) in science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction, and much more!

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

How a Good Relationship Is Like a Ropes Course

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Image Credit: Knowwuh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Image Credit: Knowwuh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve always said I’m not afraid of heights. I’m afraid of falling from them. Or, more accurately, of the results of hitting the ground at the end of the fall.

However you want to describe it, when I get any distance off the ground, I experience vertigo, accompanied by freezing and clutching the closest stable object.

On our recent vacation, my husband and I completed a ropes course, including multiple zip lines. A ropes course is basically a series of elevated obstacles, ranging from 25 to 60 feet above the ground. (To put that in perspective, it’s higher than your average two-story home.)

You strap on a harness. The carabineers on that harness snap to a safety wire while you’re up on the course to keep you from plummeting to your death should you slip up while navigating an obstacle. But other than that, you’re on your own.

You might have to hop from post to post along a widely spaced path made of nothing more than wobbly poles that barely fit a single foot. You might have to balance along narrow logs suspended from ropes (and therefore swinging with every move you make). You might have to grab a rope and leap, swinging into a pirate’s net attached to a distant tree.

I wouldn’t describe a ropes course as fun for me. But this is the second one I’ve conquered, and as I was dangling from an obstacle that basically required you to traverse a series of swings, giving myself a pep talk to take that next step, I realized how much what my husband and I were doing was an excellent analogy for what a good relationship does as well.

(Yeah, I know. You know you’re a writer when…)

So here are the three lessons I learned about good relationships from braving a ropes course.

Image Credit: Leonhard-Eißnert-Park 06, Creative Commons

Image Credit: Leonhard-Eißnert-Park 06, Creative Commons

You sometimes do things that scare you or aren’t what you’d necessarily choose because those things are important to the person you love.

You might be asking why I would do a ropes course at all if I’m so afraid of heights. Well, I like to push myself so that my fears don’t control me. But, more than that, my husband loves ropes courses. I did it for him, because he wanted to.

My husband moved 600 miles and changed countries so that we could be together. It wasn’t his first choice to leave his home, but he did it because it was the best thing for us, as a couple. I’ve only been married three and a half years, but one of the things I learned early was that a relationship requires sacrifice and compromise to work. It can also require stepping out in faith.

When the person you love is weak and you’re strong, you don’t leave them behind. You encourage them, wait for them, and help them make it through safely.

My husband can fly through a ropes course. He’s fearless.

I’m so slow that twice I let other people pass me because I felt bad for holding them up.

My husband could have left me behind to pick my way through the course, but he didn’t. After each obstacle, he waited on the platform for me to catch up. At the end of a couple of zip lines, when I missed the stop rope and was going to slide backward away from the platform, he caught me and pulled me up rather than letting me struggle alone.

I’ve seen this same principle at work in my marriage and in the happy marriages of friends and family. It’s inevitable that at some point one half of a couple hits a rough patch. Maybe it’s depression. Maybe it’s a job loss that steals their confidence. Maybe it’s a life skill they never learned and are struggling to figure out. Maybe it’s a battle with an addiction.

We could give up on them. We could go try to find someone without any problems. (Good luck on that, by the way.) But what separates a good relationship from a bad one is when we stick it out, pick them up, dust them off, and help them figure out how to do better next time.

When you look back at the challenges you’ve faced, as difficult as they were at the time, you’re still glad you weathered them together.

After we finished the course, I was glad we’d gone. I have no doubt we’ll do yet another ropes course in the future. It was hard and it was scary, but that’s part of what made it an achievement.

Those of you who’ve been reading this blog long enough know some of the challenges my husband and I have faced, and those are only the ones I’ve shared. I’m sure most of you have similar stories of adversity.

Adversity is never fun at the time, but when we make it to the other side, we come out a stronger couple…with a good story to tell.

What every day experience taught you a lesson about good relationships or reminded you about what’s important in a relationship?

Interested in knowing when my novel is available to buy? Sign up for my newsletter. I give my newsletter subscribers exclusive discounts and freebies. I never share your email, and you can unsubscribe at any time!

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

Self-Published Book Awards: Are They Right for You?


Image Credit: Franz Diwischek

Image Credit: Franz Diwischek

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Even though the stigma of self-publishing has decreased over the last few years, it can still be difficult for indie authors to find ways to gain recognition and respect for their books.

Book awards are one way to help overcome that hurdle. Some of the best awards give the winners media exposure (leading to more book sales), cash prizes, and opportunities to speak with agents/editors from traditional publishing (if that’s a path the winner wants to consider). Beyond that, having an award win, or even an honorable mention, adds credibility to you and your book.

But not all awards are created equal. Some are scams. Some won’t give a good enough return on investment for your time and entry fees.

Before we enter any contest, we should ask ourselves a few questions about our book and about the potential competition.

If you’d like to read the rest of this post, please join me at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University where I’m talking about “Self-Published Book Awards: Are They Right for You?” as my regular monthly guest post.

I hope you’ll check out the books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series, including Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction and How to Write Dialogue. Now available in print!

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

Ester Meets District 9 – Digging Into Ellie Ann’s The Silver Sickle

SilverSickle-EllieAnn-FullCover-4Today I have a special interview for you. As you might imagine, as an editor, I have a difficult time reading for pleasure. So when I find a book I do enjoy, I like to tell people about it. Recently, I read The Silver Sickle by Ellie Ann, and as soon as I finished, I emailed to ask if she’d be willing to answer a few interview questions. I really wanted to share some of the fascinating elements of her novel with all of you!

What’s The Silver Sickle about? I’m glad you asked. Before we jump into the interview, here’s the description from Amazon.

The end of humanity will come through the Silver Sickle . . .

Farissa lives every moment with reckless abandon, for it may be her last. Any day now, the alien goddesses will harvest her and take her to the mysterious Silver Sickle, never to return. She’s accepted that. What she can’t accept is this new idea of freedom Zel has planted in her head. She’d give almost anything to be with Zel, but how can she run from her destiny if it means putting the whole kingdom in danger?

Everyone in the desert kingdom believes the goddesses are immortal, but Zel has invented a way to kill them. Now all he has to do is convince Farissa to run away with him and plant a seed of hope in her heart that she’s not destined to die. Little does he know that one seed of hope could change the course of the future.

And now for the questions. Please welcome Ellie Ann!

(1) As I was reading The Silver Sickle, I felt like I was reading a steampunk version of the story of Ester, the Jewish girl who was selected by the Persian king to become his new queen and had to risk his anger in order to stop the massacre of her people. How much did the story of Ester influence you and how did you decide what parts of Ester’s story to use and what parts to change?

The Silver Sickle is Esther meets District 9 (the science fiction movie). With robots.

I’ve always loved the story of Esther. It’s an epic father-daughter tale, fraught with danger and the fate of an entire nation. It’s also a great story in which a woman takes control of her life and she isn’t punished for it. Esther used her rare beauty, her sexual skills, prayer, and relying on friends to survive in the harem and then save her people. It’s a story rife with great tension and high stakes, and I wanted to make a science fiction version.

Once I started plotting I didn’t keep much of the original story, but it is definitely the inspiration for it.

I’d love to write about the life of David one day. Lots of horrible things happened to him, which makes for a good book. He was an underdog but he had monumental victories, both personal and political, which is the kind of story that draws lots of people.

(2) The “villain” race in your book is the Amar. For those who haven’t read the book yet, the Amar are considered goddesses by most of the human population. They harvest the humans they’ve set apart as consecrated and send them to the Silver Sickle (which they’ve told them is paradise). From the way you’ve described the Amar in the book, they sound like the worst nightmare for someone who’s afraid of insects—like giant, steel-shelled Praying Mantises. Was there a particular bug that inspired the Amar?

Ew, yes. They’re like roaches. The prawns from District 9 were the inspiration for the Amar, except the Amar have a human face with recognizable expressions. If these two pictures collided, you’d have the Amar.



(3) You’ve classified this book as a YA science fiction/steampunk. What would you say a book absolutely must include to be considered steampunk? Do you feel The Silver Sickle broke any of the expectations surrounding steampunk?

I consider my book steampunk because it’s based in a world where steam is the major power source. It also has robots. But technically, it’s more cyberpunk than steampunk. The best way to describe it is science fantasy.

The Silver Sickle broke the Victorian England trope of steampunk, as it takes place in a Persian-inspired setting. I’m delighted to see more and more steampunk stories take place in a non-western setting. My favorite of all time is the Leviathan series, by Scott Westerfield. The second book takes place in an Ottoman Empire inspired setting. It’s brilliant!

(4) One thing that always interests me is “Why this story? Why now?” Most writers have many ideas floating around in their heads, so why did you choose to write this particular one before the others?

It has to be challenging and fun.

I try to challenge myself with every book. The Silver Sickle was hard for me, but not too far above my skill set. These characters were also so FUN to write. I couldn’t wait to get back to their world every day. When I feel like that, I know I’m writing a story at the right time. It’s meant to be.

(5) What message/theme did you hope readers would take away with them after finishing your book?

Farissa learns that you need to hold onto what you love, and not give up on it.

Zel learns to not be obsessed with what you love, to set it free, to let it go.

If readers feel that along with them, I did my job.

Thanks so much for being here Ellie 🙂

Ellie Ann and a fan

Ellie Ann and a fan

Ellie Ann is a NYT and USA Today bestseller of thrillers, science fiction, and comics. Her latest work is Tale of Frida, a comic published by Motionworks Entertainment about a female werewolf in the Dark Ages. She’s a watcher, runner, reader, geek, and maker of egg rolls.

Twitter: @elliesoderstrom

Facebook: Ellie Ann Author

Website: ellieann.net

If you’d like to buy The Silver Sickle, you can find it on Amazon in print and as an ebook.

(Those are affiliate links. It doesn’t cost you extra to use them, but every purchase contributes a few cents towards helping me keep this blog up and running. If you don’t like the idea, feel free to search for The Silver Sickle on Amazon. It’ll pop right up 🙂 )

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

A Crash Course in Horror Sub-Genres

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Image Credit: Ariel da Silva Parreira (via freeimages.com)

Image Credit: Ariel da Silva Parreira (via freeimages.com)

Due to reader requests, I’ve extended my genre series to include horror.

As I bring this series to a close, I wanted to remind you that I can’t cover absolutely every option. My goal is to give you the main categories, so you can better understand where your book might fit or what you might be interested in writing in the future. Of all the genres I’ve covered so far, horror is the least clear cut in its sub-genres, but I think it’s still helpful as writers to at least attempt to categorize what style of story we’re writing.

Back in my post on fantasy genres, I noted that science fiction, fantasy, and horror often get lumped together into the category of speculative fiction, yet there are major differences between the three.

According to the Horror Writers Association, “horror can deal with the mundane or the supernatural, with the fantastic or the normal. It doesn’t have to be full of ghosts, ghouls, and things to go bump in the night. Its only true requirement is that it elicit an emotional reaction that includes some aspect of fear or dread.”

Great horror will tap into commonly held fears and should evoke feelings of terror, repulsion, loathing, and stress in the reader. One question people who don’t like horror frequently ask is why readers would want to scare themselves. Why would they want to experience those negative emotions? Before we can write good horror, we have to be able to answer that question.

In her essay “Elements of Aversion,” Elizabeth Barrette pointed out that our fight-or-flight response isn’t as necessary in modern society as it once was, but that we still crave the adrenaline rush. Hence, the horror genre was born. But Barrette also argues—and I agree—that the best horror does more.

She writes, “Sometimes a story intends to shock and disgust, but the best horror intends to rattle our cages and shake us out of our complacency. It makes us think, forces us to confront ideas we might rather ignore, and challenges preconceptions of all kinds. Horror reminds us that the world is not always as safe as it seems, which exercises our mental muscles and reminds us to keep a little healthy caution close at hand.”

Anyone who studied Dracula in university has heard the rhetoric about how the author was commenting on both the sexually oppressive norms of the time and on the corruptness and excess of the upper classes.

But all speculative fiction genres intend to force us to think and to shake us from our complacency.

Horror is unique in two ways. The first is the intensity of the warning and the second is the antagonistic force.

Horror will generally be much darker in tone and will make your heart race more frequently than will either science fiction or fantasy. Horror means to scare the reader, whereas the most science fiction or fantasy mean to do is warn them. It’s the difference between the weather forecaster on the news telling you that your area is under a tornado watch (fantasy/science fiction) and a local warning siren going off, telling you that you need to take cover immediately because a tornado is bearing down on your house (horror).

Unlike in any other genre, the antagonist in horror must always be a villain. Every book needs an antagonist (someone who stands in the way of our main character reaching their goal), but not every book needs a villain (who is, by definition, evil) as the antagonist. In horror, the villain must be, literally or figuratively, a monster.

Philosopher and film critic Noël Carroll put this best in his book The Philosophy of Horror. He said that a horror story must have a “menace” in it, and that menace needed to meet two criteria.

(1) It needed to be physically, psychologically, socially, morally, and/or spiritually threatening.

(2) It needed to be unnatural in some way. Carroll used the term “impure” because he didn’t mean that the menace couldn’t be naturally occurring in our world. He meant that the menace needed to be abnormal. A sentient car that wants to kill people is abnormal, but so is a serial killer. In some way, the menace must violate the norms of our society.

The most well-known award for horror is the Bram Stoker Award, presented by the Horror Writer’s Association.

Defining Horror Sub-Genres

Psychological Horror – You won’t find as much physical violence in psychological horror. In fact, you might find none at all. The trauma and agony in psychological horror is mental, and paranoia, suspicion, self-doubt, and mental illness are common.

Slasher Horror – When it comes to horror stories, slasher horror is the most graphic. The violence is depicted in detail, and the focus is often on the fragility of the human body. A common trope of this sub-genre is that the killer is seeking vengeance or to punish wrongs. So, for example, a community committed some horrible crime in the past and now the killer has returned to take revenge, or the (usually young) cast engages in illicit activities (like sex, drugs, or horrific bullying) and the killer wants to punish them.

Supernatural Horror – Stephen King became famous for his supernatural horror. As you might have already guessed from the name, supernatural horror contains supernatural abilities or beings—psychic powers gone wrong, vampires, the devil, demonic possession, poltergeists, and so on.

A sub-set of supernatural horror is ghost stories. Ghost stories aren’t always horror however. It comes down to the intent of the writer and the emotions they want to evoke in the reader. If your ghosts create a real threat for other people in your story, then you likely have a horror on your hands.

Survival Horror – The setting is what defines a survival horror story. Your character is separated from the wider civilization and not only has to survive the environment around him but also has to evade the terror stalking him. This isn’t the same as “teenagers in a cabin” in a slasher film. Your character is more likely the only survivor (or so he thinks) of some catastrophe or has become stranded with only a small group of other humans…followed by things going even more terribly wrong. The setting itself plays a large role in the horror because of the isolation from outside help and additional challenges it creates.

Science-Fiction Horror – You might think this one shouldn’t be included because it looks like it’s just a joining of two genres, and couldn’t we mash any two genres together this way? Yes and no. Horror doesn’t combine with any other genre in the same way that it does with science fiction. Science-fiction horror is a well-established sub-genre of horror and not of science fiction. It’s a horror story set in space, usually with alien creatures as the villains. Alien and Prometheus are both examples of this sub-genre.

Are there any sub-genres of horror you’d like to add to this list? If you’re a reader or writer of horror, what about the genre appeals to you?

I hope you’ll check out the books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series, including Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction and How to Write Dialogue.

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

Do You Believe in Fate or Free Will?

X-Men Days of Future PastBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Social Psychology and a Master’s degree in Theological Studies. During the years I was in school, I listened to and participated in debates on wide-ranging hot-button topics like nature vs. nurture, the definition of deviance, and the ethical lines behind human experimentation.

But no topic created more heated reactions from everyone involved than the question of fate vs. free will.

Do we have a destiny? Or is our future undetermined until we act, bringing it into reality?

Based solely on how often this theme arises in fantasy and science fiction, I think a lot of people struggle with this question. I ran into it again when my husband and I went to watch X-Men: Days of Future Past.

X-Men: Days of Future Past takes us into a future where mutants (and anyone sympathetic to them) are on the verge of extinction thanks to an invention known as the Sentinels. The Sentinels have the ability to adapt to any mutant power (mimicking it) because they were designed using Mystique’s DNA. (In case you’re not an X-Man fan, Mystique can shape-shift, changing her appearance to match anyone.)

The chain of events leading to this future started in 1973 when Mystique assassinated the Sentinels’ inventor. His company captured her and used her to develop the ultimate weapon to target and destroy mutants.

In the present day, Professor X, Magneto, Wolverine, and a group of other mutants figure out a way to send Wolverine back into the past to stop Mystique from killing the Sentinels’ inventor and getting herself captured.

The problem is that even though Wolverine succeeds in stopping the assassination, the future doesn’t change. They get Mystique’s blood anyway. The X-Men have to try to find another way to stop the creation and use of the Sentinels.

And Professor X begins to wonder if the future is set and there’s nothing they can do to change it.  

I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it, but at the end of the movie, Professor X leaves us with the opposite message—that the future is never really set.

I understand the pro and con arguments on both sides.

Believers in free will say that if our destiny is determined, we’re nothing more than puppets. Believers in destiny talk about lives serving a greater purpose and take comfort that whatever happens takes place for a reason.

When I was younger, I couldn’t stand the thought that my life might be on a path I couldn’t change, but the more I studied and thought and prayed, the more I came to believe that the future is pre-determined (though I also believe that doesn’t completely negate our free will either—it’s a delicate balance).

Where do you stand on the issue? What makes you believe in either complete free will, complete destiny, or a combination of the two?

If you like suspense, I hope you’ll take a look at my ebook Frozen, on sale over the summer for 99 cents. Twisted sleepwalking. A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag. And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality.

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

Enter your email address to follow this blog: