You are on page 1of 12

Many Genres, One Craft:

Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction

Edited by
Michael A. Arnzen and Heidi Ruby Miller

Headline Books, Inc.


Terra Alta, WV
Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction

Edited by Michael A. Arnzen and Heidi Ruby Miller


copyright ©2011 Michael A. Arnzen and Heidi Ruby Miller

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any other form or for any means, electronic
or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage system, without written permission from Headline
Books, Inc.

To order additional copies of this book or for book publishing information:

Headline Books, Inc.


P. O. Box 52
Terra Alta, WV 26764
www.headlinebooks.com

Tel/Fax: 800-570-5951
Email: mybook@headlinebooks.com
www.headlinebooks.com

Michael A. Arnzen
arnzen@gorelets.com
www.gorelets.com

Heidi Ruby Miller


heidirubymiller@gmail.com
http://heidirubymiller.blogspot.com

http://manygenres.blogspot.com

ISBN-13: 978-0-938467-08-3

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Many genres, one craft : lessons in writing popular fiction / edited by Michael A. Arnzen and Heidi
Ruby Miller.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN 978-0-938467-08-3
1. Fiction--Technique. 2. Popular literature--Technique. I. Arnzen, Michael A. II. Miller, Heidi
Ruby.
PN3365.M265 2011
808.3--dc22
2011006932

PRINTED IN THE U N I T E D S TAT E S OF AMERICA


Many Genres, One Craft

Putting Our Heads Together:


An Introduction to Many Genres, One Craft
by Michael A. Arnzen

Once upon a time, writers worked with editors like apprentices under master
craftsmen. Writers were understudies to their editors, who would patiently walk
them through every step of the revision process, teaching them about the finer points
of style and training them in the business side of publishing along the way. Editors
were a kind of educator, and writers were their students, working on their final
thesis: a published book.
Yes, once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, the writer-editor relationship
was like getting your Master’s degree in fiction writing. Writers, once they got their
foot in the publisher’s door, worked with mentors who they could call or lunch with
for advice as they collaborated on a title, refining a raw book into a best-selling work
of great merit. And, just like Pygmalion, these advisors would transform the writer
from a hack dreamer into a celebrated master wordsmith along the way.
As you might guess, this “My Fair Manuscript” scenario is a nostalgic fantasy.
It simply doesn’t work that way in publishing. Today, more than ever, economic
need drives the business—which in most cases is a relatively cold corporate busi-
ness that can’t afford the luxuries of yesterday’s independent operations—and edi-
tors have to answer to a publishing house’s marketing team more than they do the
literati down the street. It is true that writers learn a great deal of their art from their
editors, and editors often do have to educate their writers about the way the book
business really operates. But the rules of the game have drastically changed since the
early days of publishing and the writer-editor relationship has sadly suffered.
Editors don’t teach writers so much as they manage them and usher their manu-
scripts like footballs through the corporate goalposts. Writers are already expected
to be “masters” of their art when they first come knocking on their door; there is no
time for teaching and that’s not what editors are paid for. The competition for an
editor’s attention, moreover, is tougher than it’s ever been, because so many of the
manuscripts that come over-the-transom are written by well-educated writers. Pub-
lishing is more like Donald Trump’s The Apprentice than a true apprenticeship, and
if you don’t know what you’re doing when you enter the boardroom, you’re going
to get fired (imagine the trademarked finger point when you open your letter: “You’re
rejected!”).
Writing is a tough business and it’s only grown colder as the trade has evolved.

10
Arnzen and Miller

That’s why writers turn to each other for a little human warmth. They find
communities of like-minded people on the internet, whether on genre fiction discus-
sion boards or in mutual support systems like National Novel Writing Month
(NaNoWriMo.org). They join local writing workshops or travel to conventions; they
take seminars and read scores of how-to books. They find mentorship in writer’s
groups or unions or graduate schools, or they head to the library or the bookstore to
give themselves a crash course in the art and business of writing.
They turn to books like the one you are holding.
Many Genres, One Craft is like a graduate writing program housed between
the covers of a book. We mean this quite literally: every author in this collection of
instructional advice is a college teacher, published graduate, or visiting writer of merit
attached in some way to Seton Hill University’s MFA program in Writing Popular
Fiction—the country’s only graduate writing program exclusively dedicated to writ-
ing novels intended for the mass market. Our program is custom-tailored to com-
mercial novelists who want to write genre fiction well. We are an educational com-
munity like any other graduate writing program, but unique because we are more
interested in helping writers produce books that are actually read by a wide audi-
ence than we are in debating inside the funhouse of literary theory. Our pragmatism
sets us apart, but we are not a hack factory: We are driven to help others succeed
as freelancers and entrepreneurs, and our advice about the entertainment industry is
hard-nosed and realistic, earned from hard-won experience. Our teaching is not
crassly commercial: we know that writing popular fiction takes as much craft and
thoughtfulness as any other form of storytelling, and that it carries as much influence
on our culture as fine literature. Perhaps its writers carry even more responsibility for
what they write because of their potential impact on readers worldwide.
If you’re just getting started, you might be surprised to learn that your interest in
writing in the genre you love may identify you as a lowbrow hack. A bias exists
against those who want to write for profit and fame, because writers—ostensibly—
are producing literary art in the service of mankind. But all books serve mankind
equally, and it is a shame that our society tends to separate books into “literary” and
“popular” works of fiction. We know this boundary between “high” and “low” cul-
ture is arbitrary, based on the assumption that it takes one part genius and one part
schooling to become “literary” and write the books that will stand the test of time,
while —the logic goes—any dumb clown can write the dross that the masses con-
sume like so much prefab macaroni and cheese.
Yes, and anyone can write a book, right? If you’ve tried, you know how hard
it really is. And how many obstacles there are along the way from inventing an origi-
nal idea to seeing it ushered into print. Even Shakespeare and Dickens—some of the
most popular writers of their day—knew how hard this craft really is.

11
Many Genres, One Craft

Everyone enjoys a good read, and most of the literati will concur that yesterday’s
pop fiction is today’s classic literature, but the prevailing attitude that genre fiction is
gutter entertainment still circulates—especially in academia—because, for many,
entertainment is a guilty, almost bodily, pleasure. The notion that popular fiction is
easy fiction is a self-congratulatory myth perpetuated by elites. Most graduate schools
won’t teach it, not only because it is “mere entertainment,” but because their faculty
are trained in scholarly approaches to highbrow literature that eschew popular genres.
And, perhaps rightfully so, they know that teaching good writing in general will ben-
efit any writer, whereas teaching, say, science fiction writing will likely only make
their students better at writing science fiction, and worse, may produce formulaic
rubbish. Thus, most grad schools focus only on the craft and spend time amplifying
the writer’s individual voice—and often will reject genre writers from their ranks
without ever lending them their ear in the first place.
We’re a little different. We realize it takes good writing to break into the literary
marketplace at every level. Whether highbrow or low, literary mainstream or cat-
egorically genre, there is ultimately one core skill that all writers must have: the ability
to tell a good story through effective writing. But when a writer is spinning a yarn of
a particular type, a genre tale, then even more special knowledge is required to win
over an audience, not less. On top of voraciously reading within the genre to know
its history, genre writers have to meet particular requirements that editors are looking
for. This is why you find so many amateur workshops at genre conferences, or even
full-fledged genre writing retreats hosted by veteran authors: because genre writers
need to learn about their genre’s elements to write it successfully. It’s too bad the
traditional world of academia can’t find a home for many of these groups, which are
often far more professional and literary than most people realize.
We believe that an open-minded, concentrated study of popular fiction can
only build on the more general craft of writing. And we believe that when writers—
no matter what their genre or background—put their heads together, shamelessly,
they write better books.
We have put our heads together to create this book, in the hope that it will help
you write a better book, too.
As you’ll see, there is a rich diversity to this collection, and this is intentional:
we feel that writers of all genres benefit from studying all elements of the craft, even
in genres that they might not normally read. Indeed, in our program at Seton Hill
University, “inter-genre” learning is one of the unexpected benefits that students of-
ten discover. A vampire novelist might learn a great deal from a category romance
writer if, for example, their neck-biter happens to be a seductress. Likewise, if a
romance writer’s alpha male lead character is a firefighter, she might pick up some
great tips for depicting a suspenseful firefight scene from a writer of action thrillers.

12
Arnzen and Miller

And if you are a writer interested in writing “hybrid” or “cross-genre” fiction like
paranormal romance, then you’ve found a handy resource in this anthology, which
combines such a rich spectrum of genre advice between its covers.
A book is no substitute for the hands-on experience of a writing workshop or
the one-on-one mentoring one would get from a faculty member assisting them with
their novel. This text is not a “bible” descended from our degree program. Yet Heidi
Ruby Miller and I do like to think of this book as a “snapshot” of any given residency
in our college’s Writing Popular Fiction program, and we followed its model in orga-
nizing its contents. Half of the program’s curriculum is focused on “core” classes in
the craft of writing (seminars in the basic elements of fiction like character, plot,
setting, and dialogue) in addition to practical elements of the profession (like critiqu-
ing, researching, marketing manuscripts, etc.). This establishes a common dialogue
and a foundation for learning that all writers share. The other half of the curriculum
allows students to pick and choose elective courses in their chosen “genre”—with
course titles ranging from the necessary and important, like “Talking the Talk in Crime
(and Other) Fiction” to the quirky and wildly specific, like “To Dream a Dragon.”
The diversity of our program, like the diversity in genre fiction, emphasizes a balance
between fresh invention and familiar convention.
Here, in Many Genres, One Craft, you’ll get a smorgasbord of genre learning
that has a similar balance. But devise your own curriculum: you can pick and choose
chapters according to your special interests, skipping the parts that seem irrelevant—
or you can read it cover to cover in order, absorbing every speck of wisdom and
inspiration that awaits you. With about sixty contributors on board, I think you’ll find
this a satisfying buffet.
They say writing can’t be taught. There’s some truth to that. Writers must write
to learn. Only by applying ideas do we really learn what we need to know. We
learn from our own mistakes, as much as from the wisdom of others. And the learn-
ing process is often fuzzy and highly individualized. But in the decade-plus that I have
been teaching in the Writing Popular Fiction program at SHU, I have learned that
there is no such thing as a wasted effort when it comes to improving. Every act of
writing—even when it seems like busy work—pushes you one step closer to mas-
tery. We don’t always learn how to write from “how-to” books like this one; instead
we learn how readers read, how editors think, and how people experience this funny
business called fiction.
You could just as easily learn all of this on your own from the proverbial school
of hard knocks, but why bother with the hard knocking when you can get all this
advice here, in addition to so many other shortcuts and tips? Knowing the experi-
ences of others helps to prepare us to engage them in our own writing. There is a lot
of wisdom in this book. Wisdom you won’t find elsewhere.

13
Many Genres, One Craft

A fringe benefit of attending a graduate program—perhaps the primary ben-


efit—is building a network of partners, a community of kindred spirits. We hope that
you will find those like-minded colleagues in the pages of this book. We’re all in this
genre business together. We suspect you’ll get just as excited reading this book as
we do when we assemble together on campus to study the genres and craft that we
love so much. At the end of each graduate residency, our students and faculty alike
depart inspired, eager to put into practice all that they’ve learned. We hope that—
above and beyond all the valuable information and instruction you will pick up in this
rich and diverse anthology—you will be just as energized, just as excited to return to
your own writing, renewed, empowered and ready to tackle the challenges that
every writer must face, ultimately, alone with the blank page.
But if it gets too lonely, look us up. We’re online at http://fiction.setonhill.edu
We offer a Master of Fine Arts degree to those who are qualified...but we also have
an annual conference and retreat that the alumnae host, which features great guest
editors, agents, and writers, and is open to all comers.
However, this is not a sales pitch for our writing program, nor an advertisement
for our school. This is a writer’s residency in a bottle. In fact, coffee break is over
and class is about to begin. Let’s get started, shall we?

14
Contents
Putting Our Heads Together: An Introduction to Many Genres, One Craft
by Michael A. Arnzen ......................................................................... 10

CRAFT

STYLE AND PROCESS


You Have to Start with SOMETHING, So It Might As Well Be
Something Like This by Gary A. Braunbeck ............................................ 16
Don’t Be a Bobble-Head, and Other Bits of Guidance by Timons Esaias .......... 24
Tuning Up Your Writing by Michael A. Arnzen .............................................. 32
Dumping the Info Dump by Maria V. Snyder ................................................ 39
Powerman Writes Women’s Fiction: On Writing What You Know
by Matt Duvall .................................................................................. 43
Your Very First Editor by Lee Allen Howard ................................................. 47
Make Revising Work for You, Not Against You by Adrea L. Peters .................. 53
Perfect Disaster: Don’t Let Perfectionism Squash Your Creativity
by Anne Harris .................................................................................. 59

CHARACTER AND DIALOGUE


M&Ms for Characters by Sharon Mignerey ................................................. 64
Tough Love: Make Your Protagonist Suffer by Randall Silvis .......................... 69
BE AN ARCHETYPE, NOT A STEREOTYPE by Heidi Ruby Miller .............................. 71
Going Deeper: Point of View Beyond the Basics by W.H. Horner .................... 73
A HELPFUL TACTIC: THE TEMPLATE TEXT by Timons Esaias ............................. 76
Empowering Female Characters by Barbara J. Miller ..................................... 78

PLOT AND STRUCTURE


Demystifying What Editors Want by Venessa Giunta ..................................... 82
Give Your Reader Whiplash: Pacing in Fiction by KJ Howe ............................. 86
Pick Up the Pace by Tim Waggoner ............................................................ 91
Deus Ex Machina Undergoing Repairs: Save Your Characters by
Letting Them Save Themselves by Mike Mehalek ................................... 96
Blurring the Line: How Reality Helps Build Better Fiction
by Scott A. Johnson ......................................................................... 100
Put a Little Love in Your Life: The Perks and Perils of Romantic Subplots
by Ron Edison ................................................................................ 105
PREVENTION: TECHNIQUES TO CONTROL ROMANCE by Ron Edison .............. 109
SETTING
Setting as a Character: It’s More than a Backdrop by Susan Crandall ............ 111
Painting Your Setting with Concrete Nouns by Jason Jack Miller ................... 115
SETTING LIMITS: WORKING IN SMALL SPACES by Jason Jack Miller ................ 119
Writing from Place Across Cultures by Karen Lynn Williams ......................... 121
Set in History by M.A. Mogus ................................................................. 125

GENRE

GENRE AND ORIGINALITY


Genre Unleashed by Michael A. Arnzen .................................................... 130
No Such Thing as Original Sin by Thomas F. Monteleone ............................. 138
I Write Genre Fiction but Want to Be a Real Writer Someday
by John DeChancie .......................................................................... 142
Readers Resent Change by Tess Gerritsen ................................................. 147

ROMANCE AND WOMEN’S FICTION


Write from the Heart by Crystal B. Bright ................................................ 150
Creating My Niche in Romantic Suspense by Dana Marton .......................... 154
HEROES IN ROMANCE by Barbara J. Miller ............................................................ 157
Talking About Dialogue by Natalie Duvall .................................................. 158
A Serious Look at the Funny Bone by Elaine Ervin ....................................... 163
Tomorrow’s Kiss: The Duality of SF Romance by Heidi Ruby Miller ............... 167

SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY


Building Science Fiction and Fantasy Worlds by Nancy Kress ........................ 172
Description on the Edge: The Sublime in Science Fiction
by Albert Wendland .......................................................................... 177
Cyperpunk Remastered: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love
Postmodernism by K. Ceres Wright .................................................... 182
THE BRASS TACKS OF STEAMPUNK by Christopher Paul Carey ........................ 185
To Dream a Dragon by Rachael Pruitt ...................................................... 187
Sex, Death, and Chocolate in the Middle Ages:
Adding Realism to Your Fantasy by Russ Howe .................................... 191

HORROR, MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE THRILLERS


Ruining Everything: Tips for Plotting a Mystery by Victoria Thompson .......... 196
Talking the Talk in Crime (and Other) Fiction by David Shifren ...................... 200
The Element of Surprise: Psyching-out Readers of Horror,
Mystery and Suspense by Michael A. Arnzen ....................................... 205
MAKING MODERN MONSTERS: by Michael A. Arnzen ......................................... 213
Dark and Story Nights: Mood and Atmosphere in Horror
by Mary SanGiovanni ....................................................................... 216
The Shifting Grail: A Quest for a Good Read by Heidi Ruby Miller ............... 220
To Thine Own Self Be True: Five Pieces of Advice for Potential
Thriller Writers by David Morrell ........................................................ 223

CHILDREN’S AND YOUNG ADULT FICTION


Ten Ways to Avoid Losing Your YA Reader by Patrice Lyle ........................... 227
Linking Past to Present by C. Coco De Young ............................................ 232
Keeping It Real: Mixing Truth and Fiction in YA by Jenn Brisendine ................ 236
AND THE AWARD GOES TO by Teffanie Thompson White .................................... 240
If You Write It, They Will See It: Picture Book Illustrations
from the Writer’s Point of View by Karen Lynn Williams ......................... 242

ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES
I Write Short Stories by Michael Bracken .................................................. 246
Magical Realism as Genre: Or Waiter, There’s an Angel in My Soup
by Jason Jack Miller ......................................................................... 250
ESSENTIAL MAGICAL REALISM: By Jason Jack Miller .......................................... 254
The Manga Explosion by Sally Bosco ........................................................ 256
FROM FAR EAST TO WEST by Sally Bosco ........................................................... 261
A Primer for Writing Media Books by Steven Piziks.................................... 263

THE WRITER’S LIFE

LEARNING
Lessons from the Vampire Slayer by Catherine Mulvany .............................. 270
Pursuing the Graduate Degree by Chun Lee ............................................. 275
The Pot-Bellied Pig Method of Critiquing by Kaye Dacus ............................ 279
Working the Workshop: How to Get the Most Out of Critique Groups
(Even the Bad Ones) by Michael A. Arnzen .......................................... 283

WORKING
One Writer, Many Genres by Ryan M. Williams .......................................... 289
Writing More by Susan Mallery ............................................................... 293
Time Management: Creative Paths to Productivity by Lee McClain ............... 297
NEARLY FINISHED by Nicole Peeler ........................................................................ 301
The Seven Habits That Got Me Published by Shelley Bates .......................... 303
How to Get an Agent by Ginger Clark ...................................................... 308
eFabulous: Publishing in a Paperless World by Penny Dawn ........................... 311
The Teaching Writer by Lawrence C. Connolly .......................................... 315
Teaching Young Writers by Diane Turnshek ................................................ 319
Where Do I Go From Here? Being Orphaned by Leslie Davis Guccione ......... 323

PROMOTING
Getting Your Words Out: The Basics of Promoting Your Fiction
by Rebecca Baker ............................................................................ 328
I’ll Scratch Your Back and You Promote My Book by Heidi Ruby Miller ......... 334
TOURING VIRTUALLY by Heidi Ruby Miller ........................................................... 337
To Be Reviewed or Not to Be Reviewed by Lynn Salsi ................................. 339
Successful Book Signings: The Personal Touch by David J. Corwell ............... 344
THE TOP TEN EXCUSES PEOPLE GIVE WHEN THEY HAVE NO INTENTION OF
BUYING MY BOOKS by David J. Corwell .................................................................
Guerilla Marketing: The Reality of Selling Your Book by Patrick Picciarelli ...... 350
Networking at Conventions by Lucy A. Snyder .......................................... 354
PERSIST! by Michael A. Arnzen .............................................................. 358

Resources and References


Related How-To Books ........................................................................... 360
In Print ................................................................................................ 361
Websites & Other Media ........................................................................ 378

PREORDER TODAY FROM AMAZON.COM.


...
Visit us at http://manygenres.blogspot.com for contributor
updates and more helpful information!