Thursday, August 23, 2007

Genres, Rating Systems, and Rules

I've been noticing lots of talk on the loops lately about these three things.

Rules change depending upon the kind of writers involved. Romance rules are very different from literary writing rules, which are different from chick lit, etc. Nobody's wrong. Nobody's right.

Do I think there is one standard for good writing? Of course not.

But then, I might be the weird one out. I love a good story, and if I can get caught up in the tale -- and the writing is good enough to seduce me into the vibe of the words -- I probably won't have any opinions about whether or not the author followed any "rules." (Harry Potter's J.K. Rowling is a good example of an excellent storyteller who often got accused of "doing it wrong.")

I know about all those rules, but I don't pay much attention to them. I tend to write intuitively, and so far (having sold a few things), so good. It isn't that I don't give any credibility to those rules. It's that labeling anything doesn't work for me. For example, I would never use the words "info dump" when doing a critique of a writer's pages. First, info dump is definitely in the eye of the beholder. Lots of the books I enjoy have LONG passages of "info dump," which I adore. The book "The Historian" comes to mind. There were frequent posts on various loops about how that huge book was "filled with info dumps." Hmmm. Not necessarily. Just another style -- another type of writing.

I'd never say "show don't tell." I'd be more inclined to give the writer examples of what I'd love to know more about. And, the level of "telling" varies from style to style.

Someone recently told me that newer writers tend to be more critical than more seasoned writers. I wonder if that's true?

Maybe we cling to rules more in the beginning, before we acquire our own confidence, styles and voices?

I sat in on a writing group a while back where the 10 people in the group (who get together regularly) picked apart one member's pages, each trying to sound more sophisticated, knowledgeable and hip than the one before. They all had the "rules" down cold. Nobody mentioned what an excellent underlying theme the pages had. Nor did they mention the writer's amusing voice. They took their colored markers to all the adverbs, used a different color on the adjectives, indicated with yet another color all the contemporary references -- in general gutted and disemboweled the story. It was painful to watch. And what a waste of time. I hope the writer in question will totally ignore everything they said and will merrily return to her computer and keep writing.

Following the rules doesn't make someone a good writer.

Rules, in the wrong hands, can be toxic.


The idea of "rating systems" is floating about on the loops, as well.

I think most of the discussion is about "heat level," and I don't have a lot of opinions about that. Before I buy ANY book, I read a lot of information about that book on the author's website, the publisher's website, and I look at various reviews. Mostly, I can get a good idea of whether something is to my liking before I purchase. And, honestly, with some publishers you can pretty much count on things being hot.

What has come up as an interesting thing for me with my upcoming book, is that I've had several people (reviewers and prospective readers) measure my book (which is definitely sensual with adult situations -- adult, meaning the characters behave as mature adults in every way, emotionally, sexually, etc.) against much more erotic vampire stories and then give me a lower score because it lacked "heat." I never claimed mine had "heat." I'm not sure measuring all books against that particular standard is very helpful.

All of the reviews I've gotten so far for THE VAMPIRE SHRINK have been very favorable (hey, it's early yet, but my fingers are crossed). In one case, the reviewer said wonderful, positive things. Then she gave me a very low "score" because the story wasn't sizzling enough. What? Where did it say anywhere that my book was erotic or romantica? My book is a paranormal/urban fantasy w/some romance, some sex, some mystery, and some humor. Huh?

Which leads me to the issue of genres. A couple of years ago, all I heard from agents/publishers was that I needed to clarify the genre of my book. I needed a clear niche -- an easily understood bookstore-shelf placement. So, I kept changing my description.

First I described it as a paranormal romance. Then I got feedback that, since there's more than one man in my heroine's life, my story couldn't possibly be paranormal romance. Hmmm. Okay. Well, what about chick lit? My story is about the journey of the heroine, so maybe that's the best category for it. Well, wait. My heroine doesn't seem to care about the things other chick lit heroines care about. Scratch that. What about women's fiction? Yeah, that could work. But what about the paranormal aspect? Er, paranormal women's fiction? Maybe. Well, hey! What about urban fantasy? My story takes place in contemporary Denver, it involves vampires and other unusual creatures. Yes! Urban fantasy. But it does have a lot of romance. And sex. Hmmm. Okay: Paranormal urban fantasy w/romance elements, sex, mystery, and humor. But one bookstore I found online has my book listed as occult/horror. ARGH!

I wonder if there's a section for all that in the bookstore.

It's a good thing that crossing genres is all the rage.

(I want to note that my book fits perfectly with my publisher, Medallion Press's, paranormal line. My editor has been nothing but supportive about all the varied aspects I've blended into the mix. We 're happy for bookstores to stock me on whatever shelf they wish! Check out Medallion's submission page. They're acquiring.)

11 Comments:

Blogger Portia Da Costa said...

Fantastic post! I think people often are a bit too hung up on rules and perceived heat levels and whatnot. And it can be stifling...

3:34 PM  
Blogger Tempest Knight said...

When you're a newbie, everyone is pushing you to follow the rules as if they were written in stone. The truth is they are more guidelines. So yeah, newbies are more critical because they believe there's a set of rules that shouldn't be broken.

Speaking of rules, there are rules for every single genre and subgenre. Fantasy books have different set of rules from romance novels, etc. Notice that the style varies. One permits telling, the other is all about showing. POVs also vary.

Funny thing is that readers tend to be very picky. If the new writer doesn't follow the rules, they will shred your story to pieces.

4:00 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

I quite agree. The discussions on the loop regarding genres miss the point entirely. The goal is to tell a good story that the readers will enjoy. People need to stop trying to pigeon-hole everything and just enjoy the ride!

4:14 PM  
Blogger Lynda Hilburn said...

Portia: Thanks so much! I agree. It definitely can be stifling.

Tempest: Yikes. I hope there's no shredding going on! My experience is that other writers are pickier than readers. grins.

Christopher: Yes! Tell a good story. Ain't that the truth!?

5:01 PM  
Blogger Ashlyn Chase said...

You're preaching to the choir with me, but I ain't no angel! LOL. It's a problem. The category and heat level, I mean. But, sistah, keep writing what makes you happy. If no one else 'gets it' at least you do. And I'll bet lots of others do too if you write from your own true, deep, uncharted heart.

I applaud you.

Ash

5:37 PM  
Anonymous Lyra Marlowe said...

I think I was very fortunate. I wrote my first erotic novel, and didn't read "The Rules" (the Ellora's Cave version, anyhow) until I was ready to submit it. I promptly learned that my entire plot was breaking one of the biggies. (The one where once the leads of met, they can't have sex with anybody else.) There was no way to "fix" it. It was the whole book. So I submitted it anyhow, just as it was.

Loose Id asked for a revision -- one that didn't gut the plot -- which I made, and they bought it two weeks later. (They have already warned me, though, that there may be offended readers.)

So am I going to keep breaking the rules? Only if they get in my way.

8:51 PM  
Blogger rgraham666 said...

Very nice post. It said my thoughts on the subjects very nicely.

I find 'the rules' bandied about especially amusing. I'm a high school dropout, who always flunked English. Yet I do all right. ;)

It's the same with genres. Some of my stuff is very hard to categorize. Yet people who read it almost always like it.

Shrugs. I'll write what I want. If publishers don't accept it or readers don't like it I'll live.

7:42 AM  
Blogger Lynda Hilburn said...

Dear Ash: Yes. I really do think that advice "write what you love -- write your best book" is most helpful. I did try to write something more "standard," and found myself messing with the ending so that the stories turned out "unusual" in the end. I just gotta be me! Thanks for writing!

8:46 AM  
Blogger Lynda Hilburn said...

Dear Lyra: I like to think of it as writing outside the box! Yay to you!

Dear Rod: Definitely use the rules that work for you and leave the rest. I tend to feel like that about all kinds of rules in life!

8:50 AM  
Blogger Kassie said...

I can't seem to follow the rules either. My latest book,Scent of Desire, started out as straight SF romance in my head, but then somehow faeries popped into the picture. But it's definitely not fantasy, either! So it's an SF with faeries. Shelve it wherever you want, LOL.

Glad to hear your publisher is so open minded. I think sometimes the problem is readers and reviewers, bless their hearts. They expect a certain something and if it is in any way different, they sometimes equate that with "wrong."

12:03 PM  
Blogger Lynda Hilburn said...

Kassie: See? You just never know when fairies are going to pop in! We've always got to be ready! Yeah, I know what you mean about other peoples expectations. There are quite a few challenging aspects to publishing, eh?

9:32 PM  

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