The Problem with Historical Fiction (and the Power of Historical Fiction)

The historical fiction shelf you won't find in most bookstores and libraries

The historical fiction shelf you won’t find in most bookstores and libraries

The problem with historical fiction is that it’s not actually genre.

Not the way romance or mystery or thriller are genres.

There are no defining characteristics – no genre conventions – of historical fiction other than the story taking place in a non-contemporary time period in which the manners, social conditions, and other details of the era are clearly depicted.

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On Predictability vs. Surprise in Fiction (or, How The Force Awakens forced me to change my position on the matter. Slightly.)

 

Star Wars - The Force Awakens

**No movie spoilers**

A long time ago on a blog that’s now far away from a regular posting schedule, myself and a buddy had a debate about predictability versus surprise in fiction.

Quite unwittingly, this discussion arose on the heels of an entirely different examination of pantsing versus plotting.

(For the record on that account, I like to know where my story is going before I start and to rough out as much of the journey as I’m aware of up front, but I’m in no way wedded to it, nor do I subscribe to the notion that plotting will rob a story of the joy and magic of actually writing it.  But you can read more about all that yourself.)

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Should Writers Abbreviate Their Names?

J.K. Rowling

This post is more accurately titled “Should Female Writers Abbreviate Their Names?”, since they are, it seems, the writers who most commonly do so.

The short and simply answer to the question is, of course, “They should do whatever they want.”  For I’m not here to dictate otherwise, especially given the numerous different reasons a female writer would choose to use her initials instead of her full name:

  • She had a given name that’s difficult to pronounce or spell
  • To create a new identify for writing in a different genre
  • To maintain a measure of distance from her non-writing life
  • Because another author has her exact same name
  • Because she dislikes for her given name
  • To emulate classical male writers who used abbreviations, such as C.S. Forrester, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and J.D. Salinger

Just to name a few.

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On Suspense in Storytelling, pt. 2 – Unpredictable-Unputdownable

Every story, by definition, contains suspense in one form or another.

The most common form is the Predictable-Yet-Still-Desirable (from pt. 1), wherein the reader/viewer already has a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen before it happens, but wants to see it anyway.

This may be either to feel the satisfaction of having been correct in his/her predictions, to see exactly how it happens, or to be already emotionally prepared to vicariously undergo a universal human experience.

Somewhat less common is a second form of suspense, which, ironically, is probably the form that more readily comes to mind when one hears the word “suspense”: the unpredictable-and-thus-unputdownable, which keeps the reader glued to the book, and still reading long after s/he should have gone to bed.

All stories by their very nature contain the precursors of this type of suspense.  How could they not?  Stories come to us described by blurbs designed to hint at the plot and its major turning points, but ultimately give nothing away.

They’re the very definition of suspense, for who knows what might happen between the lines of that enticing paragraph on the back of the book or DVD case?

Not all stories, however, retain that suspense.

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Who’s Gonna Read Your Book II: On genre conventions / unconventional genres

One of the most important and oft-cited tenets of marketing is to identify your target audience.

When it comes to books, an easy was to start doing this is through identifying your novel’s genre, thereby making your target audience the readers of said genre.

Many writers descry genre.  I’ve hear it stated that genre conventions impose limits to creativity and the possibilities a writer can introduce into a story.

Some also claim that genre is a means by which the traditional publishing industry pigeonholes the market by only publishing stories adhering to this or the other trend, which ultimately comes to define various genres as a whole (e.g. the dystopian trend in YA).

Yet, whether one agrees with the above statements or not, genre is the means by which readers have been trained to locate books within the publishing landscape.  Whether a book is traditionally published or self-published, it’s the GPS that helps lead readers to the promised land of similar content and fulfilled expectations.

According to bestselling sci-fi author Hugh Howey,

[W]riting within a genre is a huge first step in becoming discovered. No one is looking for you or your particular book. You are both unknown unknowns. So you better write a book that’s near a specific book….  Random fantasy books sell better than random randomness.

But what happens when your book doesn’t quite fulfill those expectations?  What happens when it meets some of the conventions of its genre, yet blithely disregards others?

What happens if your book is like my book?

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