Marcy Kennedy

Have You Orphaned Your Dialogue?

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Image Credit: Debbie Schiel (

Image Credit: Debbie Schiel (

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!

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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?

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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!

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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


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 🙂 )

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A Crash Course in Horror Sub-Genres

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Image Credit: Ariel da Silva Parreira (via

Image Credit: Ariel da Silva Parreira (via

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.

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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.

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A Crash Course in Romance Sub-Genres

Romance GEnreBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Welcome to the second to last post in my genre rundown. I hope you’re feeling more confident when it comes to genres (a topic that gives most writers a headache). Today we’re taking a look at romance.

What Is Romance?

A romance is a story where the central focus (and the core conflict) revolves around a romantic relationship between two people. Unless you want angry readers, a mandatory ingredient is a happy ending.

If you’re writing romances, it would be a very smart move for you to join your local chapter of the RWA (Romance Writers of America). Because of how big and popular romance is as a genre, romance writers have more awards to pursue than any other genre, but the most coveted are probably the RITA (for published novels) and the Golden Heart (for unpublished novels).

Defining Romance Sub-Genres

Romance is slightly more complicated when it comes to classifying it than are the other genres because, along with the sub-genres per say, you also need to define the heat level of your romance.

Heat level in romance refers to how intense and explicit the intimate scenes are. Romance novelist Starla Kaye gives an excellent overview of heat levels in romance at her website, including what publisher lines print them and the classifications given to the various levels by different publishers.

Once you know your heat level, you can pick one of the following . . .

Contemporary Romance – As the name suggests, contemporary romances take place post 1960. This is kind of a catch-all category for romance that doesn’t fit in any of the others.

Historical Romance – The line dividing a historical romance from a contemporary romance is, frankly, a little fuzzy. If your book is set pre-1960, you’re probably safe calling it a historical romance, but my suggestion for this one is to find out what your ideal publisher defines as historical and go with their dividing line. If you plan to self-publish, look at how similar books are categorized on Amazon.

Western Romance – Set in the American frontier, or in a contemporary “western” setting such as the Canadian prairies or Australian outback, western romance readers expect to experience horses, cowboys, and a simpler way of life (though not a simpler plot line).

Gothic Romance – Gothic romance combines romance and horror and often involves a mystery. The darkness and terror should complement the sexual tension between your main characters.

Regency Romance – Set in regency-era (circa 1790-1820) Great Britain, it takes more than just a location and time period to make a successful regency romance. Readers expect wit and fast-paced dialogue like that found in Jane Austen’s novels. This sub-genre is less likely to include open discussions of sex than the other sub-genres (but a lot of subtext and innuendo can replace it). Marriages of convenience, false engagements, mistaken identities, and large differences in social class are popular elements.

Romantic Suspense – Romantic suspense is the most plot-driven of all romance and usually involves a strong heroine who finds herself in a dangerous situation. The key to a successful romantic suspense is to blend both elements so that neither overwhelms the other.

Paranormal Romance – Paranormal romances usually involve a romantic relationship between a human and a ghost, vampire, shapeshifter, werewolf, or some other non-human or quasi-human being. They can also focus around psychic abilities. Unlike with fantasies, the romance rather than the otherworldly elements is central. Kait Nolan’s Red and Jennette Marie Powell’s Hanger 18 Legacy are examples of paranormal romance. (As is Twilight technically.) Many people get confused about whether their book is urban fantasy or paranormal romance, but the answer is actually simple. If the core conflict of your book revolves around the romance, you’re writing a paranormal romance. If the core conflict of your book revolves around something else, even if it has strong romantic elements, it’s an urban fantasy.

Inspirational Romance – Inspirational romances will always fall to the most conservative end of the heat spectrum. If you want to sell an inspirational romance, don’t try to push the envelope. The envelope isn’t going to budge, and you’re just going to end up with a lot of very painful paper cuts. Inspirational romances always end either in marriage or the very strong potential for marriage, and the characters’ faith journeys need to be central to the plot and their relationship. Inspirational romance can serve as an umbrella category for the other sub-genres as well. For example, you could be writing a romantic suspense that’s also an inspirational romance because of the faith element to it (ala Dee Henderson’s books). Author Jody Hedlund writes inspirational historical romance.

If you’re writing a romance, regardless of the sub-genre, I strongly recommend you read Jami Gold’s post What Makes a Romance Believable?

Where does your book fit? What do you love about romance novels? What do you hate?

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.

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4 Tips for Setting Up Your International Amazon Author Central Pages

Amazon InternationalBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Last month, I walked you through the 6 Steps for Setting Up Your Amazon Author Page. In that post, I talked exclusively about your author profile on, but Amazon sells books all over the world. While setting up our author page on is the most important (because that’s where we’re likely to sell the most books), we shouldn’t overlook our author pages elsewhere.

You might be thinking, Why do I want to take the time to do that for non-English speaking countries?

The answer is simple. English is the most common second language in the world. Even if English isn’t the primary language of Germany or India or China, many people living in those countries still speak it, read it, or are trying to learn. Creating an author page on international sites gives us a leg up over authors who only bother to update their page.

Because you’ll want to add the same information as you did for your author page, I won’t go over all of that again. You can read my previous post for details. What I’m going to focus on in this post are the unique things to keep in mind when we’re updating our pages on the international sites.

I’m doing my regular monthly guest post today at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University, so if you’d like to read the rest of this post, please join me there.

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.

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Do You Trust In First Impressions?

I Robot First ImpressionsBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Many of us put a lot of faith in first impressions.  

In the movie I, Robot, the year is 2035, and robots are now a regular part of life as household servants and members of the public service professions.

As the movie opens, Detective Del Spooner has been called in to investigate what appears at first to be the suicide of Dr. Alfred Lanning, a CEO at one of the largest robotics firms. Spooner doesn’t believe Lanning killed himself. How, he asks himself, could a man of Lanning’s age have successfully thrown himself through the safety glass of his office windows?

Spooner goes to investigate Lanning’s office and finds an NS-5 (the most recent robot upgrade) in the office. Spooner believes the robot killed Lanning, despite the fact that the first law of robotics programmed in to all robots is that they cannot harm humans or allow a human to come to harm through inaction.

Spooner goes on a vendetta to prove the NS-5 killed Lanning.

The scientist who’s helping him can’t understand why he’s so determined to prove the NS-5’s guilt until Spooner reveals that a few years earlier he was in a car accident where his car and another were pushed off a bridge by a semi-truck. A robot saw the accident and saved Spooner instead of saving the twelve-year-old girl in the other car. Spooner has hated and distrusted robots ever since.

That one instance, a single impression of the robot’s inability to realize that it should have saved the little girl, formed Spooner’s whole opinion of robots.

It’s not until Spooner can get past the prejudice formed by his “first impression” that he can actually figure out not only who actually killed Lanning but also why.

As I was watching I, Robot, I couldn’t help but wonder how often I’ve been blinded by first impressions too.  

I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of a wrong first impression, and I know how much it can hurt. Midway through my undergraduate university degree, I decided I wanted to go on to a master’s degree once I graduated. A guy I barely knew overheard me talking about it, and later said to a girl he didn’t realize was my friend, “She’ll never make it. She’s not smart enough.”

He made that assumption having no more than a first impression of me. He didn’t know my IQ. He didn’t know my grades. He didn’t know my work ethic. He saw a shy girl who liked (and still likes) to smile a little too much and he made an assumption. A wrong assumption. School was always easy for me.

Thankfully his words wounded nothing more than my pride, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes judging another person on a first impression can have lasting consequences.

I almost missed out on the opportunity for a friendship that’s now lasted for over 20 years because of a wrong first impression.

Those two situations combined have me wonder how many times I’ve trusted my first impressions when I shouldn’t have.

I thought I’d bring the question here and see what all of you thought.

Do you trust in first impressions? Have your first impressions always been right? Why do you think so many of us do trust in first impressions?

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. 

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A Crash Course in Mystery Sub-Genres

Mystery Genres

Image Credit: Lance Kidwell

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

In my genre examination I’ll still be covering romance and horror. If there’s any genre that I haven’t covered that you wish I would, please leave a comment or send me an email. If enough people request a post on a not-yet-covered genre, I’ll happily oblige. These Thursday writing posts are meant to help you.

What Is a Mystery?

Last time we talked about genre, I picked apart the differences between mysteries, suspense, and thrillers.

In that post, I pointed out that mysteries are meant to be a puzzle. The thing that mystery readers enjoy about the genre is solving the puzzle of the crime (usually a murder) alongside the main character. If you tell them whodunit early in the story, they’ll feel cheated. The main character needs to be the one investigating the crime, but they can be either a professional detective or an amateur sleuth. Mysteries tend to share the common characteristics of red herrings and that the first person the main character suspects turns out not to be the bad guy in the end. The main character in a mystery usually isn’t in any danger throughout the book, or if she is, it’s either moderate danger or she’s only in danger as she closes in on the identity of the suspect.

If you’re a mystery writer, you may want to join the Mystery Writers of America. Two of the most prestigious awards for mystery writers are the Arthur Ellis Award (Canada only and given out by the Crime Writers of Canada) and The Edgar Allen Poe Awards (which includes the Mary Higgins Clark Award as a category).

Defining Mystery Sub-Genres

Cozy Mystery – Cozies are the softest version of mysteries. They don’t have explicit sex or violence, and are often set in small towns rather than big cities. The protagonist is a female layperson (think Murder She Wrote) with a knack for getting into trouble and solving puzzles. She’s not a member of the police or other law enforcement. In fact, the police in the story probably view her as a pest.

The fraternal twin of the cozy mystery is the hobby mystery. Basically this is a cozy where the main character is involved in a niche hobby and the crime is intimately involved with that hobby. For example, your protagonist collects rare books and a rare book is stolen from the used bookstore in town.

Elizabeth Spann Craig is a good example of a cozy mystery writer (and she also has some books that could be considered hobby mysteries).

Police Procedural – The focus of a police procedural isn’t so much on the reader figuring out who the criminal is but rather on how to catch him and prove he was the one who committed the crime. Because of this, the bad guy is often figured out earlier in the book than would be the case in other mystery sub-genres. Readers of police procedurals expect detailed descriptions of the investigative techniques used by the police. For a TV example, look no farther than CSI.

General Mystery – The protagonist in a general mystery is normally a private detective rather than a police officer (police procedural) or a layperson (cozy mystery). Oftentimes, however, the PI will have a non-PI friend/employee/client who plays a key role in the plot as well. The emphasis in these stories is definitely the puzzle of whodunit. Examples include The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith and A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton.

Historical Mystery – These stories revolve around a historically significant crime (real or fictionalized). Anne Perry and Steven Saylor are well-known writers in this sub-genre. An excellent up-and-coming author in this sub-genre (in my opinion) is K. B. Owen with her Concordia Wells mysteries.

Noir/Hardboiled Mystery – On the opposite end of the mystery spectrum from the cozy is the noir or hard-boiled sub-genre. With its realistic, gritty portrays of sex and violence and dark tone, this sub-genre got its name from its tough voice and unsentimental take on life. Protagonists are so deeply flawed, self-destructive, or damaged as to almost be anti-heroes. These mysteries aren’t for the faint of heart.

Do you prefer to know the criminal in a mystery or do you like to try to figure it out as the book goes along?

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.

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