Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Genre: Mystery

What is a mystery? Is it anything with intrigue?
B. C. Marine, CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Every good story has questions that need answers, either for the reader or the characters. So what sets the mystery genre apart?

Finding the Solution

Every mystery revolves around answering a question. Answering a question raised at the beginning of the story isn’t unusual in and of itself. However, most stories have the main character find the answers by the at least the midpoint and spend the rest of the story on the consequences of that information. In a mystery, the answer doesn’t come to light until the end because mysteries are about the intellectual journey.
The most common question is the classic “whodunnit?” Who is the antagonist? Defeating the antagonist is simply accomplished by finding out who they are, so following the clues to that makes up the vast bulk of the story.
What is it that this who has done? Usually murder. Why? Because the victim cannot contribute any help to the main character. It forces them to rely on their wits and reasoning to piece things together. It also raises the stakes for solving the mystery. Finding out who stole the main character’s sack lunch isn’t worth much time or effort—it’s more of a nuisance—but catching a killer is vital, especially if they might strike again!
That isn’t to say that all mysteries are about murders. Any crime or misdeed can work if it’s both difficult to solve and worth it. Theft or vandalism are also common, as well as more creative situations.
What Happened?
Sometimes, the question isn’t about who did something. It’s about what that something was. Missing person stories are a common form. The subgenres of paranormal, fantasy, and science fiction mysteries also tend toward asking what happened because whatever it is typically defies standard explanations. Archeological or historical mysteries often have this question built in because everyone who was around for a particular event is now gone.
For middle grade and young adult books, “what happened” is even more common than in adult mysteries because murder and other nefarious deeds may be unsuitable for younger audiences, despite their love of solving puzzles. They also lend themselves better to it because that kind of question is more likely to be encountered by children. Adults often keep children in the dark about things, or withhold information from them until they are ready for it. Add to that the natural curiosity of children, and a situation that’s too mundane for an adult mystery can become a fascinating puzzle for a younger audience.

Where Did the Genre Come From?

The idea of celebrating intellect and reason in story form is owed to the values set forth during the Age of Enlightenment around the 18th century. This coalesced into what is now recognizable as the mystery genre in the 19th century with the popularity of works by Edgar Allan Poe in America and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in Britain.
Edgar Allan Poe
Although most people think of his gothic horror stories first, Poe created the mold for the modern detective story. He wrote three stories about a detective named Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin who used logic and clues to solve locked-door mysteries that had stumped the police. If that sounds suspiciously like someone else on this list, there’s a reason. Poe was an acknowledged inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Conan Doyle may not have invented the detective story, but he perfected the archetype. Using his medical studies and life experience enriched Conan Doyle’s stories and characters with realism. His characters, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, are so well-known that even people who have never touched a mystery can recognize them. The popularity of Sherlock Holmes mysteries brought the genre as a whole into the mainstream.


Mysteries celebrate natural human curiosity and exceptional intellect. Though relatively young, the genre has made an impressive mark on the world of modern literature.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Literary Fiction

More than a “catch all” for non-genre fiction, this genre is more than “regular” fiction.
Renee Frey, Authors 4 Authors Publishing
As writers, we discuss artistic and literary fiction versus commercial or genre fiction. But what exactly is this difference? Why does it exist?

Defining Literary

For most readers, especially people with degrees in literature, literary is what we would consider the “high art” of writing: the best examples of literary devices such as symbolism, theme, characterization, and others with descriptive language.
This also includes the “classics,” or books that are considered part of the canonical collection that define a group’s cultural literature. If it was part of your reading in education, it’s probably literary.
As there are several different components of literary fiction, let’s look a little closer at each to help understand the genre as a whole.

The Classics

First of all, the idea of canon is already under scrutiny—but let’s not get into that here. Basically, as societies and cultures evolve and change, the literature used to define and exemplify them changes as well. And in a global setting, where there is easier and faster cultural exchange, the aesthetics used to evaluate writing are no longer an aesthetic, but rather a cultural preference. So when I talk about classics in this blog, I’m referring to Western civilization cultures whose primary language is English.
This means if you take into account the diversity present in the United States, for example, you can quickly and easily see how Shakespeare is less relevant than Zora Neale Hurston or Sandra Cisneros.
Overall, something usually becomes a classic if it is the best example or representation of its type. That’s how the best science fiction or fantasy stories become classics. Take Lord of the Rings, for example. While the series is shelved in the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore, it is considered a classic because of how it pioneered the genre and established the tropes, traditions, and standards for fantasy.
It helps if subsequent works refer to a work—because then, in order for a reader to really understand the story as a whole, they need knowledge of what preceded it. That’s how Shakespeare, Byron, Dickens, Stevenson, and other authors found their homes as classic writers.
What we consider a “classic” is growing and expanding with the body of literature. And, as mentioned before, as we translate and read other culture’s classics, they often get added to our own canon.

Modern Literary Fiction

For works written more recently, they are usually evaluated on their literary merit and artistry. Only time will tell if the book can stand the test and become a classic. In these cases, the prose quality weighs heavily. To give an example, a Cinderella retelling that is considered commercial would have very accessible language, a definite tie to the original story, and attempt to connect with most readers through real and believable characters. A literary rendition, however, might play around with different points of view, non traditional language and story structure, or otherwise experiment with the form and function of the story.
Another way to think of it would be to compare commercial photography to new art. The two may draw from the exact same subject, but with very different results.
Fiction that does not fall into a specific genre is considered general fiction. That is not the same as literary fiction. While literary fiction will sit on the general fiction shelf, it is the quality and artistic aesthetic of the prose that determines if it is literary or not.

So does that mean that literary fiction is boring?

Quite the opposite! Due to its elevated prose and language, literary fiction often has multiple layers of meaning—-more than you would usually find in commercial fiction. Literary fiction can be fun to analyze and discuss in depth, and often makes a great book for a book club or online discussion.

If you haven’t yet, consider picking up a literary fiction work! It may surprise you!

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018


Where does it come from, and how do we use it as a genre in writing?
Renee Frey, CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Drama has been around basically as long as literature has. Drama first became a genre in Ancient Greece, when plays honoring the god Dionysus were created. Drama comes from the Greek word meaning “to do” or “to act.” Since its inception in ancient times, drama has grown and evolved.

Drama as Literature

When we think of drama, we tend to think of plays, movies, television series, and other visual storytelling mediums. To consider drama as literature, we have to shift gears, and instead of focusing on the representation of the work, focus on the words of the play or other story as written.
If you’ve ever studied Shakespeare, you know this is easier said than done. I can personally attest to how I was instructed to study Shakespeare as an acting student (read the play in groups aloud, watch the movie version, see a production of it) versus as an English literature student (mark out the scansion, highlight allusions, analyze the poetic form and plumb it for meaning).
This is complicated when you take into account the history of plays. In the middle ages, they were seen as immoral. Even in Shakespeare’s time, Puritans sought to close down theatres. The result was an elevation of the written form of a drama over the representation of the drama in a play.
Wait...isn’t that counter-intuitive?
Yes. Good writers are aware of their audience and their medium. When I write written instructions for software, I write very differently than when I am writing a script for a computer-based training course for the same content. If you’ve ever tried to read a play or a screenplay, you probably recognize that it just doesn’t feel the same as watching the representation.
What created this tension was Plato, who further enforced Aristotle’s teachings that plays were vehicles with which to teach moral lessons—and learning said moral lesson did not require the play being performed, merely the communication of the content within. The schism between the production of the play (for the lower classes) versus reading and discussing the content of the work (upper classes) persisted through the European Middle Ages and into the English Renaissance.
So how do I navigate this split?
Reading a play is an experience. Seeing a play is also an experience. Try to do both—use the performance to help you understand the macro vision of the playwright, while supporting the big ideas with specific examples from the text. You can also see how the idea of drama transformed over time…

Moving beyond the play

To a modern audience, drama is human beings at their best, their worst, and everything in-between. This is why you can probably think of several subgenres in the film industry alone: medical dramas, courtroom dramas, crime films, epics...the list goes on. But what all of these have in common are the portrayal of the human experience, inclusive of both the highs and lows of life.
Because of its background in plays, drama still remains linked with plays and other visual medium. We could probably all name a television drama, but naming a drama book would be a bit more difficult. And if you ask the librarian to show you the drama section, she’ll probably walk you to the works of Shakespeare and Moliere. When we think of dramatic themes in traditional literature (not something written to be performed) we generally term it fiction, or categorize it in one of the many genres already discussed in this blog.

Can I write drama?

Yes! Although plays go through a different method of review, they are still critiqued and edited to become the best version of themselves before being published or performed.
Playwrights do staged readings, and get audience and critic feedback to make edits and adjustments to their plays. They may have a close circle who reads the play and advises them, and depending on the situation, may have a producer fund and create a staged reading or workshop to further refine the piece.
Most television writers are groups of writers collaborating, so they work together to refine their ideas and perfect the script before the episode is aired. For all films, the producer has final say, and can request edits and revisions if needed to make a scene or the entire concept “work.”

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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Genre: Historical Fiction

What is Historical Fiction?
Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Last week we ended our series on speculative fictions. Today starts a new series on Genres. This week’s topic is Historical Fiction.

What is Historical Fiction?

Historical fiction is a genre of literature that reconstructs events from the past in fictional stories, characterized by the inclusion of historical events or historical people, invented scenes and dialogue with authentic and believable details. In other words, the author is trying to be a fly on the wall in the past.
How far in the past do you need to go?
There is no set in stone answer for this question, but there does need to be a noticable difference between the time the story is written, and the time the story takes place. Say, for example, someone wrote a story about 9/11--it’s in too recent history to be considered a historical fiction where as if you set a story only thirty years earlier than that in the ‘70’s it would be considered a historical fiction.
At Authors 4 Authors Publishing, we’ll be considering anything set in the past by fifty years or more a historical fiction.  

Can Historical Fiction be combined with other genres?

It can, and it often is. One of my personal favorites combines historical fiction, fantasy time travel, and romance to make an incredible story: the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Nearly any other genre can be combined with historical fiction as long as you keep the plot believable, even if you stretch that believability a little bit. I mean, who thinks they can really travel through standing stones? But, the story is told in such a way that it incorporates that unbelievable aspect into the laws of the world that Gabaldon has created, and thus makes the plot still believable.

Elements of a Historical Fiction

In any story you tell, the elements will be the same: Plot, Theme, Conflict,  Characters, Dialogue, Setting and World Building. These are all essential to any story, whether it’s a historical fiction or an epic fantasy. No story can survive without them.  
Luckily, with a historical fiction, your plot is almost written for you, especially if you are focusing on a specific person or even in the past. However, when writing in this genre your plot has to make sense within the time period that it’s set. You would not be able to write a story about Richard III and the lost boys in the Tower of London and have the sixteenth Earl of Warwick Richard Neville, also known as The King Maker, swoop in and save the day to put one of them on the throne unless you are specifically writing in the theoretical history genre.
One of the most important things to remember when you’re writing in this genre is you are there to tell a story within events that have already happened, not rewrite entire histories to tell different events. There’s another genre for that. As Bernard Cornwell said,
The most important thing, the all important thing, is to get the story right. Write, rewrite, rewrite again, and do not worry about anything except story. It is story, story, story. That is your business. Your job is not to educate readers on the finer points of Elizabethan diplomacy or Napoleonic warfare, your job is to divert and amuse people who have had a hard day at work. What will get you published? Not style, not research, but story. Once the story is right, everything else will follow.
Theme and Conflict
There are many different themes you can write about in this genre; loyalty, ambition, revenge, love, temptation, guilt, and so on and so on. All of these themes are part of our daily lives whether you live in the year 2018 or the year 1578. Research will be key in this area. Your theme has to make sense within the time period it’s set. What would love, loyalty and ambition mean in the court of Queen Elizabeth I as opposed to today? According to Anne Sommerset in Ladies in Waiting From the Tudors to the Present Day, it would mean sacrificing the chance to marry the love of your life because your queen said no. These are the types of things you absolutely must consider as you write.
As with the theme, the conflict needs to make sense within the setting. If you’re writing a fifteenth century historical romance about star-crossed lovers, where a widowed noblewoman runs off with a servant when she is expected to either stay chaste or marry a societal equal, that would lead to a believable conflict within the time frame. What would happen to her reputation? What would happen to her children’s reputation? Would they be allowed back into society (and by society, I mean the royal court) without gargantuan recompense? All of those questions would be valid within the time period.
Characters and Dialogue
Your characters have to behave appropriately within the setting they inhabit, whether the author has created them or they were living, breathing people of the past. As mentioned above in Theme, what would it mean to be a person of a certain era?  A serf in a feudalistic twelfth century would not speak, behave, or even think the same way that a knight or even a peer (nobleman) would. It would be intrinsically impossible because of their environment.
The same can be said of the dialogue. A nobleman would speak with an educated vocabulary and tone while someone of lower birth would have a regional dialect. The dialogue will help your reader easily identify who is who and even their social status.
Setting and World Building
Setting and world building go hand in hand. With whatever time period you choose, you have to take your reader out of their own setting and immerse them in the time and place you’re writing in. This can be achieved through world building as well as details from actual history; letting the reader know about social hierarchy, government, family arrangements, customs, etc.


The most important thing while writing a historical fiction is to not rewrite the history you’re focusing on, and to make sure your characters and dialogue are believable for the setting you’ve chosen.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Speculative Fiction: Paranormal

So there’s fantasy and science fiction...what exactly is paranormal, and why isn’t it just urban fantasy?
Renee Frey, COO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
As we wrap up our speculative fiction overview, let’s take a closer look at the niche genre of paranormal fiction.

How is Paranormal Fiction a genre?

When I started researching for this blog post, there wasn’t a whole lot of information. There seems to be a consensus that yes, paranormal fiction is its own genre—but there weren’t the robust genre definitions that exist for fantasy or science fiction. Additionally, the genre is grouped with fantasy and science fiction in bookstores and libraries, further blurring the lines. You can read a lot about why this confusion exists in this Refractory article, but for the sake of brevity I’m going to summarize and suggest some new definitions here.
What makes Paranormal Fiction not fantasy or science fiction?
So according to the Oxford English Dictionary, paranormal is:
Designating supposed psychical events and phenomena such as clairvoyance or telekinesis whose operation is outside the scope of the known laws of nature or of normal scientific understanding; of or relating to such phenomena.
Not exactly helpful. However, in the etymology, or history and meaning of parts of the world, para means “parallel or analogous to, yet separate and going beyond.” To me, this suggests that paranormal consists of things that exist in an alternate plane that runs along our own reality.
So for the sake of this blog, let’s decide that paranormal fiction:
  • Takes place in our world, not a made up or fantasy world, but at a place where our world joins that parallel world.
  • Has a character who is from the parallel world, exists simultaneously in both worlds, or has a power or ability gained from the parallel world.
  • Or the plot is driven by what happens when the planes two worlds conjoin or overlap.
If one or more of these elements apply to the story, the story is either paranormal fiction, or paranormal and another genre, such as paranormal romance.

So let’s unpack each of these definitions.

Paranormal Setting

Going back to our original idea of paranormal, it is something that is analogous to, yet separate and beyond. How would we see this in a setting?
  • We might see graveyards, religious sites, or other places that are used as gateways to transfer between our world and the parallel world, such as heaven or hell, a spiritual plane, or other form of existence.
  • The characters may experience dreams, out of body experiences, or catch a glimpse of the parallel world.
So the story where a character who falls into a well and is transported to the spiritual plane is paranormal, whereas the story where the character falls into a well and is transported to a magical land is fantasy. However, the ambiguity occurs when the world at the other end of the well could be either option, or both. This is one reason why separating paranormal from other genres is difficult.
Paranormal Characters
Let’s look at some examples of how a character might be paranormal.
The character is from a paranormal place.
This is probably the easiest way to determine if a character, and thus the story, is paranormal. If the character is from a place that would count as a paranormal setting, the character is likely paranormal. Angels and demons are good examples of this.
The character exists in both the real world and the paranormal world.
OK, to make this work we do have to be a little creative. In this instance, I would say that characters who were originally from our world, but are now influenced by or swayed by the paranormal world, would fit. An example would be vampires, who were once humans, but were converted to a semi-demon existence. They now exist with one foot in the real world, and one foot in hell. Ghosts, werewolves, and other demi-humans would fall into this description.
As with setting, here is where ambiguity between paranormal and other genres can occur easily. An android or cyborg could come close to meeting this definition, but for the sake of genre classification, we say it doesn’t. Instead, we would look at the presence of as of yet undeveloped technology and classify it as science fiction.
The character has a power or ability gained from a paranormal location.
Like the origin of the character itself, if we understand what makes a setting paranormal, this is relatively easy to extrapolate. Examples would be a seer or prophet, someone with ESP, a medium, or other human characters who can access the paranormal world or plane in some way, even if it’s only communication.
Please note that this would not include characters who claim to have these abilities but do not. Likewise, if the power is in the context of a fantasy setting—for example, the power comes from a deity of the made-up world—that is still a fantasy.
Paranormal Plot
Paranormal plot occurs when the plot point is a direct cause of the intersection of the real world with the paranormal one. An example might be a superstitious day like Friday the 13th or Halloween, where tradition suggests that the barriers between our world and the paranormal one are thin or overlapping, allowing creatures from the other world to influence ours in some way. Even if there is no paranormal setting other than the one alluded to in the conjoining of worlds and no paranormal characters, a plot driven by these conjunctions would be considered paranormal.

That’s still a lot of overlap…

Yes. Even with the definition we used in this post, there are still examples or instances where none of the points are met, but the argument could still be made that the work is paranormal. Take Phantom of the Opera or other gothic novels. While none of these elements are present, it certainly *feels* paranormal. The best I could do in this instance is argue that, since the cast of characters believe the villain is paranormal (a phantom or ghost) that it does count as paranormal, even after as readers we learn that the villain is, in fact, human. It’s another reason why the genre is so difficult to define clearly.
This genre is also open enough that it can overlap with a lot of other genres. The most popular overlap is probably romance, where the otherworldly elements of paranormal add excitement to the romance tropes and structures. Another popular crossover is with urban fantasy, since urban fantasy uses fantasy elements in an urban setting, and let’s face it, it’s far easier to reference and use an existing city and existing character types than to make up an entire world and its urbanization and religious or occult beliefs. The paranormal characters lend themselves well to the urban setting, which already suggests the isolation of high population with few social and community connections, and the ability to blend in despite being abnormal.
Probably my favorite overlap is paranormal and comedy. Ghostbusters and Good Omens are great examples of blending two very unlikely genres together.

This is still a rather open definition. How can I learn more?

The paranormal genre is a spinoff of the Gothic subgenre of Romantic English (British) literature. A great place to start is with the works of Percy Bysshe and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Lord Byron, John William Polidori, and Claire Clairmont.
The meeting of this subgenre with the Victorian themes of urbanization, modernization, and industrialization helped further shape urban fiction and the existence of paranormality inside it. For this, reference The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and The Portrait of Dorian Grey.
These characters have stayed alive in pop culture, and are continuously reinvented in our stories in adherence to the dictate that they exist in the real world. Recent adaptations include Anne Rice’s vampire series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the Twilight series.

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