Monthly Archives: March 2014

A to Z – Challenge Accepted

Some readers may be aware of the A to Z blogging challenge. For those that are not, it was started apparently on a whim in 2010. It grows in participants every year, and is an opportunity for the blogging community to come together and learn of one another’s work.

I decided to participate in this when I heard about it, and have spent the last several weeks compiling topics to share during the month of April. I’m excited to post nearly everyday, starting on April 1, and hope that I will be able to keep up with posting more often once the challenge is over.

Of course, all posts will still be writing related with a couple of challenges thrown in for fun. Topics have been difficult to find for each letter of the alphabet (who knew J would be so hard?), and you may feel that some are reaching a bit. But all in all, I think this month is going to be fun, and hopefully, informative and interesting for my readers.

Thanks as always to any who visit here, and I look forward to reading the work of other A to Z participants!



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Fiction Genres: Historical Fiction – Re-imagining The Past

Here is another personal favorite of mine (with which, I assure you, I am actually familiar).  The description here is fairly straight forward – “the plot and story transpire during a distinct era in the past”.  The period in which the author’s story is placed is generally essential to the narrative, such that the story would either not make sense or not make as great an impact if it were set during any other time.  Now keep in mind, if you are thinking about writing in this genre, that the balance between fact and fiction is essential here.   Your story and perhaps your characters are likely fictional (although some of my favorite examples of this genre have historical figures as some of their MCs), but the facts surrounding them have to be historically accurate to give your story legitimacy.  (I can speak from experience: getting it wrong is embarrassing, at least.)  This means research is essential and can be difficult.  It’s not enough to have a play by play of the major Civil War battle during which you have set your story.  You have to think of the other scenes in your story and get those details right as well.  For instance, if your soldiers are having a heartfelt conversation over dinner about the loves they left at home, what are they eating?   It’s unlikely to be a steak dinner with baked potatoes. (True, it’s unlikely that modern soldiers in battle are eating that either, but you get what I’m saying.)  The amount of research that this takes to do well, can be daunting, so my best advice is to get to know your local university library very well, and maybe even make some connections with university professors whose research is related.  If you are one of these professors, we should talk.

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Fiction Genres: Fantasy and Sci Fi

Here are two I know fairly well.  I’ve read Fantasy most, but I’ve dabbled in some Sci Fi – Michael Crichton’s The Hot Zone, Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Those count, right?

Science Fiction:  Well, according to AQ, yes, they do because Crichton’s work and Hitchhiker’s “incorporate various types of science into its story, setting, characters and the challenges that they must overcome”.  Okay, now you may think, “Hitchhiker’s is a bit of a stretch”, but AQ says that “scientific details, facts, and rules are either adhered to or broken, but either way they contribute to the contextual story line as well as the world created within the novel”.  Hitchhiker’s takes place in space.  Science!


Fantasy: I suppose you could say that’s really more to my liking.  Aside from the description I’m sure you already know – imaginary worlds, mystical creatures, princes/princesses, knights, dragons, wizards, etc. – AQ also mentions that the “only limitations are the expectations and preconceived notions of its dedicated readership”.  As one who is very close to this “dedicated readership”, the best way to get an idea of these “limitations” is to read the work already out there.  I might recommend Katharine Kerr’s Deverry series or Piers Anthony’s Xanth series; for those who have already exhausted the works of Tolkien.  Keep in mind that each author creates their own world, often including history, religions, and languages, so it’s always best to begin at the beginning.



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Fiction Genres: Horror, and Others They Tell Me Are Different

Horror:  So, this may come as quite a shock to you, but it turns out Horror is, simply put, a scary story.  I know, I wouldn’t have thought of that either.  But AQ does go into a little more detail, “It’s chilling pendulum swings a broad arc… uses a wide range of techniques to terrify and titillate it’s audience… engenders fear in the hearts and minds of it’s audience… often portrays the subversive side of its fictional world… explores the unspeakable… uses folklore and fantasy to create manifestations of evil death and destruction”.  This last point is in contrast to…

Thriller/Suspense:  …Which is based in reality.  The stakes in this/these genre(s) are often large – life or death, ’cause it doesn’t get much larger than that, does it?  While it can often cross genres into crime fiction, the central theme of Thriller/Suspense is “developing a sense of imminent jeopardy” rather than solving the mystery or crime.  But what of Crime Fiction, then?  How are they different?  Let’s explore…

Crime Fiction: …centers its plot on the perpetration of a crime.  Here, we have two sub-genres.  (Now, don’t think just because I make note of it here that every other genre I have or will mention cannot also be broken into sub-genres.  They all can, but we’re largely focusing on the “umbrellas” in this series.  I mention sub-genres here because… well, I felt like it.) “Detective” crime fiction focuses on either professional or amateur investigators solving a crime.  In these stories, your investigator will likely be your strongest focus.  S/he may be your narrator, you’ll focus on his/her personal life and why this case (or these cases) are so important or antagonizing to him/her, and the details of solving the crime as opposed to the crime itself will be your story arc.  This is juxtaposed with True Crime fiction, which focuses more minutely on the details of the crime, operating more like the recently popular “forensic” television series that have come out such as CSI (pick your city) and Criminal Minds.  It focuses on details of the crime, evidence, and the criminal mind (Oh, so that’s where they got that clever title!)  On the other hand, there’s always…

Mystery:  Okay, now they’re just getting silly.  In my reading on AQ’s site, I just don’t see much of a difference, except perhaps that “the puzzle behind the crime is central to the plot”.  Although, that’s hardly that different from True Crime’s focus on the details of the crime.  Mystery does have “Amateurs or professional investigators perform the sleuthing”, unlike detective fiction except for being exactly the same!  Nope.  Nope.  I don’t see it.  Thriller, suspense, crime fiction, mystery – they are one genre whose purpose it is to captivate the audience in “who-done-it-ness” to keep them turning page after page until at 6:00 in the morning I realize I have to be at work in two hours, and I have not slept because I had to find out who killed Judge Healey.  (Matthew Pearl, aka my favorite reason for insomnia.)

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Fiction Genres: Ladies’ Edition – We Do Love To Nitpick

Today we will distinguish the variety of genres that are traditionally considered fiction for women.  I don’t mean to discount any men who find these genres entertaining, but men are simply not the target audience here.  The differences in these three main genres are in the details.  (Click on the links for examples in each genre.)

Women’s Fiction: This is easy. Women’s fiction is fiction about women’s issues. According to AQ, it will often utilize literary quality prose, but always deals with women’s struggles over adversity and explore the positive elements of women’s lives – strength, fortitude, and often meaningful relationships – differentiating it from…

Chick Lit: …which is generally humorous, lighthearted, and down-to-earth. It deals with many of the same issues as Women’s Fiction, and usually has a romance enveloped somewhere in the plot, but rarely takes these story elements or itself very seriously. Often career struggles, romantic challenges, and social issues are handled with an amusingly tongue-in-cheek tone. As opposed to…

Romance: …which always revolves around a romantic relationship between a man and a woman. Unlike the characters in Chick Lit, who are most often everyday girls in their 20s or 30s, Romance tends to be about regal or glamorous characters and is often set in an exotic location. Here’s an easy way to decide if you wrote a Romance: According to AQ, “if you didn’t intentionally set out to write a romance novel, it’s probably not romance”.


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Fiction Genres: How to Classify Your Truly Unique Story

For a few weeks, I’ve been working on a list of genre descriptions based on my favorite site for writers,, and the genres they list.  My original idea was to use these toward the A to Z blogging challenge in which I’ll be participating next month, but then I thought why wait?

AQ lists their genre descriptions alphabetically, but I will use a different presentation that, I hope, will help make them make a little more sense to all.  Let’s begin with our biggest genres – our sort of all encompassing “umbrella” genres.

Commercial Fiction: Commercial fiction is what most everyone is going to write. A gripping story that is moved along largely through plot devices and relatable characters. The writing should still be captivating of course, but will likely be used in description of events and places rather than internal feelings, thoughts, and emotions – as opposed to…

Literary Fiction: …Which will more likely deal with internal conflicts of characters and focus more on quality prose. When I think of literary fiction, the first contemporary author that usually jumps out at me is Yann Martel, of Life Of Pi fame. Let’s face it, that book is about a boy’s survival on a raft for days and days lost at sea with a tiger. Since it’s main (READ: pretty much, only) character is sitting alone in the middle of the ocean, all we can do is hear his thoughts and internal struggles of survival. And the writing quality is stellar. (If you haven’t read it… Ahh… do!)

Well, that takes care of our big umbrellas. Next we’ll move to the more “nuanced” genres. (Note: Your book will qualify as one of the two above and, at least, one from what I will write about in the coming days.)


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Dr. Seuss Can Do It. Can You?

Anyone out there interested in writing for children?   I’ve always wanted to, but I find I’m not very good at it.  I never have been, even when I was a child.  So, here’s a writing exercise and challenge for all of us.

Write a story – ideally for children, but it doesn’t have to be – between 500 – 600 words, using only the Dolch Word List.  (If you’re like me, the limited word count is challenge enough.)

When I’ve finished the challenge myself, (and if my results are at all decent) I’ll post the story here.

Have fun, and good luck.  I know I’ll need it!


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